Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Surin Pitsuwan remembered

Dec 01. 2017
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By Cod Satrusayang
Asia News Desk

We are told as journalists that when writing obituaries and rememberances to avoid hagiographic pros or being too outwardly effusive in order to avoid misrepresenting our subject with rose-tinted retrospectives.

Easy to do in most cases but with a select few, each sentence becomes a battle against extravagance. Surin Pitsuwan is one of those select few.


His career speaks for itself. Every obituary written from the time of his passing yesterday afternoon to today will list his myriad of accomplishments from his time as deputy prime minister and foreign minister to his stewardship of ASEAN.

Or they will talk about his upbringing, how a young muslim boy from Nakhon Sri Thammarat made good by defying the odds. Perhaps the obituaries will detail how he started his life studying in small islamic centres before finding his way to Claremont McKenna (when it was just called Claremont Men's College) and Harvard.

Or maybe they will talk about missed opportunity, after all, this was a man that probably should have been the secretary-general of the United Nations. This was a man that at some point should have been the prime minister of this country. When he spoke at an Asia News Network conference earlier this year, he was introduced as Thailand's perpetual prime minister in-waiting. Up until his passing, Surin made overtures that he wanted to run for Bangkok governor once elections resumed.  

But as impressive as his resume is on paper and as difficult as it is to think of the various missed opportunities, it's the ideas that he espoused and the ideals that he represented that made the news of Surin's passing that much harder to swallow.

Surin Pitsuwan was a statesman, in the truest sense of the word. In an era where the art of statecraft has fallen by the wayside to be replaced by homespun 'wisdom' and uncouth posturing, Surin never wavered from eloquence and class.

In a time of polemics and political divide, Surin advocated for reconcilliation and common ground.

In a time of absolutism, when even some of Thailand's best minds compromised their liberty in the pursuit of security and stability, Surin stood his ground and advocated liberalism and democracy.

In a time when all of our leaders were making deals with totalitarian forces to rule, Surin stood apart.

All of these values were important...are still important.

But most important of all is the fact that Surin succeeded. That this, as he put it, "pondok child from a dusty southern province of Thailand" was able to succeed means that there is room in Thailand's leadership for someone to succeed on his own without the need to compromise with totality, with absolutism. Perhaps, that is how best to remember Surin's legacy.  

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