A colloquium with Sudarat Musikawong, Department of Sociology, University of California, Santa Cruz
On October 14-15, 1973 hundreds of thousands in Thailand took to the streets to demand elections and a constitution. The mass demonstrations led by students contributed to the exile of the General Thanom military regime. The next three years marked a rise in both student, labor, and farmers’ organizing and right nationalist groups. When thousands of students rallied inside Thammasat University to protest the return of Thanom, many right paramilitary and police gathered outside. At 5:30AM Thai police and right-wing paramilitary groups shot rocket propelled grenades, bullets, and missiles into the demonstrators. The assault escalated in a police round up of students and demonstrators shirtless, in the dragging people to be beaten, hung, and burned.
While the construction of the October 14 Memorial and the October 6 Memorial have opened the public debate by giving an abstract social movement physicality, these memorials tend to bring premature closure to the events. I argue that the contest between a marginalized leftist democratic political subject versus a “traditional” subject loyal to nation, religion, and monarch over what it means to be Thai is worked through remembering October 14, 1973 and October 6, 1976. Based on field research on the 25th anniversary of October 6 in 2001 and the 30th anniversary of October 14 in 2003, I show how the commemorations work to change and shift how October is regarded in public memory through competing frames about a viable Thai citizen-subject. Consequently, the conflicts within memorials and commemorations show how malleable Thai contemporary history and contested its relation to a Thai citizen-subject is. The unruliness of and multiple factions organizing commemorative activities unsettle the dominant meanings behind the memorials. This paper shows how cultural citizenship through the commemoration is constantly in flux, being tamed by acceptable notions of a nation’s past and present as supported by the state and those who wish to benefit from such acceptance, and being undisciplined, refusing to be tamed by making public the more radical elements of the student movement and the violent consequences for being too radical.
Sudarat Musikawong is a Sociology Ph. D. Candidate at the University of California at Santa Cruz. Her dissertation, "Mediating Memories of the 1970s in Thai Cultural Production," investigates cultural memories about 1970s political violence in Thailand through commemorative activities, film, and the visual arts. She was the recipient of the UC Pacific Rim Research Award for 2003-2004 and the Henry Luce Dissertation Fellowship at Australian National University for 2004.
Cost: Free and open to the public.
Parking in UCLA's Lot 3 costs $8.
Sponsor(s): Center for Southeast Asian Studies