On December 7, Thai student activist group Free People unveiled the logo of its new Restart Thailand movement – and opinions, to put it mildly, are mixed.
Free People (formerly Free Youth) are among a dozen groups associated with the spate of mass public protests that have taken place in Thailand in recent months that have demanded a new constitution and made explosive calls to control the power of the monarchy. .
Announcing the launch of its Restart Thailand (RT) movement, Free People also unveiled a new logo featuring a stylized R and T, clearly modeled on a Communist hammer and sickle, on a red background. While the exact shade of red is a few shades to the right of Lenin, the resemblance to the flag of the late Communist Party of Thailand and its big brothers in Beijing and Moscow is undeniable.
The statement that accompanied the logo touched on a similar theme, describing RT’s purpose (its acronym offers another unfortunate resonance) as the creation of an âequal countryâ. “It’s a new movement where nothing will be the same,” the group said. “[Weâll] raise awareness of the oppressed working class, whether you are students, office workers, uniformed personnel, farmers or civil servants. We are all oppressed workers. (The statement is available in Thai here.) Earlier, the group said its goal was “a state where the people rule.”
While the hammer and sickle were historically intended to represent the union of workers and peasantry, the image has accumulated a series of unpleasant connotations, especially in the Thai context. Throughout the Cold War, fear of Communist subversion served as a pretext for the military’s continued intervention in politics and for the construction of the monarchy, weakened after World War II, as an untouchable pillar. of Thai identity. Throughout this period, right-wing royalists and conservative groups have used accusations of communism to legitimize state violence against student activists and others demanding democratic reforms.
Since the logo was unveiled, many people, including supporters of the protest movement, have argued that the appropriation of the hammer and sickle can only contribute to such claims. “If the intention is to make it look like a popular and trade union movement, it is” wrote a Thai Twitter user, “but it also played a role in government and military propaganda.”
Ken Lohatepanont, a reporter for the Thai Enquirer, noted that supporters of the protest movement have spent months explaining that âwhat they are looking for is reform, not revolution. Let them believe that a constitutional monarchy remains the ideal form of government in Thailand. He added, âThis is an argument that will become even more difficult to accept with the Free Youth Movement’s new ‘Reform Thailand’ logo.
It is not difficult to see why the Free People’s activists were shooting. One of the most pernicious legacies of the Cold War in Thailand was to ban any dominant discussion of the material interests that underpin the country’s monarchy-military nexus. The fact that young Thai protesters are prepared to question the influence of Thailand’s large business conglomerates and the monarchy’s immense wealth added an important economic dimension to their calls for democratic reform.
But after decades in which “communism” has been described as the antonym for the monarchy, Buddhism, and the nation of Thailand, it’s hard to see how this logo will help the movement expand its tent. In recent weeks, the Thai government has indicted 23 protest leaders with violations of the country’s archaic lese majesty law, which is used to quash criticism of the king and the royal family. In this context, giving the government any pretext to delegitimize the protest movement as “communist” seems counterproductive. Sure enough, on November 8, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said he would ask his legal team to determine whether the RT campaign had an “illegal” agenda.
The logo controversy highlights deeper challenges facing Thailand’s current protest movement. While it is fair to designate the monarchy as the central institution of Thai politics, whose reform is the sine qua non of any meaningful or lasting democratic change, it struggles to gain the support of a majority of Thais. , many of which still harbor affection for the monarchy or the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej.
There was no reason the movement could not have included materialist or economic criticism without embracing hammer and sickle. âI love the idea of ââgalvanizing all types of workers, but is our progressive movement going retro? ” demand a Thai user on Twitter. âAre we going forward or backward with that kind of symbolism? Keeping and developing allies is important.