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Generational Dynamics Web Log for 24-May-2010
24-May-10 News -- Les Miserables of Thailand at a turning point

Web Log - May, 2010

24-May-10 News -- Les Miserables of Thailand at a turning point

S. Korean president gives harsh speech severing commercial ties with North

Thailand citizens clean up Bangkok business district to reopen on Monday

Thousands of middle and upper class Thai citizens were out on the streets of Bangkok on Sunday with brooms and mops to clean the streets, and razor knives to scratch off the anti-government posters.

The clean up is necessary after two months of occupation by lower-class "red shirt" protestors. The protests finally ended on Wednesday when the Thai army ran tanks through their barricades and assaulted them with live ammunition, and after the most radical elements of the protestors retaliated by burning down shopping centers and the stock exchange.

Class bitterness runs very deep now. The Times of India quotes a dress shop owner as saying, "I think the Red Shirts are not Thai people because they destroyed things, they destroyed Bangkok, they destroyed Thailand. My friends have shops here, destroyed, they have nothing."

The feeling among Bangkok's upper classes is that the red shirt protestors wanted to destroy the city. One health club owner was glad that the battle against the protestors had been won, but she's worried that they'll be back, according to Washington Post. "It's not over. It has just begun."

The government has imposed curfews in Bangkok and 23 provinces, and they continue to be extended until the government feels safe.

There's great bitterness on the red shirt side as well. As many as 500 red shirt activists have been arrested across the country, according to red shirt estimates. One leader is quoted as saying, "We are finished. We lost everything. Right now we have to save just ourselves. Instead of getting half, we got nothing."

Warnings are widespread that violence will continue, perhaps moving from Bangkok out to the provinces. Anger is perhaps greatest in the province of Chiang Mai, the original power base of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who champions the red shirts, according to the Globe and Mail. One leader is quoted as saying, "We want to tell people that we are not hiding, that we are going to fight again after the emergency decree and the curfews are over."

Some analysts are predicting that the fighting will resume worse than ever. For example, some analysts quoted by Der Spiegel predict civil war.

Whatever happens now, it seems clear that a turning point has been reached. In the following section, we'll assess what this turning point will look like, from the point of view of Generational Dynamics.

Les MisÚrables of Thailand

Victor Hugo's great novel, Les MisÚrables describes the failed uprising of students that occurred in Paris in 1832. This uprising occurred toward the end of the generational Awakening era in France, three decades after the French Revolution.

Likewise, the recent violent protests in Bangkok occurred towards the end of a generational Awakening era, following Thailand's last crisis war, the "killing fields" civil war of Cambodia that ended in 1979.

In the past year, I've posted two videos of music from the play Les MisÚrables. One was a video of Susan Boyle's spectacular performance last year of "I Dreamed a Dream" -- a video that's well worth another listen.

And the second was more recent, the video of the song "Do You Hear the People Sing?" in an article on Greeks protesting austerity measures.

But actually, Les MisÚrables is most relevant to the recent failed uprising in Bangkok. The protestors have been defeated, and they've lost everything.

So here's another video of music from Les MisÚrables, Michael Ball singing "Empty Chairs at Empty Tables":

The tremendous sadness of this song must convey exactly how the red shirt protestors of Thailand feel today, having had all their hopes and dreams destroyed, and having gained nothing.

The future of Thailand

The collapse of the red shirt protests appears to me to be what's called an "Awakening era climax," a moment in which political victory has been unambiguously achieved.

An Awakening era is always a political battle between two generations, the generation of survivors of the last crisis war versus their children's generation. The Awakening era climax resolves this "generation gap" battle in a political victory, and it's almost always a political victory of the younger generation. This happened in the U.S. in 1974, for example, when President Richard Nixon was forced to resign.

However, it's very dangerous for a country if the older generation wins, and the generation gap mutates into a fault line war between two groups. That happened, for example, in 1989 in the Tiananmen Square massacre in Beijing, when the Úlite Chinese Communist Party forces defeated the peasant groups represented by the demonstrators.

As we've reported at length in the past, this confrontation in Thailand pits two ethnic groups against each other. The army and government forces represent the Thai-Chinese fair-skinned elite market-dominant minority, while the red-shirted protestors represent the indigenous dark-skinned laborers, mostly migrants from the north and northeast.

The red shirts won their victory almost ten years ago, with the election of their hero, Thaksin Shinawatra, as prime minister in 2001, and his reelection in 2005. Thaksin was very popular with the lower class laborers, whom he favored with large spending programs for their benefit. But this made him increasingly unpopular with wealthy elite Thai-Chinese class.

It's worth taking a moment to look at the mathematics of the situation. The size of the Thai laboring class is about three times the size of the Thai-Chinese elite class. This means that the laboring class is going to win elections, and it also means that wealth is going to be transferred from the elites to the laborers. This is going to make the elites unhappy, and they'll find ways to maintain power by force.

In 2006, the army, siding with Thailand's elite, staged a bloodless coup, overthrowing the Thaksin government. There were new elections, and Thaksin's party won, resulting in Thaksin's ally, Samak Sundaravej, becoming prime minister.

Well, it turns out that Samak is also quite a good amateur cook, and for many years he hosted a televised cooking show. He kept on with the cooking show after he became Prime Minister, causing a court, siding with the elites, to remove him from office, because the cooking show represented a conflict of interest with his job as Prime Minister.

So another Thaksin ally, Somchai Wongsawat, became prime minister. This time there were massive protests by elites, and the courts ruled that Somchai and other Thaksin allies should be banned from holding office.

So now the elites have gotten their way, with prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva. The army and the courts have used their power to make sure that Thaksin's allies cannot return, and rural Thai ethnic groups feel REALLY SCREWED.

So will there be a civil war? Well, that's not how it works. As the Awakening era ends and the Unraveling era begins, there will be low-level violence, and it will be handled by police action of various kinds. But there cannot be any great civil war between the two ethnic groups until the next Crisis era.

There's one more point to be made about civil war. Recall that many historians say that the Sri Lanka civil war, which climaxed violently last year, began in 1975. That's because historians look back to see when low-level violence began, and name that as the starting point.

It's possible that future historians will look back at this time and say that the civil war began in 2010, even though no real civil war can begin for some years to come.

We can look to Les MisÚrables again for some insight. In the play, Marius is defeated in the uprising, and he sings "Empty Chairs at Empty Tables." But then he goes off and marries Cosette, and they live happily ever after.

But we know from history that didn't happen. Low-level violence occurred in France for years and decades, climaxing in the Paris Commune civil war in 1871, when tens of thousands of Parisians took up arms and brutally murdered each other. It was the utter insanity of the Paris Commune that caused Friedrich Nietzsche to say, "Insanity in individuals is something rare - but in groups, parties, nations and epochs, it is the rule."

Additional links

In a strongly worded televised speech on Monday, South Korean president Lee Myung-bak suspended trade with the North and demanded an apology for sinking the warship Cheonan. Tensions continue to grow. BBC

A new American intelligence analysis says that North Korean president Kim Jong-il personally ordered the torpedo assault that sank the South Korean warship Cheonan in order to help secure the succession of his youngest son. NY Times

One European city after another is on the verge of a major debt crisis. Guardian

Europeans have boasted about their social model, with its generous vacations and early retirements, its national health care systems and extensive welfare benefits, contrasting it with the comparative harshness of American capitalism. But now Europeans are realizing that their social model is coming to an end. NY Times

A new computer program can compose stunningly beautiful, original works of classical music, raising the possibility that human composers will soon be obsolete. Slate. This is of personal interest to me because my late first cousin Yannis Xenakis did the foundational work in the 1950s, developing the mathematical algorithms for creating music by computer.

Pakistan's former president, Pervez Musharraf, says that he may return to Pakistan and run for President again. Dawn

As Israel begins military exercises near the Lebanon border, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has sent calming messages to Syria and Lebanon, saying that there's no intention of starting a war. Haaretz

15 ways to predict divorce. Daily Beast

(Comments: For reader comments, questions and discussion, see the 24-May-10 News -- Les MisÚrables of Thailand at a turning point thread of the Generational Dynamics forum. Comments may be posted anonymously.) (24-May-2010) Permanent Link
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