Opinion: Remembrance of an Activist Thai Poet
It is nearly one year since Kamol Duangphasuk, widely known among Thailand’s Red Shirt activists as “Mainueng Kor Kunthee,” was assassinated by an unidentified gunman who approached his car and shot at him five times in a restaurant parking lot in northern Bangkok.
The gunman escaped on a motorcycle. Mainueng, whose pen name (ไม้หนึ่ง) means "one wood" –“to be passed on” -- was hit twice in the chest and died later in a hospital. His death came one month before the military coup that locked down Thai society, abolished parliamentary democracy and took away from the rural poor a voice in society. In doing so, the coup leaders, headed by Prayuth Chan-ocha, have restored the elites to their accustomed but hardly justified place in Thai Society.
Mainueng strongly opposed the 2006 military coup and the subsequent crackdown on critics of the monarchy. He took part in many rallies of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD). He was also very active in the campaign against Article 112 of the Penal Code, the lèse majesté law, which has been widely used to criminalize free expression and imprison writers, journalists, academics and publishers. His murder is one of a string of violent attacks on activists.
His poems were published in a number of magazines including the prestigious Matichon Weekly in the 1990s. His poetry had a hard political edge, enough to make him a target of a vigilante group known as the Rubbish Collection Organization that threatened publicly to hunt down opponents of the monarchy, describing them as trash.
Mainueng was not just a democracy activist, he was bright and visionary. He had been at the forefront of the Red Shirt and civil rights movements. He risked his life on many occasions by speaking of injustices in Thai society in which the elite enjoy privileges they believe to be granted from heaven while the poor have always been at rock bottom. He had received prior requests and warnings from the Royal Thai Army to stop his activities in pursuit of democracy and free speech.
His poetry depicted the causes and effects of the political situation and the plight of the poor under the watchful eyes of Thai dictators. He was popular for his direct poetic style and for articulating strong political messages. His poems call for social justice, the rights of the rural poor and for challenging the forces of oppression.
His style of poetry writing was unique and outstanding, not always conforming to the rules of Thailand’s traditional upper-class poetry. Rather he used his own mind and the free flow of thought in telling of the everyday life story in a simple way. Some of his poems were terse and on target, equivalent to that of Japanese Haiku, which seeks to pack the maximum amount of meaning into the fewest possible words.
Because of Mainueng’s outspoken public speaking and poetry, Thai authorities, particularly from the Rubbish Collection Organization headed by the doctor and army general, Riengthong Nannah, put a price on his head. Although it has never been confirmed, democracy advocates believe this organization declared open war on them at its launch in 2013 and was responsible for Maineung’s untimely death.
The rubbish collection organization, which allegedly has received funding from the military and/or the palace, has offered rewards to urge people to inform them of any anti-monarchy or anti-lese majeste activities. Those who are not staunch supporters of the royal family and the monarchy are targets. Many of us have gone into exile rather than face prison.
Mainueng came from an ordinary Thai family. He put himself through college like many students from the impoverished northeast. He earned his bachelor’s degree in Liberal Arts while working part time doing odd jobs. Throughout his college years, he witnessed dictatorial behavior of many of his employers and thus he stated to himself in his various writings that he had to do something about change for a better society. He saw the democracy movement and politics as one of the ways for such a change.
With the first anniversary of his assassination, I wish to translate one of his most heartfelt political poems:
Worship the free spirit and the courageous Red Shirts Worship ordinary folks who dare to challenge the dictator Worship the enlightened who escaped from the cult Never ever worship those who tell you to live under the dust of their shoes. (A reference to the royal language when addressing members of the royal family)
Chatwadee Rose Amornpat is a Thai exile and activist living in the United Kingdom who has been a repeated target for her outspoken views against the royalty.