Of Cancelled Summits And Street Violence. And Of Revolutions That Benefit The Few

April 14, 2009

Thailand protests Thailand is in the news again. For all the wrong reasons. Violent street protests in Bangkok that have started three weeks ago continued over the weekend and on Monday, with the army finally losing patience and getting tough with the demonstrators. At the last count two people have been killed and up to a hundred injured.

The current protests are driven by the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship that unites supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was driven out of power in a military coup in 2006. The demonstrators, all wearing red shirts, are demanding that the current Prime Minister, Abhisit Vejjajiva, steps down, accusing him of corruption and incompetence. Strangely enough three years ago the same accusations were made against Mr Thaksin when he was brought down by the People’s Alliance For Democracy.

The situation got so bad over the weekend that the Thai government was forced to cancel the summit of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) and airlift foreign leaders to safety. The cancellation of the ASEAN summit was probably not such a bad thing, considering that these gathering never seem to result in anything. Still, most commentators suggested that it was very damaging for the reputation of the Thai government. Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jibao, who was one of the foreign dignitaries whisked away in a helicopter, was planning to announce a $10 billion investment into Thailand’s infrastructure. Will the Chinese have second thoughts, now that they realise that Thailand has become seriously unstable? Leaders of Japan and India came to the summit with a grand vision of a financial package designed to help the poorest countries of the region to weather the current economic storm. Instead, they had to flee just like everyone else.

Maybe it was a sign from above that the ASIAN summit should be conducted in a novel way, with all the participants staying at their respective countries and communicating with each other via a satellite link. The Japanese can easily provide the technology for that. It would save money at a time when money is scarce.

The situation in Thailand is confusing and uncertain, with Thaksin Shinawatra raising the stakes and calling on his supporters to stage a revolution. It is not very responsible of him, considering that the army has come out on the streets and live ammunition is being fired in anger. This self made billionaire should think twice before provoking bloodshed. He probably still feels bitter about his party losing power last year as a result of a similar wave of protests staged by the People’s Alliance for Democracy. The difference then was that unlike the current protesters, who are all wearing red shirts, last year the colour of defiance was yellow, with everyone wearing yellow shirts.

The worrying development this time around, as informed sources have been telling StirringTrouble, is that the King, who is usually neutral in such upheavals, has been dragged into the crisis: protesters are accusing his close advisors of interfering in government affairs and peddling their own agendas. This does not look good for the monarchy.

The fear among the people of Thailand as protest spread throughout the country is that the military may be tempted, once again, to seize power and move the politicians aside. In effect, it would mean that the protesters, who are demanding freedom and democracy and justice for all, could actually get none of these but a military dictatorship.

And once we are on the subject of violent protests I would like to ask this: who exactly are these people on the streets of Bangkok who are fighting running battles with police, throwing petrol bombs and setting fire to cars and buses and shops? Do they have jobs or are they students or unemployed? How is it that they can spend weeks, running around and ignoring the dangers of getting seriously hurt or arrested? Or could it be that they are on someone’s payroll?

It has always puzzled me how people could simply drop everything they do and protest endlessly. It is a fact that some revolutions in the past have been started by small groups of people who had managed to inflame public anger and get the mobs on the streets. But in some cases protesters were actually paid to protest, like it happened in Russia in 1917 when the Germans channelled funds to Russia to left-wing groups like the Bolsheviks that would then pay demonstrators a fixed fee for protesting all day long and even raise it if protesters would confront the police and pelt them with stones.

Call me old fashioned but it has always amazed me to see people taking part in protests for days on end. And I also find it quite surprising to see crowds of jubilant supporters of this politician or that, jumping with joy and dancing on the streets for days when a change of power occurs. How is it exactly that they would benefit from the change of leadership, I always wonder. How would it directly impact on their lives?

I can understand when people close to the new leader express their joy. They usually stand to benefit directly. They get rich and powerful. I witnessed it at first hand in Russia in 1991 when one faction on the Communist Party clashed with another and in the end the so-called ‘democrats’ seized power and enriched themselves beyond belief. But it was a tiny group of people compared to the overall population of Russia. Even though at the time of the so-called ‘revolution’ most Russians were cheering and praising the new regime, thinking that times would change.

It would be best if politicians battle it out between themselves and not drag people into their conflicts. Especially as all politicians are in it for their own interest purely. So why should everyone else suffer?

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