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Officials in Thailand Erase Thaksin Shinawatra from School Text Books

Mr. Thaksin’s name was scrubbed from the book by the Ministry of Education, said the textbook’s author, Thanom Anarmwat.

Mr. Thaksin’s name was scrubbed from the book by the Ministry of Education, said the textbook’s author, Thanom Anarmwat.

BANGKOK – His legacy is inseparable from the past decade of political tumult in Thailand, but high school students will not find the name Thaksin Shinawatra in the history textbooks that the country’s military junta recently ordered schools to use.

Mr. Thaksin’s name was scrubbed from the book by the Ministry of Education, said the textbook’s author, Thanom Anarmwat.

“This is very much the usual practice of Thai elite,” said Charnvit Kasetsiri, former rector of the prestigious Thammasat University.

“This is very much the usual practice of Thai elite,” said Charnvit Kasetsiri, former rector of the prestigious Thammasat University.

“The officials at the ministry just deleted it, cut it,” he said.

Mr. Thaksin (pronounced TAHK-sin) elicits love or hate in Thailand and not much in between.

To members of the Bangkok establishment who supported the May military coup, which ousted an elected government backed by Mr. Thaksin, he is seen as venal, corrupt and, perhaps most of all, a threat to their power.

To his supporters, Mr. Thaksin was the first politician in Thailand to focus on the needs of voters outside Bangkok and gain their allegiance by delivering universal health care, micro-loans and more efficient government services.

The Education Ministry’s order last month that all public high schools use the new textbook is part of a broader effort to instill patriotism in Thai youth. The junta has ordered a new school curriculum that underlines what are seen to be the unifying themes of the monarchy and the glories of the ancient kingdoms of Siam, as Thailand was formerly known.

There are numerous examples, especially in Asia, of government deletions of undesirable facts and faces from official history. In China, history textbooks do not mention the military crackdown on the 1989 protests in Tiananmen Square, and many young people know little or nothing about it. In North Korea, the uncle of Kim Jong-un, the country’s leader, was edited out of state television footage after the uncle was executed last year.

Thai history textbooks have very little coverage of the leftist movements of the 1960s and 1970s and the government’s efforts to suppress them.

But in today’s Thailand — plugged into the world, freewheeling and linked through social media technologies beyond the government’s control — it is unclear to what degree the military can erase the society’s deep divisions from the public’s consciousness.

“This is very much the usual practice of Thai elite,” said Charnvit Kasetsiri, former rector of the prestigious Thammasat University. “But it will be difficult because of social media and because it is not that easy to control the thinking of the masses, especially educated youth.”

Chris Baker, a leading authority on Thai history, sees the historical censorship as misguided.

“Snipping history like this is straight out of the handbook of totalitarian regimes,” he said. “I think doing this in a society that has become as open as Thailand is counterproductive, because people will notice the absence.”

The government has not announced or explained the deletion.

Winai Rodjay, who was appointed by the military government as chairman of a committee on the teaching of history and civic duty, said the omission of Mr. Thaksin was an aberration. But he could not explain how it had happened or why.

“I think the editor may have cut it,” he said, adding that he would prefer that Mr. Thaksin’s name be inserted the next time the textbook was revised.

Under the new curriculum, students will learn more about the meaning and symbolism of Thailand’s tricolor national flag, and songs such as the king’s anthem will be played in schools.

Schoolchildren will be trained to act as ambassadors of patriotic spirit, Mr. Winai said. He gave the hypothetical example of students reprimanding adults who fail to stand at attention during the national anthem, which is played on radio stations and on public broadcast systems at 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. daily.

“The students might go and ask, ‘Why aren’t you standing straight when the national anthem is played?’ ” he said.

The junta has issued a list of 12 values for the country, including gratitude toward parents, discipline, morality and the maintaining of “physical and mental strength against greed.” Large banners bearing the list are being posted at schools nationwide.

The Education Ministry has also introduced a “merit passport,” in which students must keep a record of their behavior and attitudes.

Before the coup, schools were allowed to choose from a variety of history textbooks.

The one that is now the standard had been commissioned by the previous military junta, which seized power from Mr. Thaksin in 2006. The previous edition mentioned Mr. Thaksin at least seven times.

The new text covers the political history of Thailand’s past two decades in five pages, citing the names of many previous prime ministers and other protagonists, including Sonthi Boonyaratglin, the general who overthrew Mr. Thaksin in 2006.

Although it does not name Mr. Thaksin or his political party, it describes “a government” that used “many policies designed to gain popularity from people through huge budgets.”

Mr. Thaksin was in power from 2001 to 2006, and his political movement has won every election in the past decade and a half, including a number of landslides. His sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, was prime minister from 2011 until she was removed from office in May.

Without mentioning either sibling, the textbook does touch on the opposition to Mr. Thaksin’s rule. A subheading describes the protests that preceded his ouster as “the people’s movement against dictatorial power, corruption and embezzlement.”

Mr. Thanom, the textbook author, said that many people might dislike Mr. Thaksin but that he should not be deleted from history.

“History is fact,” he said. “Mistakes or lesson learned — we have to tell our young people. They must know about it. We shouldn’t just delete it.”

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Posted by on Sep 16 2014. Filed under Regional News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.
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