If there is one country that could outdo the United States in flag waving, it could only be Thailand. The love that Thai’s have for their national flag, a simple yet striking combination of blue, red and white is at a cult level. Walk down any one of Bangkok’s thousands of streets, both large, medium and small – you will undoubtedly see it flying proudly outside all the houses, businesses and temples.
However, it is not only visual pride that Thai’s display in abundance. When strolling through one of Thailand’s many Government buildings, airports or train stations. When the clock strikes 8am or 6pm, I always enjoying watching the bemusement of a newly arrived foreign tourist. A signalled request for everyone to instantly stop and stand hands by side for the entire duration of the national anthem, blaring at max volume from the buildings speakers. Whilst the dumbfounded newcomer wanders the building assuming their the victim of a television prank show.
(This patriotic display also occurs before EVERY screening of a film in a Thai cinema).
Whilst there is nothing inherently wrong with these overt displays of patriotism, on a fundamental level. These acts can be exploited by those in power to persuade the people of the countries inability of wrongdoing, changing to a concept of nationalism.
Thailand’s history of remaining the only country in South East Asia not colonised by the European’s, is an extremely proud fact to all Thai’s. As the surrounding nations of Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos fell to the French, as too Burma and Malaysia the British. Thai nationalism was essential in keeping the Kingdom ruled under it’s absolute Monarchy and social class, that the countries elite had become accustomed.
Turning to the context of today, with the recent passing of the demigod figure King Bhumboil, the recent military coup and now quasi-democratic elections. Thai patriotism is again being exploited to become Thai nationalism. With outdated Lèse-majesté laws once rarely enforced, the past few years have seen a huge increase in Thai’s arrested and jailed. With such minor offences as an innocuous Facebook post indicating the Monarch in poor light, receiving significant and harsh jail sentences.
Many Thai people would retort that to have pride for their country is a fundamental component of Thai belief and traditions. A term that many commentators have dubbed ‘Thainess’, and for the most part I would agree. However, Thailand has come to point when it’s pride has been so exploited as to result into one-eyed denial of the serious problems facing the country. Simply put it has been used to stifle any debate about the nations wrong doings, but most importantly those who commit them.
In summary, what may be best for Thailand moving forward into a uncertain future is to turn down the patriotic rhetoric, in the hope of stopping is exploitation. Whilst this would involve a unprecedented and generational change, it would hopefully result in a better outcome for all Thailand and it’s people.