The Pridi documents explained

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The legacy of Pridi Banomyong, a key figure in Thailand’s transition from absolute monarchy to constitutional governance, continues to evoke interest and speculation, particularly concerning a collection of his personal documents housed in Paris which are due to be opened this year.

Pridi, a prominent Thai statesman, lawyer, and economist, was instrumental in the 1932 revolution that transformed the Thai political landscape. His subsequent exile, commencing in 1947 amidst political upheaval and following the death of Rama VIII, saw him first in China, then finding refuge in France.

The intrigue surrounding Pridi’s documents stems from their potential to offer unprecedented insights into Thai political history, especially regarding significant events before, during, and after the Second World War. Speculations abound over the contents of these papers. They are thought to include critical details about the 1932 revolution, Banomyong’s governance strategies, and his perspectives on cherished institutions. The anticipation surrounding these documents is not merely academic; it holds the potential to reshape historical narratives and perceptions of Thai political history.

In a significant development, Thai exiles in France claimed to have recently obtained some of Pridi’s letters which were due to be released. These letters are now in the process of being translated, sparking a flurry of interest online. The hashtag #จดหมายปรีดี is trending, following unconfirmed reports by Nithiwat Wannasiri from Faiyen, a Thai exile in France, that these letters will be opened today.

The letters, entrusted to the French government, are housed in the diplomatic archives of the French foreign ministry. According to online rumors and internet sleuths, these documents are anticipated to shed light on various aspects of Thai history, including the drafting of Thailand’s first charter in 1932, internal conflicts within the Chana Ratsadon, negotiations with foreign powers during World War 2, the establishment of the Free Thai Movement (Seri Thai), the drafting of the 1946 charter, the circumstances surrounding the death of King Rama VIII, disputes between Pridi and Field Marshal Plaek Phibunsongkhram, and Pridi’s stance on international neutrality.

However, the latest information suggests that the letters attributed to Pridi are not new discoveries. Piyabutr Saengkanokkul said that the documents shared on Tuesday have been available since around 2017. Din Buadaeng, a historian and lecturer at Chiang Mai University, who spent years in Paris, had previously summarized these documents, focusing on Banomyong’s exile from China to France. Piyabutr emphasizes that the documents gaining attention now are the same as those previously disclosed.

Piyabutr further notes that the documents slated for release in 2024 will be available from January 5. He said that they should be subjected to serious academic scrutiny. He suggests involving Thai history students in the process, including scanning or photographing the documents for wider public use. He laments the absence of Din Buadaeng in Paris, noting his significant contributions to this research field.

Piyabutr concurs with Din and Professor Somsak that the 2024 documents are likely observations and records by the French Embassy in Thailand about Pridi rather than writings by Pridi himself.

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