Opinion: On Forgetting April and May of 2010

I was only 13 when April and May 2010 happened, I barely had political consciousness then.

“Most of the political voices of our generation were still playing Pokemon,” as one Twitter commentator put it. But I remember the entire period with a certain bitterness – there was anger, so much of it. None of the annoyance or irritation at the current military government compared to the rage ordinary citizens felt at one another – so much so that the insane violence of the period was justified daily: the sniper fire, the assassinations, and ultimately the 2010 massacre itself.

Bangkok is burning, some lamented, as plumes of smoke rose in the sky above Ratchaprasong. Let it burn, others responded, better yet – set it on fire! There were decades, centuries of animus buried beneath every sentiment: the resentment of the poor against the rich and the rich against the poor, of ‘ban nok’ and centralized power. Each divide was fragmented into many more – both ‘rich’ and ‘poor’ were diverse and disunified categories, different articulations of political ordering were heard within all camps. But all were united in the intensity of their rage – that was the fire ravaging through not just Bangkok, but Chiang Mai, Isaan, Nakhon Si Thammarat.

The April 2010 massacre was an intensely personal landmark for most in Thai society. It was the tragic culmination of rifts that left the nation a bloodied, estranged mess. 98 people died that day, many more were injured. It was preceded by red shirt protests, yellow shirts protests, multiple government turnovers, labor union strikes, court cases – even a military coup.

Yet, it seemed like that period – and that massacre, in particular – was suddenly forgotten. In 2013, Voice TV sent reporters to five neighborhoods in Bangkok to ask about their thoughts on 10 April, 2010 – only 3 out of 25 people knew or still remembered what happened only three years ago. The eminent historian Nidhi Eoseewong asked in Prachathai, “How was the process of forgetting 10 April 2010 constructed?” His answer was that the highly public nature of the conflict chafed with traditional Thai sensibilities. Rather, there was a compulsion to paint the conflict as one in which people were instruments of individuals in conflict (they were all paid by Thaksin! They were brainwashed by Suthep!), eliding the public nature of the structural critique being levied against the status quo.

There is some of that, I imagine. But I imagine the process of forgetting was also hastened by the deep hurt that that entire period inflicted on Thai society. It seems apt to use the metaphor of the nation as a wounded body – not least because the red shirt protests vigorously asserted the presence of a larger ‘body politic’ than the state had ever allowed for, but because it was on their bodies that these wounds were made material. It seemed people wanted to forget not just the highly public nature of the conflict, but also the violence, the rage. Parents ‘forgot’ to tell their children of the massacre, not because it was unseemly, but because they, too, were complicit in this rage.

I came of ‘political’ age many years later as a freshman in college, reading the biographies of the dead from April 2010. I came to learn their names and personal histories: Charoon Chaimean, a recently converted taxi driver, Therdsak Funklinchan, whose parents had been waiting for him at Ratchprasong intersection. Most died from gunshots – Boonchan Maiprasert’s wounds were laceration and a pierced left hip and pubic bone.

Some had loved ones holding them to the last minute – Kriangkrai Khamnoi held on to his brother, asking him not to leave as blood gushed from his stomach. I was working as an RA, helping a professor with her translation of วีรชน 10 เมษา: คนที่ตายมีใบหน้า คนที่ถูกฆ่ามีชีวิต, and I spent hours reading and re-reading these stories. One of the victims had been married to a woman who shared my mother’s name. Many have written of the red shirt protests as an emancipatory moment. But my memory of 2010, written in its distant aftermath, was one of its profound tragedy. It is this deeply personal, intensely human history that seems to have fallen through the cracks.

The process of ‘forgetting’ that Nidhi identified has come undone in recent years. Numerous academics in Thai studies have rewritten the political history of the red shirts to reclaim their agenda. In the past few days alone, the ‘un-forgetting’ of April 2010 has been galvanized by laser beams ‘Searching For The Truth’, with other efforts organized under the Progressive Movement or คณะก้าวหน้า. Truth will be found; we are promised by Pannika Wanich in her fiery exchange with a Nation TV reporter. But one can’t help but feel like this isn’t really a search for ‘truth’ in any legal or social scientific sense, but rather for remembrance. A reclamation, not just for what the red shirt movement stood for in its entirety, but of the personal stories of April 2010.

How is the process of remembering constructed, to use Nidhi’s phraseology? Perhaps, in the same way, it was forgotten – with horror, with rage, and more than that, with a willingness to admit complicity. In the dead bodies of the protestors alone one immediately reclaims a certain truth. Its truth is this: state violence can go, and did go, unpunished.

Unlike the 1973 massacre, or the 1991 massacre, the ‘unseeing’ of 2010 constituted an original sin, it’s ‘forgetting’ functioned as collusion with instruments of state violence that have facilitated this long period of military rule. When I write of the continued violence perpetrated against sex workers, indigenous communities, female environmental activists, there are traces of this same state violence ever-present. And it continues to go unpunished.

But it is with that rage, horror and shame that we remember. We think of the names and faces that were lost on April 2010. And this is how we learn never to forget again.

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