The Red Shirts in Thailand…

I wanted to take a moment to share my thoughts and photos that I took of the current Red Shirt protests in Bangkok. Mind you that this was all taken a few weeks ago and since then the demonstrations and protesting have increased.

For the most part, the protests that we have seen have been non-violet. We actually saw many signs that stressed that this was a non-violent protest. Many reports have indicated that the violence last week, which lead to the death of about 25 individuals including a Reuters cameraman, where a result of anarchists. The definition of an anarchist here was not clearly defined and it is not known whether or not any of these individuals were Red Shirt supporters. Also, there have been reports of small bombings occurring on the side of the streets and yesterday a grenade being thrown. Tragic.

Okay, quick synopsis of what is going on from an outsiders perspective. There have been recent corruption accusations of the current government and discontent of the 2006 coup, which was supported by the Yellow Shirts (People’s Alliance for Democracy, PAD) that is comprised of businessmen and middle to upperclass. The Red Shirts, known as the National United Front of Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD), representing the poorer classes, are supported by the former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a bloodless military coup in 2006 and has pending corruption convictions. After speaking to local Thai citizens, we were informed that the Red Shirts are provided with free water and food, and even cash to pay for any long distance travel expenses. According to CNN, Shinawatra fled the country in 2008 while facing trial on corruption charges that he says were politically motivated. As strong as the Red Shirts are right now in dominating the streets of Bangkok, the Yellow Shirts have given the government until this Sunday to calm the Red Shirt protests otherwise Thailand will be seeing counter-protests.

Thailand is ruled by a highly admired and revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej, or Rama IX. He has been the longest reigning king in the history of Thailand – almost 64 years. There were two rules that were clearly stressed to us as a tourists in Thailand- 1) do not disrespect the Buddha and 2) do not respect the king. Trust me, I think more people had photos of the king around their cities, shops and homes than of their own family members. According to the NY Times, King Adulyadej, who has no political position, has been in and out of the hospital since September and has not commented on the current situation.

(photo from flickr)

When speaking to the Thai people we encountered, many are not happy with the protests. It has been very difficult on the Thai economy as tourism makes for 7% of the countries GDP and forecasts predict that it will drop as a result of the protests.

From my understanding the entire country is divided and there is a complete other half of the population which is in support of the Red Shirt protests. Demonstrations began in patches and became active with more than a 100,000 people camping the streets of Bangkok starting in March 2010. Day and night you can see people driving around the streets to demonstrate their support for Shinawatra.

As a tourist the most difficult thing was catching a taxi to go through the center of the city. Many taxis simply drove off, quoted us outrageous prices or took longer detours.

Although my understanding of the conflict in Thailand is still foggy, the fact that millions throughout the country are demonstrating for something they potentially believe is right has been inspiring. The difficult part to judge is whether or not the facts are true or maybe the supporters have been simply uninformed? I am certainly the last person to know. Coincidentally, I had been reading the work of Howard Zinn during the time of the protests and I was reminded of the individuals in our history who have stood up for their rights that we today take for granted- voting, minimum wage, good working conditions, etc…  I believe that if the Red Shirt supporters have a voice, then it needs to be heard through non-violent demonstrations. They must stand up for what they believe in. However, whether or not the Red Shirts are fighting for the right cause I cannot say, I just hope that the results of this ordeal bring to Thailand the continued growth and development it deserves. When Alan Moore wrote V for Vendetta, he said “People shouldn’t be afraid of their government. Governments should be afraid of their people.”

| if I knew all the words I would write myself out of here. |