Opinion: Unforgetting and confronting the truth of state-sanctioned violence

“Thailand needs to heal.”

Those were the words that I clearly remember one of my teachers saying, 10 years ago after the end of the red shirt protest, leaving death, destruction, and a fragmented society in its wake.

Being the naïve 15-year-old that I was, I took it at face value that Thailand would heal, that somehow things would get better.

Fast forward to the present day and we haven’t come any closer to healing.

I still remember some of the other students (and teachers) at school labeling the red shirts as uneducated bumpkins who were used to serve Thaksin’s agenda or as people who wanted to destroy the country, and those who supported the red shirts as being bad people.

Even some of the students who openly supported the red shirts were picked on.

The violent crackdown on the red shirts was met with praise and that it was justified to do so because they deserved it.

Has the situation changed that much in the present?

I look at the red shirt movement and it reminds me that we have not come any closer to any kind of healing. It only reminds me how divided we still are.

This divisiveness that has pervaded Thai society for so long, does not bear origins from the red shirts themselves, or even the whole red vs yellow conflict as a whole.

But from the fact that there has been no real conversation about how the state has gotten away with carrying out acts of violence with impunity.

When someone tries to start a conversation about violence perpetuated by the state, it would be received as creating more divisiveness in society and shushed.

How does one solve any problem without actually talking about the problem? Beats the hell out of me.

Looking back at the red shirt protest and all that has happened, I keep coming back to the word “unforgetting.”

I first heard the phrase last year during an interview BBC Thai conducted with Thongchai Winichakul regarding his mission to keep the memories of the events of October 6 1976 alive.

Leum mai dai Jum Mai Long (ลืมไม่ได้ จำไม่ลง), or what he calls “unforgetting” to describe how the survivors of October 6 try to keep the memory of the incident alive but could not talk about it openly in Thai society. After all, the state willfully tries to forget the atrocities it has committed.

I believe that throughout Thai history, where there is evidence of state-sanctioned violence, the phenomenon of unforgetting is there.

The state is good and well-practised at writing its own history.

But leading up to the 10-year commemoration of the crackdown on the red shirts, it is refreshing to see more people willing to confront and talk about the past.


From the Progressive Movement and their truth-seeking laser protest, to academics being vocal, to news outlets doing special stories about the incident (including us at the Thai Enquirer), and even the ordinary netizens that are writing and sharing posts.

It shows that as we as a society, big or small, are seeking accountability for what has happened.

Not only for what has happened to the red shirts, but to all the other protests where people were killed. Maybe in seeking for accountability from the state, we are able to prevent future acts of violence.

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