Thai activist talks about political unrest in his home country

Sulak Sivaraska Sulak Sivaraska

(Photo courtesy 360 North)

Thai activist, author, academic and two-time Nobel Peace prize nominee Sulak Sivaraska spoke Wednesday evening in Juneau. Sivaraska discussed corruption, obstruction and bloody violence on the part of the Thai government and emphasized the need for people everywhere to challenge authority.

Sivaraska’s talk, which was sponsored by the Juneau World Affairs Council, was titled “Unrest in Southeast Asia: A Thai Activist’s Perspective.” For the uninitiated, the title of the talk belied some of the stories Sivaraska would share.

In 1976, after three years of unstable democracy, the military took back control of the Thai government. Sivaraska recalled the violent coup, saying he was out of the country at the time. He’d been invited by the Smithsonian Museum to speak during celebrations for America’s bicentennial. While on his return trip to Thailand, Sivaraska learned of the upheaval.

“I was arrested in absentia,” Sivaraska said.

“Many of my students were killed, were tortured, were murdered by the Thai military.”

Sivaraska’s wife was also briefly arrested and his bookstore was destroyed, leaving them bankrupt. He would spend the next two years in exile.

In 2007, after 75 years of democracy in his homeland, Sivaraska wrote a book about “obstruction in the Siamese democracy.” While he wasn’t arrested, police did confiscate the book. Sivaraska challenged the police and government in Thai administrative court. The court ruled against Sivaraska and he is currently appealing the decision.

“The point is that any unrest anywhere, if you want my opinion as a Thai intellectual, you must have moral courage,” Sivaraska said. “You must challenge those in power.”

Sivaraska spoke of how religious Quakers have actually had more of an impact on his thinking than the Buddhists of his country. He noted similarities in the two religions’ belief in non-violence, but said that many Buddhists in his home country tend to keep quiet about political injustice.

“To keep quiet when there’s unrest, I feel that you are not practicing Buddhism; you are practicing escapism. That’s why I admire the Quakers who always speak truth to power,” Sivaraska said.

Sivaraska will give another talk in Juneau this week, as he is the inaugural speaker for the 2014 Evening at Egan lecture series hosted by the University of Alaska Southeast. The talk is titled “The Wisdom of Sustainability: Consumerism, Capitalism and Climate Change” and will be given this Friday at 7 p.m. at the Egan Lecture Hall.