Red-shirts Rally In Chiang Mai

Speakers try to warm up the crowds on a very cold Chiang Mai eveningThe red-shirts (pro-government supporters) of Chiang Mai seemed in good spirits Friday night. To a Western eye the organisation appeared rather haphazard, the 'pro-democracy' crowd lacking a real sense of purpose. Talk to the demonstrators, and it's hard to penetrate the hyperbole, to get at the grass-root supporter's real understanding of the issues involved. In fact there was considerable suspicion - not so much of the single foreigner present at the rally, but of my interpreter for the evening - Fon, a student. As the night wore on I was gradually getting a sense that on a simple level this conflict was developing into an 'us and them', class war thing. There was immediate suspicion of the intelligentsia, as represented by the two or three students who turned up. I was just a curiosity farang with a camera, and tolerated as such with the usual friendly, if confused smiles. Had the same camera been in Fon's hand she wouldn't have been allowed to take a single shot.

Fon speaks great English, studies sociology at Chiang Mai University. Not present to support one side or the other, but just to get a better grip on the strength of feelings and motivations of those involved. Something of a rarity amongst students here, as unlike the highly politically motivated students in the likes of, say, France, students in Chiang Mai are tending to dissociate themselves from the current conflict -in public anyway - preferring not to take sides. Their main incentive is to do well in their studies and get a good job in business once they graduate. They fear involvement, even academically in this conflict, could damage their prospects. Their professors seem to be encouraging them in this attitude.

Get your red t-shirt here - 150 baht. Or 200 baht for a polo-neck. All for a good cause... Good spirits all round early on in the evening.

As the night wore on, the redshirts were increasingly on edge at the pro-government headquarters in CM. Clear though, after I'd heard every possible rumour under the sun, that no one had a clue what was really going on. 'Troops' being shipped off to Government House in Mae Rim in this photo where Somchai is holed up, a reaction to the apparent threat of hordes of PAD supporters about to arrive ...

Note the crutches in this first vehicle of the convoy ... not for beating yellow-shirts over the head with - they belong to one of the red-shirt leaders who lost the use of his legs fighting for democracy in Thailand, as he told us from the stage earlier on in the evening...

One of the pro-democracy leaders took some time out to speak to me in passable English. It was very clear that they had little notion of what people outside Thailand thought about what was going on. I found this strange - after all, as far as the pro-democracy camp is concerned - it would obviously help their cause to add the West's astonishment at PAD's antics to the message to their red-shirt supporters. Hard for me to steer a middle way when asked directly for my views, but I made it clear that in the West or indeed anywhere else other than Thailand that I could think of on the spur of the moment, nowhere - NOWHERE - would the occupation of the country's main airports be tolerated. It simply wouldn't be allowed to happen.

Having said as much this then immediately became part of his next address to the four or five hundred red-shirts present. Oops.

The entrance to the 'soi' (street) was closed off at either end, with armed guards posted against possible drive-by attacks from PAD supporters

A new convert to the cause, 'Tee' (above) had never attended a rally before. However he has watched his Thai/Japanese tourism business suffer, with the current airport standoff leaving him with no income whatsoever, and the latest PAD antics he considered the last straw - motivating him to don a red bandanna for the first time Friday night.

Graphic images of PAD violence on display on boards around the demo site...

The speakers had little difficulty stirring up the crowds, but it still seemed to lack the fervour of the much more professionally-organised PAD rallies

The evening passed off peacefully - until midnight when I left, at any rate. No sign of any PAD supporters, much to the regret of some of the increasingly drunk baton-wielding youngsters hanging about the perimeter ostensibly as 'guards', I sensed. How much of a role does alcohol have in all the violence, whatever the shirt colour, I wonder...

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6p00e55388e4d48833 said...

Thanks FrogBlog, it's all very harsh isn't it, a sad state of affairs. The Thai's are real peace loving people at heart. Those with extreme views need calming down, and the normal people need to find those important middle roads and accept one another, regardless of political views and without violence.

Fabletoo said...

Pete, I've been telling all my Thai students the same thing (all high-level employees in an international company), that NO WAY would the airport invasion be tolerated anywhere else. One Masters educated woman from Chula University actually thought that the US government would just step down if protesters invaded US airports? HUH? Nope, they'd just shoot the protesters and get on with business.

It's getting pretty grim here too. I don't know a single Thai that supports the PAD now, yet they are still supported by the Thai elite. It also shows how dumb the Thai elite are that they don't understand a destroyed Tourist industry and a collapsing export industry is also going to affect their financial situation. Duh!

Mike said...

Good post. Glad you attended, it adds a bit of balance from a farang perspective, because for the life of me I can't get my head round the current situation.

I would also like to use this comment to send a message to Ben at Thai Pirate. I cannot load his blog and have not been able to do for a few days. Don't know why. Unfortunately I don't have his email.
FB perhaps you can relay?