How's the food messed up with army officers

Fighting out of dust and dirt

Students at Khon Kaen University satirize the decade of protest © James Mitchell

Thailand: The emergence of the yellow shirt and red shirt movement heralded a decade of new, multifaceted protest music from both political camps. However, the 2014 military coup brought this development to an almost complete standstill.

In Thailand in 2020, the passion and turbulence of the decade 2005 to 2014 seem a long way off. After six years of economic stagnation and political re-education, most working-class and middle-class Thais are too preoccupied with survival and too intimidated by the world's toughest libel and cybercrime laws to speak out in anger. As Gabriel Ernst demonstrates in this issue, nihilistic and anti-establishment-oriented music still penetrates from the radical youth cultures and slums. But overall, the Thai music scene has cooled down as much as the political climate. Indeed, it can be argued that the overwhelming impact of the rap song Prathet ku mi was compounded by the almost complete absence of protest music within Thailand since General Prayut Chan-o-cha came to power.

Decade of (musical) protests

The current stagnation makes the years 2005 to 2014 all the more remarkable. This was a time when almost every genre of music available in Thailand (even Western classical music) was used for protest and expression of opinion - which seems utterly dangerous today.

It all started with Thaksin Shinawatra ... only it didn't. The 2014 coup was part of a cycle that dates back to the 1932 revolution, when a small group of army officers and civil activists wrested power from an unpopular and outdated absolute monarchy. The revolutionaries founded the first Thai political party, wrote the first Thai constitution, held the first elections in 1933, and changed the name of the country from the Kingdom of Siam in Thailand, which means "Land of the Free". They even brought out a new national anthem (Phleng chat), which was broadcast daily at 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. and before each cinema screening. Now, ironically, threatens those who refuse for that Phleng chat Getting up before a movie can be up to fifteen years in prison for lese majesty.

Cemented power of the military

Unfortunately, the revolution cemented the military within the Thai political system. There have been 25 general elections and nineteen coups in the 90 years since 1932. The only Prime Minister to have served a full term and was re-elected was ... you guessed it ... Thaksin Shinawatra.

Supported by impressive economic performance, social democratic reforms and Thaksin's strong man image, his party won Thai rak thai (TRT) an overwhelming majority (374 out of 500 seats) in February 2005. For the first time in Thai history, a prime minister was seen as a benefactor of the poor. A role that was reserved for King Bhumibol (Rama IX) for a long time.

Luk Thung-Singer Takkatan Chollada performs at a celebration of Thaksin Shinawatra's 60th birthday on July 26th, 2010 © Nick Nostiz

Crucial to the political crisis was the ethnic and economic gap between Thais of Lao descent in the north and the impoverished northeast (Isaan) and those of Chinese descent in central and southern Thailand. Until 2005, many in the Thai elite were concerned about Thaksin's growing power and uncontrolled hubris. Thaksin was one of them, an ethnically Chinese billionaire, but he messed up the social order by actually keeping election promises and mobilizing the ethnically Laotian populations of the north and northeast.

Corruption-Song reflects Thaksin's greed

Yellow Shirt street protests began soon after the election in Bangkok, and the involvement of many professional songwriters resulted in a deluge of original, professionally recorded satirical songs. One of those early protest songs was Corruption by Wichaya "Nong" Vatanasapt, a member of the legendary Thai ska band T-bone. The verses reflected Thaksin's greed ("day after day you think, do you think about what law can bring you money back / if you can't find it, then write your own law to fill your pockets") with the loyalty of a dog : "Even dogs know the kindness of people, poor or rich, never proud, loyal to their owner ... let the dog teach you." This comparison referred to King Bhumibol's famous children's book about his favorite dog Thong Daeng, who was respectful and well-behaved was, although he came from a humble background. The last part of the song was a rapped curse calling “holy spirits all over the universe” to let this thief suffer: “Stay close, pay your karma, in the prison of the dark place / The fire of hell will burn you forever ". The message was clear: 'low-born' Thais should know their place.

The one led by the media mogul Sondhi Limthongkul People’s Alliance for Democracy, PAD) was formally established on February 8, 2006 to protest Thaksin's alleged corruption and usurpation of the king's role. With a support base consisting of Bangkokers and southerners of the middle and upper classes, conservative factions of the Thai army, the (liberal and conservatively inclined) Democratic Party, composed of some NGOs and trade unions, the PAD was characterized by ultra-nationalist, pro-monarchical rhetoric and the wearing of yellow - the official color of the Thai king.

Ai na liam - Song of the opposition loyal to the king

Within a month, the professionally produced song was Ai na liam (Square face) broadcast in the opposition-friendly Thai media. Aside from attacking corruption, the songwriters denounced populist policies like the 30 baht health system and that A million houses across the country - Program on: “The deceptive Uea Athon house, of poorer quality than if you were to build it yourself”. The music of Ai na liam was a mix of funk and rap with a chorus that was for the central Thai folk song genre Lamtat is typical. It thereby confirmed the central Thai hegemony of Bangkok and excluded the main areas of support for Thaksin, the Lao-Isaan folk song genre Morlam and the hybrid folk song genre Luk Thung preferred.

Video too Ai na Liam:

The yellow shirt protests in September 2006 culminated in the coup that sent Thaksin into exile. The PAD broke up believing that its mission was accomplished. At first there seemed to be little opposition to the coup, but the red shirts, later known as the National Democratic Alliance against Dictatorship (United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship, UDD), slowly began to mobilize. The movement, which initially consisted only of Thaksin's supporters, later expanded to include some left-wing and pro-democratic groups. The UDD's early protest methods were amateurish compared to the PAD, and it wasn't until 2009 that the red shirts developed into a coherent political force with bases of power in the northeast and north.

The military and royalist elite underestimated Thaksin's continued popularity in the regional areas and were shocked when the TRT became the new incarnation People’s Power Party, PPP), which won elections in 2007. The yellow shirts came into force again to fight the governments of Samak Sundaravej and Somchai Wongsawat for a period of twelve months. A combination of free-to-air satellite television broadcasting and continuous demonstrations centered around a performance stage resulted in a mixture of protest and entertainment that was both activism and fodder for the media.

Protests on June 20th, 2008 in Bangkok © Adapter- Plug, Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Bangkok's entertainment industry supports yellow shirt music

The pro-monarchical PAD received huge support from Bangkok's television entertainment industry, and celebrities lined up to appear at the protests. An incredible variety of musical genres appeared on the yellow shirt stage: Phleng Plukjai (patriotic marches), Thai and Western Classics, Luk Krung (challenging songs in the style of the 1950s), jazz, electronica, Thai alternative rock and central Thai folk genres such as Lamtat and Lae and even the Chinese opera genre Teochew, known as Ngiu. The most startling phenomenon was the number of left-leaning people Phleng-Phuea-Chiwit-Musicians * who fought for the abolition of the monarchy in the 1970s [cf. Article by Nantawat Chatuthai on suedostasien.net].

In the end, however, those musicians provoked and defended a military coup against a government that was supported by the majority of the Thai working class. To this Songs for life-Musicians belonged to the Muslim group hammer, the famous band Malihuanna from the south and the front man of the prototypical Songs-for-life-Group Caravan, Surachai "Nga" Jantimathon. At a stormy PAD rally in May 2008, “Nga” Caravan led the classic Luk Thung-Song Fon duean Hok (sixth month rain) with changed text (phleng plaeng) on:

“Now that the sixth month begins, the rain is dripping - drip, drip.
The frogs are singing in the rice fields.
The PAD meets again in our capital
against the dark government that only benefits itself. "

Luk thung however, it was actually the music of the red shirts. When the Somchai government was dissolved in December 2008 and replaced by the Democrats, the PAD took another break. With three democratically elected prime ministers in quick succession, the red shirts mobilized more professionally and impressively. In April 2009, the red shirts forced the 4. East Asia Summit in Pattaya and in Bangkok there were large demonstrations.

Red shirts protest in Khon Kaen in January 2009 © James Mitchell

Red shirt music in the Luk Thung style

After these were disbanded by the military, the UDD solidified its support throughout the north and northeast through a series of fundraising concerts, which became increasingly sophisticated and typical Luk Thung-Singers like Muk Methini, Molam- Singers like Sathian Noi and country rock singers like Orm Khaphasadi have performed. At these protest concerts that was Luk Thung used by the red shirts to complain, praise and celebrate. For example, was Muks Rueang sao muea chao ni (Sad story that morning) a lawsuit for Narongsak Krobthaisong, who died in a clash with the PAD in September 2008: "You said you wouldn't be away long ... went to the big city to look for work ... you joined the protest until death." Khon di thi na nueng (number one of the good people) praised Muk Thaksin's efforts to help the poor through populist schemes like the one in the song Ai na liam to help criticized cheap housing construction:

“At the time you were here, you cared for people and had mercy.
For those who had no place to sleep, Ban Uea Athon was the answer to their desires.
This Thaksin did many projects, he freed Thailand from its debts,
But he was slandered and had to flee into exile. "

In happier ones Luk Thung-Muk was accompanied by dancing girls in elaborate red costumes and also collected songs Malai (Garlands of flowers or money) and roses from the protesters. Most of the red shirt rallies included karaoke sessions where the leaders share their favoriteLuk-Thung-Sang songs (with altered text) and interacted with the followers. In this way, the red shirts created a deep emotional connection within the movement through the mourning, the celebrations and the commercial stagings of the Luk Thung absorbed.

Red shirthang khrueang (Tanzrevue) in 2009 © Nick Nostitz

After the dramatic protests in Bangkok from March to May 2010, which resulted in 91 deaths and the fire in CentralWorldShopping mall, a significant section of Bangkok's middle and upper classes were shocked and offended by the destruction of this symbol of their wealth and status. Many therefore openly joined the racist view that the Northern and Isaan Thais are stupid farmers who should stay in the fields where they belong (see Mitchell 2015: 155, 167-171)

Khwai daeng - which means "red buffalo", but was translated by the songwriter as "red shit" - is representative of the ugly feelings that were expressed in those days:

“You stupid water buffalo, how much did they pay you a day?
You hurried to take it to admit that you are low farmers.

You hurried to become the slaves of that asshole Thaksin.
I want to tell you all that you are shit in every way. "

Class difference is a central concern of the song - the rural red shirts who followed Thaksin are called bia rapchai (slaves) designated. Other verses attacked the red shirt leaders, such as Major General Khattiya Sawasdipol, better known as Seh Daeng. He was murdered on May 13, 2010 when he was told by a reporter for the New York Times was interviewed: "Mr. Seh was quickly fucked by karma / You couldn't play yourself for long; you got a bullet in the head ”.

With Thaksin, however, the songwriter was overwhelmed by anger and alternately chanted accusations and insults such as "sat (Animal) Maeo, hia (Lizard) Maeo ”. Thaksin's alleged crimes included attacking the monarchy, wanting to become president and turning Thailand into a republic as a result, and payments Phrai (serfs), the bribery of the Thai government assembly and his comfortable life while his supporters were killed on the street. In the last section, the singer cursed Thaksin (“May you get cancer in your testicles”) and asked the red shirts to follow their guide “to Montenegro”.

The two main verbal abuse (Khwai and Phrai), which this songwriter used for the broad mass of the red shirts, were actually accepted by the movement as badges of honor. Phrai can be translated as "farmer", but especially as "feudal serf". Hats, shirts, signs and buttons adorned with this word from Siam's feudal past were a common sight at red shirt protests. The popular singer Om Khaphasadi sold her music under the label Phleng Phrai (Benjamin Tausig (2013): 116).

By yourself Phrai called, the red shirts declared the elite that the age of Amat (aristocracy) was over. The future should belong to those who used to have no voice and who like them Khwai worked in the fields without complaining. Luk Thung was their music before they gained political consciousness and it remained their music after they woke up.

Red shirt protest in Khon Kaen in 2013 © James Mitchell

Still, everything seemed to be in vain. From 2013 the PAD transformed into a totalitarian people's committee for democratic reforms (People’s Democratic Reform Committee, PDRC) under the leadership of veteran Democratic Party politician Suthep Thaugsuban. The PDRC's occupation of Bangkok lasted from January 13th to March 2nd, 2014 and used similar organization and tactics as the PAD in 2005. The aim was to replace the elected government with an unelected 'People's Council'. The defeat of the government of Yingluck Shinawatra paved the way for Thailand's 12th successful military coup on May 22, 2014. Six years on, there are no signs that Thailand will return to real democracy.

In every conflict in which one side wins so decisively, the culture of the losing side is often lost.Many red shirt officials are now wondering whether they will ever return to power and whether the red shirt songs will ever be heard on the protest stage again. Perhaps the most famous red shirt song - Naksu thulidin (fighters from dust and dirt) by the former communist activist Jin Gamachon - can now be interpreted as an elegy for the entire movement.

Translation from English by: Dominik Hofzumahaus