Symbols infuse day to day beliefs and influence attitudes that underline social structures. Essentially the binding force of culture consists of a web of symbols that enables people to control and make sense out of experience in patterned ways. Maybe we should have learned a lesson from history says the late Thai Hmong specialist Dwight Conquergood: “the history of colonialism, slavery, and Nazi eugenics that the way one group in power sees and imagines another group of people can set the stage for violent action. A democratic society does well to attend to the dominant images it puts into mass circulation, particularly media representations of vulnerable groups. Images and symbolic representations drive public policy.”
Former acting leader of Thai Rak Thai Party (and one time student leader and activist) Chaturon Chaisaeng mentioned that the Abhisit regime is running scared of symbols of resistance that are increasing daily as frustration builds as a tsunami surging toward the shoreline.
There is no doubt that they regime is panicking and overreaching in many actions against the people who oppose its policies: e.g. students, such as those in Chiangrai recently displaying placards, where one youth sent for psychiatric assessment, and more recently those at Chulalongkorn University who were aggressively stopped from holding up placards when Abhisit visited the reactionary Political Science Faculty last month.
Indeed, students may have been asleep for the past four years; or even misled through propaganda, but as they now say on Asia Update TV, many are now starting to realise first-hand how repressive and ruthless the regime is.
The question is how can the Abhisit regime continue to stop students from airing opinions? In the past few years they have tried forms of intimidation directed at the parents of students and/or having students kicked out of faculties (such as Silapakorn student Nattakarn Promsutthirakat). The small student protest group, according to the students interviewed, is now gaining in size since this recent event last month.As a powerful play of symbols there is the ever popular and well publicised street theatre (Sombat Boon-ngarmanong) underlying a concern over recent street massacres and continuing oppression against opposition voices.
Indeed, the stunning failure of democratic process in Thailand since 2006 has ensured a closure to matters of public debate where individuals are able to freely gather to discuss their common public affairs and to organize against arbitrary and oppressive forms of social and public power. Symbolic and physical forms of violence continue unabated either through DSI or CRES. The latter, under direction of the state, will take legal action against media Red Power and increasingly outspoken ThaiRat as they report facts to the public.
Also, sadly, on the 4 September 2010 yet another Red Shirt former unarmed protest guard, 21 year old Krisadaa Klaahaan died after an assassination attempt by state apparatus on 20 September 2010 as he was walking home with his girlfriend in Chiangmai from the market. Another innocent life lost under the relentless hunt for any symbolic opposition to unelected PM Abhisit Vejjajiva’s government. He was shot because of what he symbolised: simply opposition. He was the fourth clearly identified former Red Shirt guard to be murdered by the state.
Memory of recent violence against the people on the streets of Bangkok and subsequent funeral memorials for the military’s victims (where these can actually be performed – last month the 100 day commemorative ceremony planned at Wat Pathum for the six persons killed inside the temple was banned at the last minute) is expressed as everyday resistance such as in use of satire, art, active street theatre, including mime. This form of funeral protest culture is typical of many suppressed and hunted people around the world living under authoritarian rule; though in Thailand it is forbidden to express openly a Red Shirt sense of loss as the nation is encouraged to retreat into denial, complacency, and the safety of not seeing.
As in Walter Benjamin’s world of encircling fascist political aesthetics, the Red Shirts engendered a means post violent crackdown in May 2010 of politicising art as resistance. This street theatre includes dramatic representations of the “killing streets”; people lying on the ground and red shirts acting as well-armed soldiers standing over them; or carrying notices saying “I saw dead person here”, & etc. Let’s hope art and the power of symbols of resistance will prevail.