Thu, Mar 18, 2010 - Page 5 News List

Thailand’s ‘Red Shirts’ spill blood for their cause

BUT WILL IT WORK? The protesters have spilled blood in an attempt to curse and topple the government, but experts believe the ceremony could backfire on them

THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

Hunti Dan, a 105-year-old supporter of former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, hands a red rose to a riot policeman guarding Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva’s home in Bangkok yesterday.

PHOTO: REUTERS

It certainly looks spectacular, but what does it mean? According to the Bangkok Post, Tuesday’s blood protest by Thai “Red Shirts” loyal to their country’s multi-millionaire deposed prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, saw “12 five-liter bottles, two large buckets and 50 syringes of blood” ceremonially splashed on the four gates of Government House and over the headquarters of the ruling Democrat party in a “ritual aimed at bringing down the government”.

The blood had been collected from several thousand supporters by the opposition United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship. Red Cross officials objected, arguing that throwing 300 liters of human blood on assorted public buildings might not be the best possible use of such a valuable resource, and that in a country with a relatively high rate of HIV infection, its collection and disposal raised potential public health issues.

Again according to the Bangkok Post, three demonstrators, including a Hindu brahman and a man carrying a statue of Buddha, “walked to the first gate of Government House, where a religious rite was performed. The brahman cited spells and incantations, and poured an amount of blood in front of the gate.” Next, “the brahman took some of the blood from the ground to write letters on the concrete posts of the gate.”

Blood, a symbol of life (and death), features in religious and other rituals around the world.

There appear, however, to be relatively few examples of blood being poured as a form of modern political protest. That’s what it plainly is, though, for those leading Thailand’s pro-Thaksin demonstrations — even if they’re not entirely certain why.

Experts on Thai culture and beliefs appear no less nonplussed: As S.P. Somtow, a Thai author and composer, relates on his entertaining and informative blog (somtow.org) that a recent televised debate between an authoritative panel of “Thailand’s leading astrologers and magicians” failed completely to arrive at any meaningful conclusion as to the efficacy — or, indeed, the meaning — of the blood-spattering ceremonies.

Somtow says there are several possible theories. The Cambodian theory “states that pouring blood on the headquarters of the government is a Cambodian plot to ensure the return of Thaksin.”

The Astrologers’ theory holds that blood-spilling is “simple sympathetic magic in order to gain victory, and the sort of thing anyone would do under the circumstances.”

The Historical theory, which seems based on the legend that the 16th-century Thai king Naresuan once ordered his army to capture and behead the Khmer king Satha so he could “use his victim’s blood to wash his feet in.”

So will the gory ritual work? Nothing, Somtow says, is less certain.

TV experts say “using your enemies’ blood to ensure victory might be a logical example of sympathetic magic, but spilling your own could have the opposite effect.”

The Cambodian theory, too, could well backfire, “because you need to be ‘pure of heart’ to perform that rite … Without such doctrinal protection the magic would reverse itself, and the intended consequences would occur to the curser, not the cursee.”

Blood-spilling, Somtow concludes, is unlikely to solve Thailand’s immediate problems, but if what you’re after is the dissolution of the lower house of parliament, “when you have the all the resources of witchcraft and the supernatural at your disposal, why stoop to such mundane devices as, for instance, lobbying one of the smaller parties to switch sides so as to shift the balance of power?”

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