The Silence of the Red

On June 5, a young independent journalist Rackchart ( travelled north, to the provinces of the "Red Shirt" to meet people, and to collect their stories of life under the curfew and under the junta. 

Written by Rackchart Wong-Arthichart

More than four weeks now that Thailand, the land of smiles, has been ruled by the military junta. The patrols are everywhere on the street, fully armed. Chiangmai had one of the strictest curfews enforced among the 77 cities in Thailand. 

Barb wire on Chiangmai's historical wall

Due to the small scale of the city, that was not difficult for the army to control. Chiangmai is, and will always be, seen as the city of the resistance by supporters of the coup.

However, since the seizure of power, the anti-coup protests are few. We've seen only 100 - 150 people conduct symbolic protests in the central point of the city. What about the others? What about the local red-shirts that vowed to defend their ideals and resist if the coup happened?

Apparently, if you look closely into the city, and not just hanging around with the rumours and all those “secret groups” on the internet, you will understand that they have not disappeared from the political cycle of the so-called “democracy” in Thailand.  During the day, the locals here appear indifferent from the military patrols and are still living their routines. But as a tourist destination, Chiangmai felt during and after the curfew the inevitable impact of the coup especially on the tourism-related businesses.

“It’s the worst period of the year” said a taxi driver in Chiangmai. “Many foreigners had cancelled the trips to Thailand, they are not prepared to take risk here.” Almost 11 am now and I am his first customer, which is not the normal thing for this usually high tourist city.

The most affected sector is the hotel industry, when the military in Chiangmai summoned hotel business owner to explain the situation and asked them to be patient during this period. Some hotels faced zero-customers, all empty rooms, for a week and had to give away more than 70% discount on top of the low-season packages. This is, as expected in a capitalist country, the worst nightmare. 

"I really hope these things will turn out positive asap” said a resort owner in Chiangmai. "I'm not red nor yellow. I’m just a business man but if this situation is dragging on more than a month, all businesses in Chiangmai will be doomed."

The Reds and Yellows, the extreme political rivalry between the northern provinces of Thailand against the mainly middle-class of Bangkok and surrounding districts. 

During the day, the center square of the city and the multi-purpose field, also known as "Larnkonmueng" are fully guarded. In the first few days of martial law, many symbolic non-conventional protests were done here such as exercising, cycling, drawing, and lighting candles. However these cannot last longer than a week, as after the coup, the military used the field to launch activities as part of their “Bring back Happiness” nationwide campaign. They set-up a stage to play some local country songs and patriotic music with their uniformed bands.

Junta "Bring Back Happiness" campaign in Chiangmai

An activist who participated in one of the symbolic protests explained that "To make the peaceful symbolic protest is to show the civil disobedience to the military" and "exercising (was) just to tease the soldier, our idea is like keeping good health to fight with the dictator. These are quite safe (activities) than the radically oppose the army." said Mitr Chaiin, a Chiangmai artist who used his paintings to reflect societal opinions. He continued, "The military is still having very old ideas; they cannot really understand many arts that have been performed. So it quite safe for us and it is the wisest way to fight in this kind of situation after the 3-finger-salutes and all the radical stuff have been banned”

Mitr Chaiin and his assistant doing art works

In Sankumpang district, not far from the center of Chiangmai, the locals are still debating about politics. “We are not losing, just wait for the election to come and you will see.” said a middle age woman, who owns a small noodle-shop. When asked how they were keeping in touch with the news, she showed her mobile phone. 

"We are contacting via the LINE (social media application), so if there’s any news they (her friends and network) will forward to me." 

The locals in this district are still calm. They use the time to calm themselves and revise their thoughts however their intention to defend their rights have not disappeared. 

"Other people will think that we are losing, that we are giving up, but we are not. The soldiers can’t press us forever, the international community will press them back and the election will come eventually, and you will see that they cannot wipe us out."

Noodle shop in Sankumpang with photos of Thaksin and Yingluck Shinawatra (claimed to be Thaksin's favourite noodle house)

Luckily this 'pro-redshirt' noodle shop is not a target for the military, unlike a famous fried chicken shop in the center of Chiangmai known as "Midnight Fried Chicken" which normally opens at midnight till around 5am. But was forced to earlier due to the curfew. 

"We cannot open at midnight any more. During the few first days of the curfew, we opened at midnight, the soldiers arrested me and took me to the camp." claimed the owner of the eatery. "I'm not a red nor yellow, I'm just a shopkeeper." she said with a sad look. She told me that the military took her to a 'rehabilitation program' specifically for instructing people not to disobey their rules. She was fined 40,000 baht. The midnight fried chicken during the curfew had to open at 7pm and close before midnight. The impact upon her business: dwindling customers, as many didn't know the change of time.

At Lampang, there used to be a sign declaring a "red shirt village" however soldiers removed it after the Coup

Same experiences, a local independent journalist who wrote articles for many international media, Kannika Petchkaew. She’s been to many of the red shirt village and confirms that the red shirt is not gone. "The people who panic mostly are the middle-class people who are always on the internet, chatting in secret groups and that is full of rumours. They claim that the red shirt (movement) is dead. No they are not." she said, and as for advise on how to defend human rights, she said "The best thing to do now for us is getting yourself out from the screen and explore the situation for yourself. Leave the secret rumour groups on the social network, report news by your own."

"Everyone can be a citizen journalist, by having your smart phone, just shoot some photos that are interesting with some hashtag like #ThaiCoup or else and share it to the world." she explained.

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