Languages of Security in the Asia-Pacific

College of Asia and the Pacific, Australian National University

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Thai – Khwaam samakkhi

May 27th, 2011 · No Comments · Thai, Unity

ความสามัคคี

Khwaam samakkhi

Relates to unity or harmony

Khwaam samakkhi is a key concept for Thai discussions of society and politics, and suggests the necessity of “one-ness” (tong pehn neung).  The term refers to unity or harmony, and it is used to assert the integration and consolidation of the kingdom. It came into common use during the reign of King Chulalongkorn when the country was threatened by others, particularly colonial powers. It is now used quite generally to refer to cooperation and togetherness, but it retains a deeper meaning with respect to Thailand’s trinity the king, the nation, and religion. It is, as such, often considered a top-down concept, and one that has been used to generate fear about potential loss of prestige, and social and financial status.

The term is regularly deployed in official and royal discourse, and is used to fend off a range of perceived threats to the unity of political institutions. Cracks (kwam taek yaek) in this united front are particularly worrisome. Those who question the intent behind this unifying discourse are liable to be criticised for their lack of national solidarity.  The term is commonly partnered with the idea of enforcing reconciliation, fostering community spirit, and defending the territorial and moral integrity of the kingdom.

During the Cold War kwaam samakkhi was used to neuter the alternative political claims made by the Communist Party of Thailand. In northern Thailand there are now many villages called Ban Samakkhi (unity village). These are often in areas that were the site of conflict during the 1960s and 1970s and where Thai government control was most tenuous. Such villages often enjoyed relationships with the Royal projects that proliferated in these areas and, in some cases, they still maintain strong symbolic ties to members of the royal family.

In speeches through the 1960s and 1970s, when Thailand was identified as another “domino” in the Southeast Asian theatre, King Bhumibol emphasised the importance of unity for the nation’s survival. Some of these speeches used Thai history to remind the people of the constructive outcomes of khwaam samakkhi. Facing the communist threat, the King explained that Thais should “retain unity (kwaam samakkhi) and co-operation in all kinds of work, and not become divided and destroy one another because no one, except we ourselves, can help us” (The Royal Address at the Grand Audience at Amarindra Vinichaya Throne Hall on December 5, 1969).  The institution of monarchy has constantly reinforced the nation that there is one single centre and that all Thais must accept that there is only one king (kasat ong deow), and that everyone must believe in and faith in the royal institution.

So while khwaam samakkhi retains a positive connotation tied to a long history of efforts to protect the monarchy and nation, it is also part of a spectrum of Thai language which is used to defend cultural chauvinism, bureaucratic centralism, and the suppression of political pluralism. Previously these issues were not widely discussed in public but since the coup of 2006 there has been increasing resentment against narrow interpretations of what unity means in the Thai context.  The Interior Ministry has recently launched a nationwide campaign calling for the protection of the monarchy with “unity” as one of its key public relations tropes. This is entirely predictable given the ongoing use of this concept to defend certain ways of interpreting Thai social and political life. However, questions are increasingly asked about the deployment of these discourses and the deeper implications of the cosmetic invocation of “unity”.

 
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