Human Flower Project

Orrington, MAINE USA

flag flower bed

parker basket thumb
Princeton, MAINE USA

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Oh, What a Lovely Coup

The military takeover of Thailand decorates with forced smiles and flowers.


An armoured vehicle is softened with flowers in Bangkok

Photo: Mike Clarke, for AFP

Taking its cue, perhaps, from the red rose revolutionaries of Georgia (2003), leaders of this past week’s military overthrow of the Thailand government have ordered smiles all around. “Army radio broadcasts are reminding soldiers to be friendly and courteous, especially to children and anyone who wants to take pictures with them.”

Tanks rolled into Bangkok Tuesday night, deposing populist prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra. By Wednesday morning, we were seeing pictures of citizens handing roses to soldiers and pots of chrysanthemums stationed atop artillery. “Many Thais have described this as the friendliest coup this country has ever seen,” says one report, “the last one in 1991 ended with at least 50 pro-democracy demonstrators gunned down in Bangkok.” Thailand has experienced 18 coups since 1932, when its constitutional monarchy began.

One poll shows more than 80 percent of Thai citizens support the military. The all-smiles overthrow has been bloodless so far, and army leaders have promised to restore democratic rule soon. Not good enough, say some.

Several news accounts suggest there really is broad support for the military action, something hard for us in the US to imagine. Though Thaksin Shinawatra is popular in the countryside, middle-class and urban Thais had generally denounced him, and boycotted elections this past spring.

imageFloral barricade in Bangkok Wednesday required armed guards, too

Photo: Ed Wray, for AP

Jonathan Head’s story for the BBC, with lingering questions, offers some background. He writes that Thaksin “meddled with the simmering conflict in the Muslim south, putting it under the authority of the police, instead of the army. The result was a disaster and five years later more than 1,500 have died and the central government has lost control of the region. Mr. Thaksin declared a war on drugs, giving police-led death squads licence to kill any suspected dealers. An estimated 2,000 died in that operation. But worst of all, he ignored pleas from the king to moderate his policies. Instead he re-shuffled key military and civil service positions to try to eclipse the old royalist elite.”

Harmony, many commentators have stressed, is prized in Thailand. It’s not just a matter of appeasing tourists, who—outside Bangkok anyway—seem to be oblivious to the coup, but of a deeper cultural ethic, embodied in the nation’s gentle flower-loving king.

We are intently curious to know who supplied the blooms for Thailand’s coup. Did they indeed pour out of a grateful citizenry or, like the army’s mandated smiles, were they presented on command, to soften the hard fact of a totalitarian maneuver?  Are they Thailand’s version of the GW Bush team’s ludicrous banner: “Mission Accomplished”?

Posted by Julie on 09/24 at 11:52 AM
Art & MediaCulture & SocietyPoliticsPermalink