The Ethnic Aspect behind Thailand’s Political Crisis

We recently came across this interesting blog commentary, left as a response to various articles in Thailand and Reuters by user Jezz, commenting on the ethnic aspect of the political crisis.

What this latest act of war fails to address is what everyone knows but is either too frightened to say or admit – that most of the current issues are a legacy of Thailand’s ethnic history and colonial expansion and incorporation of subjugated peoples. One of common myths I hear from Bangkok Thais is about ‘dialects’ spoken outside of Bangkok. Anthropologists concur that the Lao spoken in Isan is a mix of dialects from Laos itself, and its predominance in that region is a result of Thailand’s incorporation of Lao territory in the last few hundred years. Until the French arrived Laos was a colony of the Thai Kingdom and the Korat plateau was Laotian territory prior to that. As most anthropologists agree, it would be more correct to describe Thai as a dialect of Lao. Of course this is offensive to the ‘dominant’ ethnic Thais – one of the root causes of the ills of the country – and the basis of the ‘Thaiification’ government programs of the 1930s. It follows that as the people of the Korat plateau and the other side of the Mekong were forcibly incorporated into the kingdom between 200 and 100 years ago they are considered ‘subjects’ of the Thai.

My wife, who is from the Khon Kaen area can trace her ancestry to theVientiane region over a 100 years ago and her ‘dialect’ of Lao istermed the ‘Vientiane Dialect’ by anthropologists. All the customs,traditions, food, society and general culture of the Korat plateauderive from Laos not Thailand, the Thai language or people. Again, notacceptable to Thais who believe in their own myth which generates the’elitism’ of the current ruling classes now making war on their ‘own’people. When it comes to politics it’s important to note that my wifeholds a Bachelor of Science Degree from one of the top BangkokUniversities – this did not prevent her and her friends being humiliatedby Thai students for their appearance (dark), their accent whenspeaking Thai nor from being insulted as a ‘Lao’ – something my wife isnow very proud of. This has naturally led to her voting for TRT in thepast and her support for the UDD – so much for the ‘uneducated rabble’as the Thai elite like to describe the opposition.

From my discussions with regional ‘Thais’ there are similar viewsheld in other parts such as the Lanna in the north (Thaksin being fromthat area), the Malays in the south (most recently annexed by Thailandin a deal with Britain in the early 20th Century), Suai and Khmer in thesouth east.

Until the ethnic Thais recognise that the country is a diverse ethnicmix and develop some respect for the significant ‘minorities’ (Lao aresome 24 million – around 40% of the population) instead of carryingforward their mythical superiority of language and culture the divisionswill remain and blood with continue to be spilt. Democracy can onlyflourish when such cultural respect is adopted and enshrined inenforceable laws.