Thailand’s Rap Against Dictatorship

Prathet Ku Mee (Which is my country), is a 2018 protest song by 10 Thai rappers called ‘Rap Against Dictatorship’. The music video targets the country’s military regime, corruption and legal double-standards in a pounding and defiant delivery reminiscent of late 80s and 90s American hip-hop. Uploaded in October 2018, it has over 89 million views. In May 2019 the Human Rights Foundation awarded them the Václav Havel Prize for Creative Dissen.

Thailand has had the most coups of any country. The military seized power in 2014 and has yet to relinquish it, despite promises of a return to democracy.  

The song is viciously critical – a bold move in a country where censorship is strong and offending the wrong people can put you in jail. Some wear masks, others do not. Under aliases, the rappers criticise the military for interfering in politics and ruling through fear and the conformity of Thai society. It mentions:

  • construction tycoon getting away with poaching and eating an endangered black leopard in February 2018
  • the heir of Red Bull getting away with vehicular manslaughter
  • judges building estates in a sacred national park
  • the Prime Minister’s Rolex collection

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha condemned the song for inciting unrest and violence, and being ‘un-Thai’. In November he commissioned a government rap video in response. It is as bad as you might expect.

Despite their objections, the Thai government did not block Rap Against Dictatorship. Doing so would involve shutting down the whole of Youtube and causing public scandal – more trouble than it was worth. Thailand’s economy and politics are closely tied to the West and it lacks the state capacity China enjoys to build its own internet. They did, however, threaten to jail anyone who shared the video for 5 years.

Hip-hop serves an apt vessel for the frustration and resentment of these young men against injustice in their home. 

The video is shot in black and white, the rappers performing on a backdrop of a cheering crowd. The only colour to feature is red white and blue of the Thai flag, emblazoned on the guitar playing near the end. It is revealed the crowd are cheering not the men rapping, but a man beating a limp corpse hanging from a tree with a chair.

This grisly scene is from the 1976 Thammasat Massacre, where conservative paramilitaries slaughtered 200 pro-democracy activists. It shows a counter-demonstrator beating a student’s corpse with a chair as it hangs from a tamarind tree. The photograph was caught by American Neil Ulevich and won the Pulitzer Prize. Amongst activists today, ‘chair’ is slang for establishment brutality.

Rap Against Dictatorship say nothing has changed. The soldiers still control the state, and ‘fuck the law with a machine gun’. What’s worse, the ’76 Thammasat massacre is taught nowhere in Thailand and the government is doing its best to disappear it from collective memory – an Orwellian move reminiscent of Tiananmen Square.

In February 2019 the Thai government held elections, on the precondition the military hold half the National Assembly’s seats in reserve. Prayut Chan-Ocha won with 99% of the vote. Echoing those of 1976, student protests erupted in August 2020.

Sources: Khaosod English, Bangkok Post, New Mandala

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2020 So Far

Trump rushed to White House bunker amid protests

Disclaimer: This post is based on information from the media by someone living outside of North America as I currently understand it. It focuses on events in the world hegemon, the USA.

In January, tensions between the USA and Iran reached an all-time high following the assassination of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani. World War 3 memes flooded the internet while, in Iran and elsewhere, the protests of 2019 continued. The year’s greatest challenge to the USA and its hegemony proved not an external enemy however, but a global disease and problems within the nation itself.

In February, Covid-19, a deadly virus, spread from a market in Wuhan across China. By March it went global, killing hundreds of thousands. Governments forced their populations into lockdown, closing businesses and urging their people to stay at home. Transmission stalled at the economy’s expense.

By May, the USA had suffered the most, with over a million cases and over 100,000 dead. Black Americans were hit disproportionately.

On May 21st, white Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin arrested George Floyd, an unarmed black man, for using a counterfeit bill. The officer then kneeled on Floyd’s neck for nine minutes as he cried ‘I can’t breathe’ until he died. Floyd’s death, the latest in a long list of documented murders-by-police, was the spark which set the forest ablaze. 

Minneapolis, and over 75 other cities, erupted in protests against systemic racism and police brutality. With law enforcement stretched thin, looters took to the streets at night. Businesses big and small suffered. Authorities deployed State Troopers and on, June 1st the National Guard. Currently ongoing, it is the USA’s worst civil unrest since the 1960s. 

There has been major unrest in the USA every generation. Unlike the 1965 Watts Riots, or 1992 Rodney King Riots, however, the George Floyd protests have coincided with a pandemic, economic collapse and the century’s most unpopular presidency. Through such concurrences, empires fall.

The USA was already in a fragile state. Millions, particularly those on minimum hour contracts, lost their livelihoods in the lockdown. With a weak social safety net and a terrible healthcare system, America has not weathered the storm well. People are angry and have little to lose. 

What happens next?

Donald Trump will run on a law and order platform as Nixon did in 1968. Against the uninspiring Joe Biden, he will likely win.

As for the bigger picture, there are three possibilities:

  1. Cities invoke meaningful steps to reform and demilitarise the American police and the prison-industrial complex. They hold murderous cops accountable. 
  2. Protests continue but struggle against heavy law enforcement. Riots abate. Systemic racism enters the public discourse and small steps are taken to meet protestor demands. The status quo prevails.
  3. Riots worsen. Armed groups intervene. Someone fires at police lines and they respond with live bullets. Trump calls the military. The USA implodes as Rome did and the rest of the world fights over its ashes. 

Whatever the case, Covid-19 will spike in the USA. It will take months to fully recover.

The LAPD reformed somewhat following the Rodney King Riots of 1992. Now the Minneapolis city government pledges to defund the police and mandate officers intervene against colleagues using excessive force. Proclaiming support for Black Lives Matter has become trendy amongst corporations. Most significantly, the protests have brought attention to the structural inequality that persists in the United States but also highlighted the political and social division which defines our era. Whatever happens in the next six months, historians will study 2020 for years to come.

Sources: Data.pnj, CNN, The Economist, The Guardian, Vox

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Protests of 2019

Tahrir 2019, Tiananmen 1989, and the Second Signpost – THE ...

More people have taken to the streets in the past 12 months than any year since 1989. 2019 surpasses even 2011, the year of Occupy Wall Street and the Arab Spring. Around the world, demonstrators challenge corruption, unjust laws and political repression. People are tired of the ageing establishments that have failed to tackle problems like climate change or wealth disparity. Protests peaked in October 2019, and in places like Chile and Hong Kong, are ongoing.

Government decrees sparked protests. In Lebanon, it was a tax on Whatsapp calls, in Chile a 4% hike in metro tickets, in India a law that grants citizenship to neighbouring refugees so long as they aren’t Muslim. Hong Kong’s protests started with a bill to extradite criminals to mainland China.

Lebanon Report - October - MEIRSSAmnesty International identifies five common causes:

  • Corruption: Protestors accuse their leaders of misusing public funds and demand their resignation. Egypt (October -), Lebanon (October – ), Chile (October -). Iraq, (October- ) Pakistan (November – ) Colombia (November -).
  • Cost of living: Austerity measures, sanctions and faltering economies have increased day-to-day costs, particularly petrol. Egypt (September), Haiti (November 2018 – ), Ecuador (October), France (November 2018 -), Iran (November – ).
  • Climate justice: Protestors, particularly the young, rally against government and big businesses’ slow response to climate change and environmental ruin, including forest fires. In September 2019, 7.6 million people in 185 countries participated in climate strikes. Worldwide school strikes, Extinction Rebellion (January -). Bolivia (October).
  • Political freedom: Protestors demand true democracy or greater independence in their respective regions. Hong Kong (June -), Sudan (September – ), Catalonia (October), India (October – ). Guinea (October-).

President says sorry but Chile faces more protests, strikeChile is the wealthiest country in South America, yet suffers crippling inequality. Unrest has cost over $3 billion in damage, 26 people dead and over 3,461 injured. In response, the government promised a referendum in April 2020 to replace the current constitution, drafted under Pinochet, with a civilian one. Two-thirds of Chileans support the protests, according to Al-Jazeera.

Hong Kong Protests: Massive Crowds and Police ClashesHong Kong protestors demand universal suffrage and accountability for police brutality. China is trying to bring the autonomous territory closer into its fold, and have it comply with its laws and restrictions. Demonstrations have seized the city every weekend since June and forced its economy to a halt. The protests have cost Hong Kong $950 million in police overtime.

Government responses are more restrained than in the past. They know indiscriminate killing can vilify the state and embolden its critics. In addition to lightning-fast coordination, smartphones and social media let protesters broadcast state brutality for the world to see. Were Beijing to pull a Tiannemen square in Hong Kong, it could not hide it again. Mass arrests and nonlethal weapons like water cannons and rubber bullets make a better strategy. Protests have largely been peaceful; though in some cases have broken out into riots. The most violent crackdowns are in Iran, where the government is hiding bodies.

As Protesters Clog Catalonia, Court Snuffs Out Declaration ...

The protests of 2019 expose a faltering world order. Neoliberalism has reigned supreme since the Cold War and is predicated on economic freedom and limitless growth. Since 2008, however, new wealth has fallen into increasingly fewer hands. According to Oxfam, the world’s richest 26 people own more than the poorest half.

Sources: Al Jazeera, Amnesty International, The Economist, The Guardian, Oxfam, Washington Post

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The Sudan Crisis

Sudanese protesters maintain pressure on military regime ...Since toppling its dictator in April, Sudan stands torn between a nonviolent protest movement and an intransigent military regime. On June 3rd authorities fired on pro-democracy activists in capital Khartoum. Government militias ran rampant, accused of murder, theft and rape. At least 138 have died so far. The UN warns that Sudan risks slipping into a ‘human rights abyss’.

Key Figures:

  • Omar al-Bashir, ‘butcher of Darfur’ and dictator of 30 years, was overthrown by the military on April 11th after months of civilian protest. In 2008 the International Criminal Court convicted him of crimes against humanity for his role in the Darfur Genocide (2003 -).  Imprisoned in Khartoum, he stands trial for embezzlement, war crimes and terrorism.
  • Sudan military chief: We'll hand over power when there's ...Abdel Fattah al-Burhan rules Sudan as commander-in-chief of the armed forces and chairman of the Transitional Military Council. He visited Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE in May, receiving support from their governments.Sudan's military to resume civil talks as barricades ...
  • Mohamed Hamadan ‘Hemeti’ Dangalo is commander of the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and the junta’s number two. Hemeti earned a brutal reputation as leader of the Janjaweed militias against rebels in Darfur. Allegedly the true power behind the throne.

  • Mohamed Mattar, a martyr of the June 3rd massacre who flew from London to take part.  ‘#blueforsudan’ spread in his honour.

Viral ‘Nubian queen’ rally leader says women key to Sudan ...

  • Aala Saleh, nicknamed ‘Kandaka’ (Nubian queen)became the uprising’s Marianne after a video of her singing went viral.

The people rose in December 2018 after the government tripled the price of bread. Civil war, international sanctions and mismanagement had stifled Sudan’s economy, with inflation reaching 70%.  Led by the Sudanese Professionals Association, thousands of protesters occupied the streets outside the Ministry of Defense in April demanding regime change.

The ten-member ‘Transitional Military Council’ (TMC) replaced al-Bashir. Power now rests with the military, the RSF and the ‘Declaration of Freedom and Change Forces’ (DFCF)– a coalition of trade unions, opposition parties, activists and rebel groups.  A tentative agreement promised elections in three years’ time. Demanding the military cede power to a civilian-led transition government, protesters continued their nonviolent sit-in with numbers swelling.

Survivors of Sudan's Security Crackdown Describe Brutal ...The Khartoum Massacre: On June 3rd RSF gunmen dispersed the protesters with live bullets and pickup trucks.  They killed over 100 and dumped 40 bodies in the Nile, according to Sudanese doctors. At least 70 people were raped by the RSF, who prowled the streets, dismantling barricades, beating and torturing those who resisted and blockading hospitals.  The military put Khartoum in lockdown and arrested DFCF leaders. The African Union promptly suspended Sudan’s membership. 

A health worker commented on the protesters’ camp:

“Everything was destroyed – it’s the same thing when you pass by villages in Darfur where they have shot and killed people and looted property, it’s the same picture.”

Sudan to Deploy Troops in Darfur After Tribal ClashesThe Rapid Support Forces is the new name for the Janjaweed – Arab militias responsible for atrocities in Darfur. Led by Hemeti, the Janjaweed draw from provincial Sudanese nomads, and, though loyal to the government, are notoriously undisciplined and violent. At least 9,000 currently occupy Khartoum.

The DFCF responded with a three-day general strike from the 9th to 11th of June which paralysed Sudan’s economy.  They demand the TMC step down and an independent investigation of the June 3rd Massacre.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed is mediating talks with the TMC and the protesters, who have since suspended their strikes.  With the internet cut, defiant activists now stage night rallies spread by text and word of mouth. The government claims to regret the massacre but denies culpability.

Massacre in Sudan: Revolutionaries vow to fight on despite ...

Sources: The Africa Report, Al Jazeera, BBC, Crisis Group, Foreign Policy, Liberation News, Middle East Eye

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Update 3/7/19: Associated Press confirms 128 killed June 3rd.

Update 4/7/19: The military and protest leaders announce a joint government, with the promise of elections. in three years’ time. 

2017 Warsaw March

warsaw

On  November 11th 2017, 60,000 demonstrators celebrated Poland’s 99th Independence Day in Warsaw in a bout of flag-waving nationalist frenzy.  It was Europe’s largest public demonstration in recent years and the biggest gathering of its kind this century. Activists, some wearing balaclavas and displaying fascist insignia, marched for Catholic identity and ethnic nationalism, chanting against Jews, Muslims, gays, liberals and the EU.

At first glance, the Independence Day March seems innocent enough. Poland, its rough history considered, has a right to feel patriotic. The rhetoric surrounding this demonstration, however, was especially disturbing.

Notable chants and slogans included:

  • ‘We Want God’ (references Donald Trump’s 2017 Warsaw speech)
  • ‘Catholic Poland, not Secular”
  • “Refugees get out!”
  • “White Europe of Brotherly Nations”
  • “Clean Blood”
  • “White Poland, Pure Poland”
  • “Pure Poland, Jew Free Poland”
  • “Death to Enemies of the Homeland”
  • “Pray for an Islamic Holocaust”

The march attracted far right activists from across Europe, including Britain’s Tommy Robinson, a former EDL leader. Richard Spencer, the leading American white nationalist, was invited but denied a visa.

warsaw-far-right-march.jpg

I did an earlier post on the Charlottesville Riot and the shared ultra-conservative and xenophobic messages of both events calls for comparisons. The Warsaw March was something the American far-right could only dream of. Saturday’s marchers waved red flares, not tiki torches but their message was similar: nativism, white nationalism and bigotry. Their numbers were greater than a meagre 2,000.

Like Charlottesville, counter protesters opposed the march though they numbered only 5,000. They were organised by Antifa Warsaw. Unlike Charlottesville, the Right had the obvious upper hand: ethnic nationalism is a far stronger force in Poland than the US, and in a region feeling the brunt of the Syrian refugee crisis and the rise of Russia, far more significant.

In the past police have clashed with protesters on these Independence Day Marches, but since the ascendance of the far-right Law and Justice Party in 2015, which embraces the politics of conservative nationalism, the demonstrations have largely been encouraged. Only 45 were arrested on Saturday, all of whom were leftist counter-demonstrators. No injuries or deaths occurred.

It is worth noting these elements did not represent the march as a whole. According to the BBC, a demonstrator claimed only 30% were committed neo-fascists. Nevertheless, 18,000 fascists parading is still unsettling.

andrez duda.jpg

Extremist elements were condemned by possible sympathisers. President Andrzej Duda, of eurosceptic Law and Justice Party, said xenophobia, anti-Semitism and violence have ‘no place in Poland.’  Duda has accepted 0 refugees since the crisis began and previously claimed ‘the affirmation of homosexuality will be the downfall of civilization’.

Breitbart News, the self-described ‘platform for the alt-right’ described the march as ‘hijacked by white nationalists’ while downplaying its significance by stating xenophobia is commonplace across the world.

I was most surprised to find Sputnik, the mouthpiece of the Putin Administration, condemned the march, describing it as ‘the largest gathering of bigots in Europe and perhaps the world’. Russia has previously encouraged the resurgence of nationalism in Europe as a means to weaken the European Union.

After centuries of domination by foreign powers, Poland was occupied by Nazi Germany, who committed their most atrocious evils on Polish soil, followed by over half a century of Soviet backed totalitarian socialism. Their common enemy shaped a cohesive national identity based on the Catholic faith and Polish identity. Religion, like race, is exploited as an identity marker to differentiate native Poles from outsiders.  As of 2017 Poland is arguably the most right-wing state in Europe.

warsaw fascism 2.jpg

Sources: Al Jazeera, The Guardian, New York Times, Foreign Policy, Politico, BBC, Breitbart News, Sputnik International

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One Month On: Assessing Charlottesville

Charlootesville rally

It’s been a month since the Charlottesville Riot. On August 12th, supposedly protesting the planned removal of a Robert E Lee statue, hundreds descended on the town in a torch lit rally, displaying an array of white nationalist insignia including swastikas. Chants included the Nazi maxim ‘Blood and Soil’, ‘White Lives Matter’ and ‘Jews will not replace us’. They clashed with counter protesters the next day, resulting in one death and multiple injuries.

‘The Unite the Right’ rally was, truthfully, a ‘Unite the Far Right’ rally. All the white supremacist groups coalesced: klansmen, neo-Nazis, neo-confederates and, most notably, adherents of the burgeoning alt right movement.

Only one particular cohort seemed missing – skinheads. The eponymous hairdo and doc martins, it seems, have been replaced by the khakis and white polos of the new generation’s racists. Skinheads, as a distinct subculture, have largely died out, succeeded by the far more savvy and successful alt right, a movement of unprecedented growth, owing  to its ‘softened’ and intellectualised image.

The Charlottesville rally showed their strength – these were not merely keyboard warriors, but a numerous and organised movement, capable of putting boots on the ground.

I argue the march backfired.

Charlottesville Lee Statue

The statue that started it all, in Lee Park, Charlottesville Virginia. Soon to be removed.

Lee Statues: Charlottesville prompted the immediate removal of the Lee statue, along with confederate monuments across the US.

  • August 15th: Demonstrators illegally remove the courthouse Confederate Soldiers Monument in Durham, North Carolina.
  • August 16th: Baltimore authorities remove the city’s Stonewall Jackson and Robert E Lee Statues.
  • August 19th: The Lee monument at Duke University is removed.
  • September 18th: Dallas removes the Lee Statue in the city park.

The removal of confederate monuments in the south was already a growing trend in 2017. The ugly display of hate at Charlottesville only quickened the pace by authorities all too eager to distance themselves from the Old South’s white supremacist legacy.

Alt right

Charlottesville protesters posing for a photo

Alt Right: At Charlottesville the alt right’s careful cultivation of a refined, accessible white nationalist movement was decimated. The Nazi imagery, the violence and Heather Heyer’s murder showed the movement’s true colours (or at least that off its extremist wing). These were not simple patriots espousing positive white identity but bigots of a familiar stripe, whose message is little different from the neo-Nazis they marched alongside.

Public opinion has hardened against the alt right. Whilst the media’s reaction may strengthen their core, few wish to associate with hard-core racists and neo-Nazis. The Charlotesville protesters was widely condemned; by religious leaders, celebrities, politicians, even Angela Merkel. Anti-fascist rallies followed in Berkley, Brooklyn, Los Angeles and San Francisco. The Daily Stormer and the Right Stuff, pages representing the alt right’s extremist wing, have since been exiled to the dark web. A follow up ‘free speech’ rally in Boston was inundated by counter protesters.

Donald Trump – After the death of Heather Heyer and President Trump’s ‘many sides’ comments, the media had a field day. Trump received the most flak since last’s years ‘pussygate’ scandal. His manufacturing council dissolved and Steve Bannon – Trump’s link to the alt right, resigned.  Pundits were quick to note the marchers’ approval of Trump’s words.

Donald Trump is incapable of denouncing anyone who praises him (Trump-Pence signs appeared at the rally), or hiding his true feelings, so his comments were not surprising. Nevertheless, the president has repeatedly demonstrated that he is a bed of nails; his response to Charlottesville march will ultimately blow over.

One month on, the shock reaction and public frenzy to the march has died down. Many quietly agree that both sides were to blame, especially given Antifa’s dubious and violent track record.  Counter protesters may have started the violence, it is true, but when one side’s ranks espouse a genocidal ideology and the other merely react, recognising the greater evil should not be difficult.

What will come of the alt right, and their bubbling anger, remains to be seen.

Donald Trump,