By Achara Deboonme
In its "East Asia Pacific Update" released in April, the World Bank noted: "Further economic recovery will depend on the competitiveness of Thai export products and political stability in the years to come."
Back then the focus on political stability surprised me. It should not be an issue given that the junta has been around for a year and its grip on power should extend for at least another year. With dissidents facing arrest and scores of people summoned for “attitude adjustment”, political instability should not be a risk.
I understand now. Two separate events that occurred recently both indicate a deep social rift that could lead to yet another period of political instability. The first concerns the tragic death of the son of Veerakarn Musigapong, former chairman of the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD), better known as the red shirts. The second involves an announcement by Suthep Thaugsuban, former chief of the People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC), or yellow shirts.
As members of the Musigapong family mourned and strangers offered condolences, some said it was the bad karma of the father that caused the tragedy. Responding to a post on a public chat board – http://hilight.kapook.com/view/124133 – a man calling himself Yao Huanonwat said the family should not seek sympathy as they themselves had shown no sympathy when others had died. That comment drew attacks and counter-attacks, as deep hatred spilled from either side of the Thai divide. Believe it or not, some linked his son’s death to Veerakarn’s political role. Reading such comments saddened me. The death of their child is every parent’s worst nightmare come true, yet it must be more terrible if the child dies because of their actions. But, sincerely, how did Veerakarn’s role as UDD leader have anything to do with his son’s death?
Also worrying is what Suthep’s plans will lead to. On leaving the monkhood, he proclaimed his support for the junta and urged an extension of its control. He also announced the launch of the People’s Democratic Reform Foundation (PDRF) and a bid to raise public funds. It is easy to assume that donations will be huge. During the six months of protest up to May last year, donors poured money into PDRC coffers, apparently undeterred by the lack of any proper financial scrutiny.
Suthep’s press conference was given the go-ahead by the National Centre for Peace and Order (NCPO), which prompted the UDD to protest that if the yellow shirts were allowed to gather, so should the red shirts. It appears the political instability we have witnessed on and off since 2006 is returning.
It is beyond my imagination how this rift can be mended, when all Thais are eager to proclaim love of their country yet do not know how to love their countrymen.
For a contrasting example of a nation divided we might look to Germany and the way its citizens felt when the country was split after World War II. While some Germans remained loyal to their defeated leadership, others expressed loathing for the Nazis. Yet despite physical division, Germans retained a strong sense of solidarity. The yearning for reunion never faded during decades under different regimes, and it was eventually realised 25 years ago.
I admire the willing sacrifice made by Germans on the West side, who bore most of the huge cost of reunion. Magazin Deutschland summed it up: In 2013 the annual solidarity surcharge paid by German taxpayers to fund the Reconstruction East programme had risen to 14.4 billion euros. The Westerners are sharing the pain of their eastern compatriots.
A united Germany is looking to the future without forgetting its past.
The files collected by the Stasi, East Germany’s State Security Service, have been kept and are opened on request to shed light on a dark chapter in history. The Stasi kept a reported 158-kilometre-long archive of files on East German citizens along with 1.7 million photos and films.
The Germans realise that the past cannot be undone. We must understand it and repair the rifts before all can move forward.
Not only has Germany risen from the ashes of World War II, it is now the strongest economy in Europe and the fourth-largest in the world.
Thais are taught about the glories of their history. We dream about being great again in the future. But that will only be possible if we embrace our failures. How many Thais know what led to the fall of the Sukhothai Kingdom, considered the foundation of Siam’s history? I wonder what we will teach our children if political instability flares again and breaks up the country.
Without unity there can be no peace. Without internal peace, there is no foundation for our commitments to our people and to other countries. As the World Bank report suggests, even foreigners sense that true peace remains a far-fetched dream for Thailand.