Memorial goes missing, twists history

Querying the whereabouts of the missing 1932 Revolution memorial plaque can now land you in trouble as the state has urged us not to do so for the sake of "national reconciliation".

The plaque marks Thailand's first steps as a constitutional monarchy following the revolution staged by a group of military and civil officers called Khana Ratsadon (People's Party). The brass plaque, near the King Rama V equestrian statute at the Royal Plaza in the capital, was removed early this month and replaced with a new one.

Members of the public are wondering who removed it and where it is now. But the response of the authorities has only created a rather murky atmosphere that will likely force them to become less curious.

On Wednesday, a group of young students who turned up at the Royal Plaza to try to get a glimpse of the new plaque were kept at bay by police who said doing so was "inappropriate" and could violate the post-2014 Public Gatherings Act that prohibits protests unless they are approved by the authorities.

Paritta Wangkiat is a reporter, Bangkok Post.

The public has also been puzzled by the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration's response that its 11 CCTV cameras in the area had been taken for repair when the plaque switch happened. This means finding any clear evidence will be impossible.

Earlier, activist Srisuwan Janya, secretary-general of the Association for the Protection of the Constitution, was taken to the 11th Military Circle in Bangkok after he showed up at the Government House public service centre to submit a letter to Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha calling on him to look for the plaque. He has since been released.

It's hard for me to swallow that photographing the new plaque is now officially prohibited.

It's undeniable that this missing item represents a significant chapter in Thailand's history as the 1932 Revolution paved the way to democracy. The revolution established the first constitution which is still the longest-serving one the country has had.

The revolution carried out by Khana Ratsadon was associated with issues of inequality under the class system in which the elites enjoyed many privileges. In his book entitled Kan Patiwat Siam 2475 (The 1932 Siamese Revolution)", academic Nakarin Mektrairat suggested the revolution was sparked by many factors such as an economic meltdown, and social and political changes that the old system could no longer accommodate.

During the revolution, Khana Ratsadon was perceived differently by various parts of society, Mr Nakarin said. Royalists weren't satisfied with the change as they lost some of their privileges. Some working-class people supported it.

The disappearance of the memorial plaque has also sparked fierce debate about what the real history of the revolution is. Social media has become the stage for an information battle.

Netizens have been sharing their own very different information about the plaque and the history it represents. Arguments have become heated as they debate whether the plaque is "black magic" or a real piece of history, and whether the revolutionaries took away Siam's prosperity or gave the nation a brighter future, and whether the revolution was a big mistake or a great success.

An academic and writer at Way magazine, Itthiphon Kotamee, recently collected a number of myths about Khana Ratsadon.

One myth points the finger of blame at Khana Ratsadon for prematurely bringing democracy to Thailand and causing "a vicious circle" of military coups.

Citing research by Thammasat University political scientist Prachak Kongkirati, the article says memories of Khana Ratsadon have either been abridged or damaged, especially after the 1947 coup and during the era of Field Marshal Sarit Thanarat, who staged another coup in 1958.

Governments have manipulated what should be written in history textbooks used at universities and schools and decided what needs to be censored. Therefore, public narratives have described the Siamese Revolution negatively without recognising its role in bringing the country into an era of democracy.

This week, Gen Prayut said he has told authorities to search for the missing plaque but simultaneously warned that the issue must not be used to stir up conflicts as the country is on the road back to democracy.

At this point, I cannot help but wonder how the history of our time will be related to the next generation. It may be a very twisted and different version to what has actually taken place.

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