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Remembering the Thammasat University Massacre – October 6, 1976

Tanutam Thawan

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The actual events that preceded the incident started a few weeks before when the tortured corpses of 2 electricity workers were found hanging on September 24, 1976, just north of Bangkok.

You also need to put the incident into the context of the mid-1970s and the events swirling around South East Asia. Next door the Americans had just lost the Vietnam War, Loas was over-run by a communist government, and the Khmer Rouge had taken advantage of the instability in Cambodia to impose a bloody, xenophobic and paranoid communist dystopia.

In Thailand the politics of the time was becoming more polarised with a right-wing, loyalist faction backed by the army, and a left-leaning socialist rump, with the student movement leading the way.

The return of two highly divisive former tyrannic leaders of Thailand, who had been in exile for three years, at the same time, added more fuel for protests and political unrest.

The discovery of the 2 dead bodies sparked new protests, which culminated in the bloody crackdown by police, army and a right-wing militia at the Thammasat University campus and adjacent Sanam Luang on the morning of October 6, 1976.

The official death toll was 45 and 145 people injured, but unofficial accounts claim that more than 100 were killed.

The temporary museum uses a range of media to describe the lead up to the massacre, the carnage of that bloody morning, along with vivid images and sounds of the day’s fateful events.

One of the volunteers for the current exhibition is Yannisa and we asked her why it was important to stage the pop up museum…

The display, mostly in Thai, has many photos, some of them synonymous with the incident, others rare insights into some of the people involved at the time. Some of those people were involved with putting the exhibition together.

When you walk into the main hall you’re confronted with a huge landscape photographic mural where augmented reality overlays shadows from the massacre onto today’s peaceful photo of Sanam Luang.

The pop up museum is staged, not only on the 44th anniversary of the Thammasat University Massacre, but at a time when the latest round of student protests are getting louder again. For an entire generation of Thais, the Massacre casts a dark shadow on all political discourse since the event. But now a younger generation is making sure the memories remain fresh, and as a reminder that political over-reach can easily spill over to violence.

 

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