Red shirts reclaim 1932 coup anniversary to advance cause
As Sunday's 80th anniversary of the June 24, 1932 coup approaches, Thai society has seen a steady revival of interest - especially among red shirts - in the day that marked the end of absolute monarchy, and whose date served as Thai National Day for two decades.Red shirts will hold a mass demonstration on Sunday. On Monday this week, a group of Thammasat and Chulalongkorn University students wearing pseudo-1930s military uniforms gathered in front of Army Headquarters to urge the military to stop staging coups d'etat for good. The lyrics and music of the "June 24 National Song", of which most young Thais are unaware, were uploaded on pro-red shirt thaienews.blogspot.com. Someone also tweeted a link to 37 online books written by or about Pridi Banomyong, the most respected leader of the 1932 revolt, for free download. Two years after the red-shirt June 24 Democracy Group led by Somyos Prueksaksemsuk called for the re-designation of June 24 as National Day, the debate continues.
Chulalongkorn University historian Asst Prof Suthachai Yimprasert, himself a red shirt, said the revived interest is something new and has to do with the 2006 coup.
"After the coup, people recognised that democracy was under siege and they went back to search for the meaning and origin of democracy [in Thailand]. Events [commemorating] June 24 have grown bigger year by year [since the 2006 coup]," said Suthachai. He added, however, that all activities related to the day have been organised by private groups and citizens, in contrast to the period between 1938 and 1960, when they were organised and celebrated by the state as National Day.
On June 4, 1960 dictator Field Marshal Sarith Thanarat ended the status of June 24 as National Day and reassigned HM the King's birthday, December 5, as the date for the national celebration. Suthachai thinks the date is problematic, as December 5 is celebrated today as both Father's Day and the King's Birthday, and the connotation with National Day is simply not there.
Suthachai argues that since Sarith was a dictator and coup-maker, his order should be regarded as void and June 24 should be recognised again as National Day, while December 5 can continue to be celebrated as HM's birthday.
While such a debate is still in the nascent stage, Suthachai decries the lack of proper teaching at primary and secondary levels about the June 24 revolt. He said some of his university students do not even know who The Promoters, who staged the bloodless revolt in 1932, are.
Prominent red-shirt writer Wat Waulayangkul said Thais have almost forgotten June 24 because the powers that be and royalists do not see it as beneficial to promote the memory and history of the 1932 revolt.
Thai society, said Wat, has been made "to forget" that June 24 was once National Day.
"I still recall that as a child I was given an amulet coin to mark the National Day by my grandfather," said the 57-year-old writer, who added he is old enough to recall the day being celebrated as National Day. "It's not just a coin, but the whole ideology embedded in it that has been distorted so power won't belong to the people."
In the Thai-language book "The Changing World View of Thai Elites From the Rama V Era to 1932", author and anthropologist Attachak Satyanulak noted that the changing consciousness regarding history in the aftermath of 1932 was that ordinary people began to recognise that they, too - not just royals - contributed to the process of nation-building, and that great men can also come from a common background.
Nearly 80 years on, the modest bronze plaque marking the spot where the June 24 revolt took place, set in concrete in the ground at the Royal Plaza - and exposed to automobile traffic - is considerably tarnished. Suthachai is against removing it as a way of protecting it, however, fearing it would not be replaced in any way.
Chulalongkorn University political scientist Trakoon Mechai warned, however, that red shirts should not attempt to monopolise the memory of the June 24, 1932 revolt, or act as its sole custodian.
"You can champion it, but you shouldn't monopolise it. Others have the right to invoke [June 24] too," said Trakoon, who added that although the memory of June 24 has receded over the decades, red shirts have intentionally chosen to revive the date to symbolically advance their struggle. The debate about June 24 versus December 5 as the country's national day is another aspect of the struggle over national symbols witnessed by Thai society today.