We were in Thailand in the fall of 2006, a coup d’etat had just occurred, but the country was calm and peaceful with almost no discernible evidence that anything was amiss.Since that time the political tensions within this seemingly quiet county have periodically resurfaced in dramatic fashion. Beginning at the end of 2008 Bangkok was regularly in the international news because the “yellow shirt” protesters were filling the city’s streets and closing the international airport.
In recent weeks it the “red shirt” protesters have been back in the headlines.
The political divide behind these protests is deep, growing out of the long-term economic and political inequities that plague Thailand, and unlikely to be resolved soon. There are really two Thailands, with the ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra (a democratically elected populist) seen as a hero by the s poor and disenfranchised in rural and northern Thailand and as a criminal (convicted in abstentia on conflict of interest charges) by Bangkok’s middle class and political elite.
As to the shirts, colors in Thailand are linked to the days of the week and people will wear the color associated with that day as a way to mark the significance of the day for them or show allegiance. For example, Thailand’s revered king was born on a Monday and, when we were in Thailand, there was a noticeable increase in the number of yellow shirts we would see on Mondays. In the continuing conflict, the “yellow shirts” are signaling their allegiance to the king and the long-established political system. On the other hand red shirts are worn by those who support the policies of Shinawatra.
All the reports emphasize the country is safe for tourists and I’m sure it is (indeed, both sides have largely avoided the use of violence), but I hope this encourages visitors to consider the complex realities of this country and not just its lovely temples and rich culture.