Today’s blog is about the annual farce that turns a sacred feeling into an extravagant promotion of commercial interests, trampling on human emotions. No, I’m not talking about Christmas. Big money killed the real spirit of Christmas, but that’s old news. I’m talking about the tsunami memorial held today in Thailand’s south.
What’s your idea of commemorating a tragedy of thousands of people perishing in a natural disaster? What is appropriate? Silent mourning; meaningful, emotional rituals and respectful rememberance of the deceased and missing – this should be enough, if the event truly had the affected in focus.
However, the motives become questionable when fireworks festivals, beach volleyball tournament, a seafood fair and Thai film awards are held under the guise of “Tsunami victim remembrance”. If you had loved ones lost in the tragedy, would you appreciate half-naked babes throwing beach balls, as a way of remembering?
It is obvious that the business and tourism sector hijacked the event to promote themselves, trampling on the memory of the thousands of dead, and their grieving relatives. Whose idea was this? I think it comes as not much of a surprise to expect something like this from Thailand’s leading CEO:
The idea for the event was first broached by Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra in September during a cabinet meeting in the tsunami-hit Phang Nga province.
“We want to promote tourism in the three provinces,” he told reporters. “On December 26, we will have memorial services and stone-laying ceremonies for a monument. Then from December 27, there will only be fun, entertainment and music.” (Bangkok Post, Boonsong Kositchotethana).
After this, it’s hardly surprising tht on New Years Eve, Thaksin will attend “Andaman New Year Countdown” to be televised live from Phuket’s Patong Beach. What a convenient coincidence!
However, the origins of these plans go back much earlier. The TAT (Tourism Authority of Thailand) already planned to profit from the memorial, only three months after the disaster struck! In a March 5 briefing, TAT governor Juthamas Siriwan listed the “Tsunami Memorial Day” as a “Mega Tourism Event” (www.tatnews.org).
The media is not any better. Thai TV-viewers these days are flooded with propaganda messages enticing them to come down and spend their money in the tsunami-hit south. Oh, there is also a memorial going on? I guess they mention that too, a few seconds before commercial break. The response? Anger and sadness from the affected locals, who are protesting against the idea of turning their grief into a jolly celebration party.
If the commercialisation of Christmas didn’t make you sick enough, this insensitivity surely will. Apparently, thousands of the affected foreigners also found this repulsive enough to refuse the government’s invitation to the ceremonies, which included free tickets and accomodation. Out of the 10,000 or so, from 40 countries, only 1200 accepted the invitation. The majority apparently refuse to be puppets in the hands of Thailand’s tourism business tycoons.
I wish the government just let the affected deal with the anniversary on their own ways. Let them remember if they wish; let them try to forget, if that’s how they’d like to cope with it. Taxpayer money spent on singers, movie stars and a grand Hollywood-style extravaganza on the beach could have been used to rebuild the now-neglected small communities.
No money could bring back the lost lives, but improving the lives left behind would have been the most meaningful way to commemorate the event.