Friday 25 January 2013

Why I am Never Going to Thailand

Gaolled for Criticising Royalty

This week the Thai journalist Somyot Prueksakasemsuk calmly made a ‘victory’ sign as he was led off, in chains, to begin an eleven-year sentence for criticising the Thai monarchy. Although the Thais' script is the prettiest in the world, their statutory liberties are not.

I don’t know enough about Thai history to understand why many subjects of the monarch, King Bhumibol, adulate him. Perhaps they simply can’t imagine him not being there. He was crowned under the Great White Umbrella of State, holding the Royal Utensils, as long ago as 1946. 

His Majesty King Bhumibol is either very stupid or very clever. In 2005 he deliberately invited public criticism, which led immediately to hundreds of arrests.  Ha ha ha! He loves firemarms, and as a youth kept a carbine, a Sten gun, and two automatic pistols in his bedroom. He used to do target practice with his elder brother, King Ananda Mahidol, until the latter was found mysteriously dead (of gunshot wounds).  

Mrs and Mr Bhumibol PhD PhD PhD etc, love slaves?
Bhumibol boasts that he studied Latin and Greek Classics in the Lausanne Gymnasium. [He hankers after intellectual credibility, holding the world record for honorary doctorates, ten of them from the same Thai university]. Perhaps he became obsessed by the myth of the Theban fratricides, Eteocles and Polynices.  Perhaps it was in Lausanne that he acquired his professed love of poetry.  

I fear that it is actually my duty here to criticise the Thai royal family, even if it is a criminal offence under Thai law. With a royal cousin, His Serene Highness Chakrabandh Pensiri, Bhumibol once wrote several songs. I have read those translated into English here:

They are abysmal. But two features stand out (see excerpts below). First, the groovy Thai Cousins can’t get enough of the poetic figure known as ‘servitium amoris’, characteristic of the Latin elegiac love poets. Since the mode of production in late Republican Rome was actually slavery, begging to be chained up, burnt and flogged by your dominatrix must have triggered real associations, as Prof. T.P. Wiseman (rumoured to be the model for Dumbledore in Harry Potter) argued in his brilliant book on Catullus.

The ‘slavery of love’ trope is, however, difficult to take seriously in the context of Bhumibol and his wife (see fig.) Moreover, his use of it is shocking given that Bangkok is the global capital of human trafficking. Thailand is the easiest place in the world to find enslaved (often under-age) prostitutes.

Just as bad is the comparison of the singers’ narrative voices with those of people without food in ‘Hungry Men’s Blues’. Applying this metaphor takes some gall given (a) the levels of poverty which persist in rural Thailand, and (b) Bhumibol’s status as the World’s Richest Royal, with a fortune estimated at $35 billion.

Today’s exercise in practical criticism is the sole, tiny act of solidarity with Somyot Prueksakasemsuk I can muster. If anyone knows the address of his gaol please let me know so I can send him something-–anything--more interesting to read.

Poems by the Thai Royal Family
Love Over Again

A slave of your love
Forever I will remain.
Heaven up above
Won't let me love in vain.

Sweet Words

The song you sing me
Has sweetest words and melody.
It's love-laden flare
That keeps my heart all aflame.
I wonder if you really care
Or is it just a game
Of teasing poor me
Ever to be your slave of love?

The Hungry Men’s Blues

We've got the Hungry Men's Blues.
You'll be hungry too, if you're in this band.
Don't you think that our music is grand?
We've got the Hungry Men's Blues.
You've eaten now all of you.
We'd like to eat with you too.

1 comment:

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