The royal anthem was first played in entertainment venues in Siam before the 1932 revolution. According to State Ceremony of Siam, which describes ceremonial affairs during the reign of Rama VII, prior to the democratization of Siam, an elderly lady failed to rise at the royal anthem and was arrested by police. Prince Phra Nakhonsawan Vorapinit who was present at the arrest ordered the immediate release of the woman. He reasoned that standing is a Western custom, and it had just recently been adopted here; the lady did no wrong in not rising.
The feudalist structure in Siamese society is not as rigid as in the Brahmin caste. The present king and his brother were children of a commoner. Similarly, the mother of Rama III was also a commoner. Chao Praya Yommarat who ascended to the highest honour in the bureaucracy was also a commoner. This shows that the caste system in Siam is flexible enough and an individual can ascend to higher honours. It was the aim of the 1932 revolution to change these feudalist customs, but it failed to do so.
Regarding the topic “Human Rights and the Right to Differ”, we owe much to the two persons (who failed to stand up during the playing of the royal anthem in a Bangkok cinema and have been threatened with lèse majesté charges). They have challenged in public the importance of human rights and the right to differ. Similarly, we owe much to those who are opposed to the Olympics Games that are going to happen in August. It is the first time that people the world over have been made aware how the Olympics are used simply as a tool to propagate imperialism and serve the vested interests of multinational corporations. With this campaign, I am sure the MNCs and China will change.
We need to deal with the nightmares that Pravit (The Nation reporter and speaker on the same panel ) have had. There are two relevant points here. First, it is not just the Manager newspaper which is a corrupt representative of mainstream media, The Nation is equally bad. It gets worse as the editor-in-chief of the paper has been awarded the Sri Burapha Prize this year. “Sriburapa” was the last journalist to side with those who cherished democracy and human rights and the destitute. On the contrary, The Nation’s editor has no such qualification. He even told a blatant lie such as writing that he went to see his old teacher, Ven. Thich Nat Hanh, even though he had never met him before. Matichon is the same. Khanchai Boonpan, its editor, ordered his staff to refrain from reporting any news by and about me. No one cares to criticize Matichon, only the Manager. Many papers are ready to utter lies rather than truths and have never made any stand on morality, freedom of expression and human rights.
Just like any institution in Siam, including the press, in order to survive, the Siamese monarchy needs to be subject to criticism, accountability and transparency. Like all of us, the king is merely a God-like being, but not God himself. During the feudal period, the power of the kings was checked by courtiers, particularly, during the reigns of Rama III and Rama V. It is only now that absolute monarchy reigns. If the problem is not addressed, the system will collapse. I am saying this out of my loyalty and am ready to go to jail if the statement is found to constitute lèse majesté.
A few people realize the importance of the monarchy. Feeling discontented, many would opt for dismantling the system altogether. Out of fear, they simply dare not speak out about this. And fear is one of the most treacherous prejudices. According to the Buddha, there are four kinds of prejudice; prejudice caused by love, or hatred, or delusion or fear. Many Thai people are now dominated by prejudice caused by fear. The monarchy has become an object of fear. We need to renounce this fear and draw on moral courage. Unfortunately, most media show no moral courage and simply enjoy the income from printing commercials.
If we really care for the monarchy, the institution needs to be subject to criticism. I am not sure if the intention of the Manager is a genuine desire to retain the monarchy, or if it simply uses the institution as a vehicle for their agenda and to fight against Thaksin (former Prime Minister of Siam).But to be fair, the institution should not be used as a political ploy. It is blatantly shameful for the Manager to abuse a powerless individual (like Chotisak). To make such a charge against people who commit no wrong is shameful. This method has been used since the 1950’s to bring down Pridi Banomyong and Tiang Sirikhan, two pioneers of democracy. The latter was even killed by the indifference of public, just like the case of October 6.
We need to abandon this method. Unfortunately, the mainstream media and even educational institutions have failed to renounce it. There was news before this seminar that the President of the University attempted to foil this seminar.
I recently had a chance to see an opera about Gandhi in New York. Gandhi relied on truth to overcome British imperialism. People in America are realizing how vicious have been the actions committed by President Bush even though the mainstream media tend to indulge people with nonsensical things. The most destructive contribution of capitalism and consumerism seems to be that it turns lies into truth and vice versa, and makes people cherish violence rather than non-violence.
We need to preserve the monarchy, but the monarchy must serve the interests of the people. The last few sentences of the royal anthem go “to whatever His Majesty wishes, may all be accomplished, and Long Live His Majesty”. So if His Majesty wishes to build a dam, then no one can stop it and it will turn out to be a nightmare for us. But if His Majesty wishes to work in the service of the masses and to promote truth, then the nightmare can be avoided.
Presented at a seminar held at the Faculty of Economics, Thammasat University, Bangkok, 2 May 2008. The Thai version can be found at http://www.prachatai.com/05web/th/home/12059.