Thursday, February 14, 2008

Oh, I deny the whole thing

Thailand's new prime minister, Samak Sundaravej, has come under heavy criticism after he answered questions in a CNN interview in which he drastically downplayed the number of deaths that occurred during the 6 October 1976 Bangkok Massacre, and denied his involvement.

Samak says only one person was killed in the violent anti-communist crackdown by the police and military, while the official death toll was 46, and it's likely much higher.

At the time, Samak was a commentator on the Royal Thai Army's radio station, and his opponents say he made broadcasts to provoke the violence. Here is an excerpt of the exchange between CNN's Dan Rivers and Samak:

Rivers: Some people are very critical of your past in Thailand. Some people have even said you've got blood on your hands. What would you say to that?

Samak: Oh, I deny the whole thing. I had nothing to do with that at all. I was an outsider at that time.

Rivers: Would you like to take the opportunity now to condemn what happened in 1976?

Samak: Actually it was a movement of some students. They didn't like the government.

Rivers: But dozens of people, maybe hundreds of people, died.

Samak: No, just one died. There are 3,000 students in the Thammasat University.

Rivers: The official death toll was 46, and many people say it was much higher than that.

Samak: No. For me, no deaths; one unlucky guy being beaten and being burned in Sanam Luang. Only one guy died that day.

Rivers: So there was no massacre?

Samak: No, not at all, but taking pictures, 3,000 students, boys and girls lined up, they say that is the death toll: 3,000.

Wow. Boggles the mind. What was Samak thinking during that interview? What planet was he on? Is he responding to Rivers' questions, or does he have them mixed up with some other event, from a different dimension?

I mean, there are photographs of protesters who were shot, beaten, burned and mutilated. Be forewarned, they are quite graphic.

Former student activist Suthachai Yimprasert, now a history lecturer at Chulalongkorn University, says Samak is trying to dodge accusations that he was responsible for the 1976 massacre. He told the Bangkok Post:

I don't want to debate the facts with him. He should know himself that this isn't the first time he has lied.

Another former student activist, Thaweep Kanchanawong, told The Nation that Samak is drastically downplaying his involvement in the massacre:

If there were no Samak, no Army radio station and others who stirred up hatred against the students, there would not have been any violence. There has never been killings as brutal as those on October 6.

Another critic of Samak's denial, former senator Chirmsak Pinthong had his radio show taken off the air after he talked about the issue. The radio station is operated by the Public Relations Department of the Prime Minister's Office.

The Nation says Samak "got angry" when asked by a Government House reporter to confirm his statement that only one person died in the massacre. This is all Samak wants to say about it:

The incident happened 31 years ago. I don't want to talk about it. Every time I say something about this, there's a quarrel. If I had been involved, I would not have got all the support to come this far.

In a recent posting on Limitless Cinema in Broken English, Jit Phokaew says the recent news about Samak "reminds me of some people who deny that Holocaust ever happened." He points to Claude Lanzmann's relentless Holocaust documentary Shoah, and then laments that there are no directors in Thailand like Lanzmann, who would be daring enough to confront people and probe about the past.

Nonetheless, Limitless Cinema notes that there are at least three short films that address the 1976 Massacre: Don't Forget Me by Manutsak Dokmai (2003), Re-Presentation by Chai Chaiyachit and Chisanucha Kongwailap (2007), and "Red" at Last by Suchart Sawasdsri (2006).

While mainstream industry directors lack political will (or financial motive) to directly confront Thailand's tumultuous, conflicted political scene, or even satirize it, it seems the job has been left up to independent directors.

After seeing Pimpaka Towira's feature documentary, The Truth Be Told: The Cases Against Supinya Klangnarong, and the Spoken Silence program at last year's Thai Short Film & Video Festival, I find it encouraging that indie filmmakers are willing to address the 800-pound gorilla of Thai politics. It'll be interesting to see the films that will be made under the Samak administration.

(Thanks to Matthew Hunt and Bangkok Pundit; photo credits: Samak via OK Nation; 1976 hanging via Limitless Cinema)


  1. The extremity of his (self)denial is mind-boggling. He said the same thing in an interview with Al-Jazeera on 9th February: ("Only one guy died at Sanam Luang. [...] Nobody died at Thammasat University") but at least the Al-Jazeera interviewer pressed him a bit more forcefully than Rivers did on CNN.

  2. I'd heard about the Al-Jazeera interview, but hadn't had the chance to watch it. Thanks for the link.

    "That is dirty history ..." He seems incredulous that a foreigner woman would dare bring it up.

    I see Samak is also an apologist for the Tak Bai incident.

  3. Thank you very much for writing about this topic. I'm afraid the future of Thailand is not very bright at the moment. I don't want to imagine what will happen next. :-(

    I just saw some Thai short films today, and there are two short films which talk about Samak among other topics. These two films are ROY TAI PRAE (2008, Uruphong Raksasad) and SPORT NEWS: THE BULLSHIT ARE GOING, THE WANDERING GHOSTS ARE COMING (2008, Manussak Dokmai). These two films were made near the end of 2007 after people had known that Samak was going to be the next prime minister. I’m sure there will be more Thai short films made in the near future about this government.

  4. Of course, the people died at Tak Bai because of Ramadan. The army treated them very well, there were no beatings, no stacking people in trucks until they suffocated. It's their own fault for fasting for their religion.

    That's the same ridiculous story Thaksin spun immediately after Tak Bai, and no-one believed it then so why should we believe it from Samak now?

  5. I don't know to laugh or angry with this, some Thaksin's fans said for Samak that quite like

    "He said died only one guy died is only Sanam Luang, but he didn't say about many people who died in TU, so Samak is not wrong because he knows many people died in TU"

    Anyway, Al-Jazeera has more forcefully question and attitude as well. I saw the reporter of All-Jazeera 'brake' Jakrapob Penkhae when he said like "PPP has no any connection with Thaksin or TRT"

    It felt like the reporter want to shout at Jakrapob
    "Do you think I'm a fool???"


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