Friday, September 19, 2014

Editing Out Thailand's Past

Borrowing a page from the propagandists in George Orwell’s “1984,” Thailand’s military government has removed Thaksin Shinawatra, the country’s former prime minister, from new editions of high school history textbooks. Not content with ousting a democratically elected government in May, the generals running the country now want to whitewash the past in what appears to be a broader campaign to get people to support military rule.

The government has not explained why Mr. Thaksin’s name has vanished; the books do say that the government that existed at the time — the very government presided over by the scrubbed-out Mr. Thaksin — became popular through public spending.
The chairman of an official committee on the teaching of history and civic duty says the omission was an aberration he cannot explain. This sounds highly suspicious coming from a military government that has been aggressively trying to mold public perceptions and behavior, especially among young Thais, and whose Education Ministry has been telling students to write down their daily behavior and attitudes in a “merit passport.”

The Thai military has a history of overthrowing democratic governments and cracking down on dissent. It ousted Mr. Thaksin from office in 2006, and earlier this year removed a government led by his sister, Yingluck Shinawatra. Her name has also disappeared from the new textbooks. The military, along with much of the country’s economic and cultural elite based in Bangkok, has long despised the Shinawatras. They say the family is corrupt and has misled the majority of Thais into voting for its political parties through unsustainable populist policies.

The government’s latest propaganda tactics are ominous, suggesting at the very least that Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, who was named prime minister in August, is in no hurry to return the country to democratic rule. The New York Times


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