Geopolitics

After The Coup, Giving Voice To Thailand's Political Exiles

Banner in Bangkok instructing residents not to share anti-government views on social networks, under direct threat of prison
Banner in Bangkok instructing residents not to share anti-government views on social networks, under direct threat of prison
Kannikar Petchkaew

Martial law has brought calm but not peace to Thailand.

A report released this week by the International Crisis Group warns that the military regime’s stifling of dissent could ultimately lead to greater turmoil. The military claims that the coup d'etat last May was staged to maintain order after six months of street unrest by anti-government protests.

They took TV channels and radio stations off the air, and only heavily censored versions have been allowed to return. Several hundred academics and activists have been detained. Many others have fled to the west where they are applying for asylum.

From his temporary new home in an undisclosed location in the United States, Jom Petpradab makes a Skype call home to his nephew. He assures him that he's doing just fine in the U.S.: "Don’t worry about me," he says. "Just go to school and do your best."


Jom Petpradab — Photo: Kannikar Petchkaew

After he hangs up he says he was just putting on a brave face. “It is not fine at all but I prefer to stay here where I can have freedom of expression and can do my work without any interfere or suppression.”

Petpradab, who'd fled right after the military coup, has worked as a journalist for more than 20 years in Thailand. Because he had given air time to controversial figures —including former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra — he feared he would be jailed.

“I can’t help feeling nervous about what’s going to happen now if my asylum claim is not granted," he said. "But I have heard that my case is being processed and I can stay here even when my tourist visa runs out.”

The fight goes on

Jarupong Ruangsuwun, the former Minister of Interior in the party Thaksin founded,
fled Thailand with his family weeks after the coup, and now lives in San Francisco, where he is waiting for his asylum claim to be processed.


Jarupong Ruangsuwun — Photo: manager.co.th

He says he spends his time online talking to people back in Thailand, and quips that he's "addicted" to the Internet. "With freedom of expression here I can research anything and talk about any topic," he says. "Thais can’t do this.”

The military junta has put out an arrest warrant for him, and Ruangsuwun is facing three charges: disobeying the junta’s summon, violating the computer act and libel. If he returns to Thailand he will likely be jailed.

“I’m 68 now but I will go on fighting. I don’t mean in the radical way, we will just keep speaking out and letting the whole world know the truth and push for change," he says. "The world won’t tolerate dictatorships. Thai people have never tolerated dictators — they just can’t say the truth because guns are pointed at them. Guns and weapons paid for by the people’s sweat and hard work.”

Kritsuda Khunasaen was an anti-government protestor who was detained by the military for 30 days. She says she was blindfolded and then beaten and sexually harassed. Once released she was helped out of the country.


Kritsuda Khunasaen — Photo: menschenrechte.eu

Now she is Norway and is living in an asylum seekers transit home. “When I arrived four months ago I felt so depressed and overwhelmed with fear and anger. I can’t speak their language. I don’t know what will happen and what life will be like here," Khunasaen says.

She says that her state of mind is improving, as she is getting settled into a new, if hopefully temporary existence, so far from Thailand. "I was very fortunate that I could flee so quickly," Khunasaen recalled. "What I gained here is a new life. I have freedom here. It’s amazing that another country has helped me even when my own country has done the opposite to their people.”

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Society

What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel

-Essay-

BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.


Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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