Source: Vice NewsWalking around Bangkok, a city of an estimated 12 million people, there are depressing scenes of war readiness: piles of sandbags, razor-wire barricades, menacing men in ski masks, and netting overhead to thwart grenade attacks.
Everywhere there are more and more visible symbols of patriotism and nationalism — on billboards, T-shirts, and television — designed to emphasize the unquestionable unity of the Thai people.
Friends and strangers spoke of civil war, or at least the beginnings of it. It is certainly new to hear Bangkok residents speaking like this, but in truth there has been a civil war in Thailand for nearly a decade. I witnessed its spark, not in the streets of Bangkok but over 500 miles to the south, near the Thai-Malaysian border, back in 2004.
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For years, successive Thai governments have promoted a homogenous "Thai" identity in a country of ethnic and linguistic diversity. Malay-Muslims in the south were forced to give up their language and use Central Thai. The same went for Lao-speaking Thais in the north-east and Lanna-speaking people in the north.
The leader of the main opposition party is warning of the risks and emphasizing the need to prevent civil war, but it is not clear if that will be enough. Attempts to remove the current Prime Minister through a politicized court battle, akin to several previous ones that have occurred in lieu of the military coup that ousted Thaksin Shinawatra back in 2006, are being cited by the current government's supporters as cause to begin violent resistance should it come to fruition. Increasingly discussion is about the possibility of the Red Shirts, or Thaksin loyalists who support the current government, effectively seizing control of the north and north east and beginning a violent campaign against any removal of the current leadership. As the Vice News article notes, there is already a bloody insurgency being waged in the south by predominantly Malay-speaking Muslims so any conflict would probably inflame that insurgency and spill over into Malaysia. I would expect the possibility of spill-over in Cambodia as well given the border dispute, large Khmer populations in Thai regions bordering Cambodia, and Prime Minister Hun Sen's harboring of Thaksin and traditional support for the Thaksin loyalists. That would potentially aggravate the domestic situation in Cambodia where there are ongoing protests against Sen's decades-long rule. Given his support from Vietnam, who originally imposed him as leader during its occupation of the country, this means there is additional spill-over risk.