Streets of Blood – Thailand’s Democracy Monument

Hammer & Sickle, one of four side panels of the monument, sculpted by Corrado Feroci, did he deliberately sneak communist imagery in?

Democracy Monument was built in 1939 in the middle of the military dictatorship of Field Marshal Phibun Songkran to celebrate the role of the army in the bloodless 1932 coup that the army didn’t take part in, which may seem a little strange to an outsider.

The building of the monument was highly undemocratic, Rachadamnoen being in a Chinese-Thai area, so disliked by the anti Chinese military regime, saw large scale evictions and abuse of the local residents by the army as they demolished the whole area to build the wide road.

Despite the monument’s initial unpopularity and its construction having nothing to do with democracy the monument has often found itself as a rallying point for the Thai democratic movement quite ironically allowing me in this piece of writing to suggest Phibun Songkran the father of Thai democracy for building it.

The Monument amid Ratchadamnoen traffic and an image of the 1973 massacre from the open museum beside the monument.

Thailand’s relationship with democracy has always been flirtatious. The first period of democracy started with an army massacre in October 1973 and ended in a police one in October 1976 with the monument being the centre of both. Across the road from the monument is a small museum to those who died in the 1973 massacre showing pictures of the anti-democratic grandparents of the red shirts killing the pro-democratic grandparents yellow shirts. With the situation reversing these days I can’t help wondering which side’s grandparents are turning in their graves the most.

Democracy eluded Thailand again until 1988 when Thailand once again held free elections, however this period of democracy proved to be as short and bloody as the last when in February 1991 the army under General Suchinda Kraprayloon seized control. The move was popularly welcomed by the Thai people and elections were held in March 1992 ushering in Thailand’s third era of democracy which lasted just two months and ended in the army massacre on Black May, killing people protesting Suchinda’s election victory. In just twenty years from 1973/76 the Thai public were supporting military coups and the army massacring the public gathered at democracy monument protesting against democracy.

Thailand’s fourth and longest attempt at democracy began in September 1992 when a succession of short lived Thai governments cleverly ended their regimes in corruption scandals too fast for anyone to coup against them. This was until in 2005 when Taksin Shinawatra created a Thai first and amazingly got reelected after having already ruled since 2002. Taksin spent more money getting elected than George W Bush and had to get the money back somehow, also with the army and police not actually massacring for over a decade he set them to work killing in earnest, but it was neither of these that lead to his downfall, rather it was his decision to tax the rich to give to the poor. In September 2006 with popular public support from the middle classes the army mounted another bloodless coup.

Naga fountain on side of monument.

A year later Thailand’s fifth and final attempt at democracy was to last from December 2007 to August 2008 when the winners of the latest election were ushered from power largely because the poor had voted for them and the middle classes had voted against them and on a recount with middle class votes counting double and people from Issan’s only counting half it appears they had lost after all.

Democracy Monument built by the military on a lie has witnessed some of the bloodiest and most shameful events in Thai history, been the focus of both democratic and anti-democratic rallies and the cause of numerous traffic jams on my way to work. Today it is still often used as the focus of protests by the democratic movement hoping Thailand may once again become a short lived democracy, again and again and again.

Film of Pridi opening Democracy Monument in 1839

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