Thursday, April 12, 2007

Dogs Don’t Give Birth to Humans, Coups Don’t Give Birth to Democracy

Immediately after the September 19th coup d'etat a considerable number of foreign journalists and academics in Bangkok showered praise upon the new military leaders.

Thaksin’s divisive and failing policies coupled with his grotesque arrogance were too much for most and anything, even the strong arm of the military toppling a democratically elected government, was deemed preferable to his prolonged tenure.

One of the few initial, and rather vocal, voices opposing the junta was Professor Giles Ungpakorn of Chulalongkorn University.

About a week after the coup Giles gave a particularly spirited attack against the junta while it was still unfashionable to do so.

While Bangkok's residents were still lining up to have their pictures taken with the flower draped soldiers Giles was at the Foreign Correspondents Club Thailand reprimanding the assembled foreign media and pro-junta academics.

Supporters of the coup were ‘tank liberals’ he claimed and rhetorically questioned whether academics that supported the coup would “all burn their Comparative Politics books and scrap all courses on ‘democratization’ in favor of teaching military science and tank maintenance?”

Giles’ academic wrath has now been focused into valuable new book titled A Coup for the Rich – Thailand’s Political Crisis.

The book is certainly ‘hot of the press’ but it’s not exactly for sale. It seems that Thailand’s supposedly prestigious Chulalongkorn University has opted for self-censorship and the school’s bookstore will not be selling the book.

What makes the book particularly worth reading is both the fact that its banning reflects the pathetic state of press freedom in Thailand as well as its blunt and open critique of Thai politics.

Giles lashes insightful criticism on almost everyone. The military, the pu yai (upper class), and even the monarchy are fair game.

Such criticism is not just refreshing in a country where open political discussion is extremely curtailed but it is essential if Thailand is to solve the on-going political crisis.

What Giles does best though is bring a clever, spirited, and serious challenge to Thailand’s increasingly confined political space.

His unprecedented questioning of the monarchy is nothing short of breath-taking.

In a climate of fear where any rational questioning of the monarchy has the very real possibility of leading to a prison term it is important to have an academic brave enough to raise important issues that are essential elements to resolving Thailand’s political quagmire.

The book does have flaws though. Giles follows a rather strict socialist ideology that tends to lionize the poor as free from the bigoted villainy of the upper class. Unfortunately, humanity's capacity for bad behavior spans all classes so poverty doesn't automatically result in higher morals values as the book often suggests.

But such criticism is limited. Not only has Giles initiated essential political dialogue that Thailand is starving for, but he initiates dialogue with a comedic flare that is often absent in the academic world.

While scolding the international media for our lackadaisical challenge to military rule he gave a wily smile and reminded us that dogs don’t give birth to humans, should we expect coups to give birth to democracy?


*As far as I know the only place to buy Giles' book is still from his office in the faculty of political science at Chulalongkorn. If anyone know's another source, please leave a comment and let us know.

1 comment:


    15 February 2007

    Dear Colleagues,

    As you know, Freedom Against censorship Thailand (FACT) is opposing a broad range of censorship issues. Censorship is unbecoming of a modern, democratic Thailand. Censorship stifles free speech, free expression, academic freedom and tramples basic human rights and liberties.

    It has come to our attention that CU Books and Chula Bookcentre is
    refusing to distribute and sell two new books on the basis that they are perceived to be critical of Thailand’s military coup government.

    The first book, The September 19 Coup: A Coup for a Democratic Regime Under the Constitutional Monarchy, in Thai, is an anthology to which numerous respected academic voices have contributed. The book’s authors include Ajarns Nidhi Eoseewong, Sulak Sivaraksa, Chaiwat Satha-anand, Tongchai Winichakul, Suthachai Yimprasert, Pakavadi Virapaspong, Thanet Wongyannava, Somsak Jeamtheerasakul, Kasem Penpinan, Somchai Preechaz-silpakul, and Sirote Klampaiboon. Surely such respected academic opinions deserve consideration at such an
    august institution as Chulalongkorn University.

    More recently, CU Books and Chula Bookcentre are reneging on their
    agreement to distribute and sell yet another book critical of
    Thailand’s military coup. The book, A Coup for the Rich, in English, is the work of Chulalongkorn University professor, Giles Ji Ungphakorn. Many of the articles in the book have been previously published or have been the subject of lectures.

    If Chulalongkorn University will not even give a voice for one of its own respected professors to be heard, then academic freedom simply
    does not exist in Thailand.

    These two books are not banned books. Neither has been officially
    listed in the Royal Gazette as banned.

    They are the subject of self-censorship in Thailand. No academic body has the right to censor such academic work, regardless of the opinions

    Self-censorship is the most insidious sort of censorship because we do it to ourselves. Whom of us has the right to make a decision to stifle free expression?

    We find it reprehensible that any government or any bookstore,
    particularly those in an academic setting, should impose such

    Freedom Against Censorship Thailand (FACT) demands these two books be sold openly NOW!



    Contact details:
    CJ Hinke Tel. 0-879-761-880 (English)
    Supinya Klangnarong โทร 0-867-889-322 (ภาษาไทย)


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