Monday, 17 May 2010

April 18th

I woke up in the morning and went directly to Siam square, zigzagging through the traffic that stagnates at the frontiers of the protest. U-turn in Silom road, passing through the barrier that separate the two lanes, and left into Thaniya road, full of prostitutes and Japanese restaurants during the night but empty and still asleep at noon. I parked in Siam Square, sleepy beside small groups of police officers wearing orange and purple foulards to differentiate units.

Rama I road has been transformed into a walking street, sheltered by the imposing cement structures of the skytrain. White huge stands occupy the two sides of the street, leaving a narrow path for people and vehicles. A slow flow of motor-taxi moves through the people who occupied the space underneath the sky-train pylons and transformed few small green patches into natural pavement for hand-made huts, covered on the side by two long pieces of colorful plastic and on the other buy the elevated train. An old man lounge, shirtless, napping in the intense heat as vendors fill the sidewalks and part of the street with food and a multitude of red merchandise, wrist bands, t-shirts, flip-flops with the face of Aphisit and Suthep, foulard, stickers, flags, pictures, Cds of the protests, tapes of the speech, the ubiquitous clap with red feet, jackets with written police. On my right hand side Thaksin jumps out of a tall poster, dressed in clothes from the movie Matrix, two guns in his hands. I pass through this river of objects, visually, olfactory, and sonically overloaded.

On my right side at the FARED (First Aid Red Shirts) stand, a group offering first aid to the protesters, where volunteers, mostly middle-aged women, distribute first aid, and free pills for different kind of health problems, an international media press conference is taking place.

The small crowd of foreign journalists is surrounded by Thais of all ages, separated by a red plastic band and listening often without understanding, the mixture of Thai and English. At the end of the stand a large white table hosts a professor of Chulalongkorn University, a former yellow shirt who, as she puts it, came to her senses after the coup and join the red movement, a monk, who briefly spoke at the end about non violence, and two other people I don’t recognize. Behind them, as in a strange police lineup, three women and a man stands, each of them with a large framed picture of their relatives, killed on April 10th. One of the women carries a forensic picture of her son, lifeless. The youngest of the four is probably 13 or 14 years old, her silent eyes looking forward but glued on the ground. Her small hands clung to the picture of who looked like her father, similar faces, and identical noses. He is wearing a large cowboy hat in the picture, his eyes look very serious and mildly sad. Everybody in that row look trapped, behind the table, with the consciousness of being observed, the attempt not to cross eyes, and the awareness of the ineluctability of their condition. All of them wear red shirts. An older woman, with short black hair in a black oxford shirt is acting at the MC, syncopating interventions and explaining in English and then in Thai the next step as well as introducing the speakers.

I barely listen at the beginning from behind another red band that divided the stand into the stage space and the audience space, filled with journalists scribbling on their block notes or filming what was going on. I stop talking with few of them about recent events. A younger Thai girl, a free-lance journalist working as a fixer and as their personal baby sitter for these days listened to our conversation, commenting now and then. A young man gets the microphone, loudly retelling what happened to him on April 10th. His car was among the one parked in Tanao Road to block the advance of the Thai Army. As he was parking the car there he was shot at with rubber bullets, smashing his car’s windows. He was then taken out of the car, beaten on the street and brought to a military camp for a five hour of interrogation and beating. Even if in English he speaks like the people on stage, changing the inflection and the volume of his speech emphatically. The red shirts around read the clues carefully even without understanding what he is saying, clapping everytime his voice raise the tone, maybe an automatic reaction after so many days of being bombarded with the rhythm of political tirades. I walk away, disturbed by this thought.

Today the atmosphere at the protest is tense. As usual during the hot hours the area is quite empty, with people mostly clustered around the stage, often sitting on their motorcycle or in any place with shadow, clustering along the walls of the shopping malls, using the small tongue of shadow cast by the enormous complexs, or underneath the three overpass that cross Ratchadamri road. Today, however, something is different. The crowds are really sparse, the music is playing softer, the security is tighter on the whole perimeter where motorcycles are stopped and their seats checked. Rumors are running around of another imminent attack by the army. There is a strange feeling of calm before the tempest, of tense waiting for the upcoming meeting between the army chiefs and for the decisions that will be taken. In the meanwhile, the red shirt are raising the stakes, announcing they will extend the protest also the the Silom area, the financial hearth of the city. The reply was short and rapid. The army spokesman assuring on camera that this will not be allowed and that the “mob will not be allowed to be flexible anymore”.

In this psychological chess board, on the other side of town, at Rangsit University the yellow shirts are meeting, hoping to come up with a plan, or some sort of platform to voice their opinion. Later this day they will join the “no-color” protests in Victory Monument and give the government a seven days deadline to resolve the situation with the red before they will intervene directly as concerned citizens. It is a day of pause, staring in the eyes, strategizing, and talks of conspiracy and movements of the soldiers on the roofs around Ratchaprasong, all of this underneath a cover of calm and restrain. The opponents, how many of them it is difficult to say, pounder their next moves.

Around the city, political discussions are diffusing in the homes, the streets, and the shops. I get out of the house later to buy some food and return a movie. Passing in front of the 7/11 at the corner of my soi a motortaxi drivers, using his vest as a political manifesto against dictatorship stops me. He talks fast in a mixture of Thai and political terms in English from his mouth, covered in a white mask with thick black mustaches coming out on the sides. He pulls out of the basket in front of his motorbike a piece of paper from about a hundred of copies, wrapped in a brown envelope. He tells me to read it and asks that I read the first line, as I proof of my ability to read Thai. It is a short page to explain basic political concepts of democratic systems: popular rule, legitimacy, parliamentary systems. “I wrote it myself” he explain proudly “you know, to explain political systems the ‘Thai people’ who do not understand what is the difference between parliamentary and dictatorial systems and believe to have democracy when they don’t have it”. He speaks very fast, constantly interrupting his own speech to ask me stuff about the system in Italy and Mussolini. I ask him if he wrote it from scratches and he says he took it and rearranged, as he asks, without waiting for an answer, about the electoral system in Italy. I ask him if he supports the red shirts and he tells me he is a step forward, he supports them but is looking for revolution not reform. As he says that he greets a younger woman and gives her a copy of the pamphlet, again out of the envelope. I say bye and walk away, passing two women walking home from their office in yellow t-shirts.

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