Protesters in Thailand standing off against the military that last month took control of the country have adopted a new symbol that is likely familiar to readers of young adult fiction: the three-fingered salute popularized in “The Hunger Games” trilogy and the movies based off of them.
They materialize suddenly, by the dozens, raising a three-finger salute toward the sky
Military leaders in Thailand seized control on May 22, expelling the government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra as the culmination of a months-long — or some would say years-long — struggle between Shinawatra and her rural supporters and the urban elite-led protests that paralyzed the country. Last months’s coup marked the second time in eight years that the government has been overthrown, the last time in 2006 against then-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, Yingluck’s brother, who later fled the country to escape corruption charges. Yingluck’s government fared little better, attempting to push through an economic policy that, while intended to benefit her rural supporters, failed to materialize significant gains. These failures helped lead to continuing protests that seized government buildings and shutdown the government. Thailand’s Constitutional Court, seen to be as allied with the elites, technically deposed her government for her alleged abuse of power weeks before the coup took place.
Since the coup, a new wave of protesters have taken to the streets, aligned with the deposed government and against the military, decrying what they say was an anti-democratic move in hit-and-run flash mobs organized over social media. “They materialize suddenly, by the dozens, raising a three-finger salute toward the sky,” the Global Post says describing the demonstrators. “Then they vanish as quickly as they appear, melting into crowds to evade scores of armed troops and police.” As the Post explains, while papers signs can be confiscated and used as evidence, making hand signs forgoes that possibility.
In response to the continuing protests, the military has launched a huge crackdown against demonstrators, deploying 5,700 police and soldiers into Bangkok on Sunday. Those holding aloft the three-fingered salute do so with the knowledge that gatherings of five or more people are illegal and that their display of disobedience could lead to their arrest. “A woman was forced into a taxi by suspected plainclothes police officers after she allegedly flashed three-finger signs signalling her opposition to the military coup near Asoke BTS station this afternoon,” the caption on a Bangkok Post video of one such woman being apprehended reads.
The junta now in charge has worked to shut down the media environment in Thailand, closing television and radio stations, helping prevent the spread of information about the protests. For now, social media is still up and running, but given its use in organizing protests, that could soon change. The atmosphere is so repressive that Sunday’s crackdown involved police posing as journalists to arrest individuals.
In the Hunger Games book series, the salute is used first by heroine Katniss Everdeen, then by a growing number of citizens, to show defiance against the leaders of a totalitarian regime. Protesters have said that the three fingers held aloft, in addition to being a tribute to the series, represent the French Revolution’s slogan: “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity.” But as catchy as the salute is, it’s a far cry from the attention-garnering protests that the Red Shirts, the anti-coup group who organized following the 2006 takeover, organized such as pouring their own blood on government headquarters in 2010 to call for new elections.
The head of the Red Shirts, however, has vowed to quit politics forever after being one of dozens of political leaders gathered into military custody in the coup’s immediate aftermath. And given the crackdown and the disorganized nature of the protests, the effect that the Hunger Games-esque salute is having is minimal. King Bhumibol Adulyadej has already blessed the coup leaders. And General Prayuth Chan-ocha — head of the junta — has ignored criticism from allies around the world — including the United States — in declaring marshal law. Elections have been postponed for more than a year, Chan-ocha said on Friday, to give the Thai military time to restore the economy and solve the problems the Shinawatra government caused. “Give us time to solve the problems for you,” he said. Then the soldiers will step back to look at Thailand from afar.” (HT: Quartz)