Reports of the interview by I’m-not-a-proxy-PM Samak on CNN’s Talk Asia are deeply disturbing. The full transcript of the interview does not appear to be up on CNN’s web site yet but it has been widely covered on various media outlets. If the reports are correct, Samak’s performance is a disgrace. For once, I am happy to let the Bangkok Post (Editorial, 13 February 2008) do the talking:
Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej should be ashamed for declaring to the world in an interview with CNN over the weekend, that only one person died in the 1976 massacre of anti-dictatorship protesters at Thammasat University.
Former student leaders Surapong Suebwonglee, Chaturon Chaisaeng and other key Thai Rak Thai members who now support Mr Samak must have really cringed; their friends died that terrible day.
With his blatantly inaccurate statements to a worldwide audience, Mr Samak has shown disrespect to everyone who has fought for democracy in this country and embarrassed the nation at the same time. In an exchange with correspondent Dan Rivers, Mr Samak reduced the Oct 6, 1976 massacre to a mere ”movement of some students” and kept on insisting that only one person died that day, even if Mr Rivers presented him with the official death toll of 46 and the possibility that the actual number of casualties could be much higher than that.
Against what went down in history, Mr Samak feebly claimed that there was no massacre that day, only ”one unlucky guy being beaten and being burned in Sanam Luang”.
It is one thing to have taken part in moves to quell pro-democracy protests in the past, it is another trying to deny not just one’s involvement but the entire event. What Mr Samak was doing in this interview goes beyond the pale, and even calls into question his ability to govern the country. Not only is Mr Samak not condemning the events or expressing the faintest bit of regret, he is denying that the crime perpetrated by the state against its own citizens ever took place. This is frightening. It runs contrary to photographic evidence that clearly shows dozens of students lying dead on university grounds. For any Thai citizen to give such an answer to an international audience that runs contrary to very clear evidence is disgraceful, but for the prime minister to do so is downright shocking.
Many Thais don’t know the full extent of what happened in October 1976 as the brutal incident has been whitewashed in many history books. Mr Samak, however, knows well what went on because he played a key role in whipping up anti-Communist sentiment that played a key role in the events that led to the lynching and killing.
No government has ever tried to look back and make sense of what happened or who was doing what during the events that culminated on Oct 6, 1976. But evidence clearly shows that paramilitary groups like the Village Scouts and the Border Patrol Police, as well as the Red Gaur and Navapol _ two ultra-rightist groups trained by the Internal Security Operations Command (Isoc) _ played a key role in the brutality.
In response to allegations that the Thammasat students were communists who had insulted the monarchy, on Oct 6 the militant rightists stormed the university grounds with heavy weapons. Some students tried to flee by jumping into the Chao Phraya River but were further shot at. Some of those that stayed and surrendered were beaten, hung from trees or set ablaze.
The official estimate put the death toll at 46, or 45 more than Mr Samak would admit. Many survivors claimed the brutal attack took more than 100 lives.
It is one thing for Mr Samak to downplay the horror. It is quite another for him to bury his head in the sand and ignore photographic evidence. He justifies his role in stirring the pot by claiming that he was protecting the throne. But Mr Samak’s insensitive, inflammatory and plainly inaccurate comments only serve to damage his reputation, the country and the monarchy he claims to protect.
The leaders of this country are fond of rewriting history for their own benefit. But it is time to stop the gross inaccuracies. Only with a full understanding of what occurred in the past can we build up a stronger democracy in the future. It is very hard to see how Mr Samak can lead us there.