Democracy Monument draped in red cloth (Picture courtesy of @Ohochita)
I was glued to my computer, scrambling through websites, Twitter messages and live streams, trying to get the latest updates on what is happening in Bangkok at the very moment. Reports of violent clashes, gunshots and absolute chaos were spreading from the capital. Next to my desk was the television set to the news channels, either struggling to give a clear overview of what is going on or (in case of German TV news) just blubbering sheer nonsense. To see this all unfolding from a very far distance in an office chair in Germany was utterly frustrating. This was in April 2009 during the Songkran riots.
Fast-forward to April 2010, same chair, same emotions.
Both sides, government forces and red shirt protesters, were showing hardly any sign of giving in. In fact, defiance on both sides was growing more and more each day. With each successful action of the red shirts, such as the storming on the parliament compound or at the satellite TV station, their confidence grew. In the beginning though it appeared the government had the upper hand, with their non-violence tactic catching the red shirt leaders off guard and thus leading them to pointless ad-hoc stunts (like the now infamous symbolic blood spilling). But with each day the red shirts were roaming and occupying the streets of Bangkok, the government was pushed with its back against the wall more and more.
All the more vigorous were the violent clashes on Saturday, killing 21 people and injuring over 850. There is no other way to describe the crackdown as a catastrophic failure. It was a chaotic mess, with soldiers and red shirts fighting each other, a mysterious ‘third force’ also contributing to the casualties and reporters, civilians and tourists caught in the crossfire – this was worse than last year! Last Saturday marks yet another dark moment in the recent history of this country.
What many like to neglect is that the red shirt movement is now more than just a proxy mob of Thaksin, not just a tool of anyone to overthrow the current government. It is a true unavoidable force in Thai politics with legitimate claims, with a sound political consciousness that is now haunting the political elites and bureaucrats for failing to recognize the sign of times. The problems cannot be solely linked back to Thaksin (as he is trying to promote himself as the beacon of freedom and democracy, while there is no doubt that he is not) – it is a collective failure!
When the situation was calming down in Bangkok and the first moments for me to cool down from the hours of constant information bombardment came by, I had not the feeling of horror or shock, but sheer frustration. Frustration about the inevitable fallout, about the at times idiotic coverage (or even the lack thereof) by some ‘news programs’ again, about the helplessness over the situation, but mostly about that we are not back to the status quo of four weeks ago – we are now even further away from it!
Both sides are even more defiant than before, even less unwilling to give in, even less likely are the chances for any peaceful, non-violent and political way to end this stalemate. To see Thailand going backwards each day with no end in sight is just discouraging – the distance from where I’m witness this happening does not make a difference anymore, it is equally frustrating.
Note: This commentary was written shortly during the aftermath of the violent clashes, which explains the more emotional tone of this article. That are, after all, my personal thoughts.