Cover photo credit: Cyrille Andres, used with permission
Ten years ago, in the scorching months of April and May, Thailand descended into chaos. The scenes of violent clashes that left almost 100 people dead and over 2,000 injured were forever seared into the country’s consciousness. A decade later, the traumatic events still haunt the families of those killed, injured, or locked up–many of them from the Northeast–and all the others who have watched from afar in disbelief.
As the promise of the state for justice and reconciliation proved to be mostly empty talk. Protesters and their leaders continued to be persecuted while the politicians and military commanders who ordered the crackdown or the soldiers who carried out those orders were left off the hook. As a result, individual and collective wounds never healed.
Questions about power, democracy, equality, and the meaning of citizenship that the Red Shirt movement pushed into the public debate, have all but been left unanswered. Instead, the military suspended democracy in 2014 for almost five years, promising to “return happiness” to the country. The junta’s approach to reconciling a deeply divided nation was suppression and reeducation through so-called reconciliation training and attitude adjustment sessions.
The desire for a more equal and just society that fueled the Red Shirt protests was brushed aside as the men in uniforms dismantled the country’s democratic institutions and curtailed civil liberties.
Ultraconservative forces discredited the Red Shirts either as terrorists seeking to “burn down the nation” (phao ban phao muang) or as “buffaloes” misled by self-serving politicians. A chauvinistic discourse in the media portrayed rural voters as ignorant and uneducated, leading them to vote for the “wrong” candidates in elections. It flared up again, most recently, in the controversial elections last year.
Despite the repressive climate of past years, Red Shirt activists continue to commemorate the tragic events, circulating the slogan “We won’t forget” (rao mai luem). Their persistent demand for the “truth” to be revealed has posed a challenge to Thai society’s deep-rooted culture of impunity.
Ten years later, the meaning of the bloody events in April and May 2010 remains a highly contested subject. Some see the discussion as a Pandora’s box with the potential to rattle the very foundations upon which the Thai state is built. But others insist that Thailand will never become a genuine democracy until its past tragedies can not be openly discussed, and that there can be no peace without justice.
On the 10th anniversary of the crackdown, The Isaan Record revisits the event and its aftermath through a series of articles, interviews, short stories, and videos, titled “Remembrances of Red Trauma,” in the belief that the memories of those who were suppressed should be retold and kept alive.
Edits made on May 4, 2020.