How xenophobic are Thai people

A window to Isaan

Is there racism and nationalism in Thailand? This question may have been asked by many who, as a Farang living in Thailand, have been annoyed about the obvious disadvantage of foreigners compared to Thais in all business and financial matters. In order to be able to answer this question satisfactorily, one must first be clear about the different meanings of these terms in Thailand and Germany.

Racism, that is, the doctrine of the superiority of one's own race, the need to keep it pure and the right derived from it to suppress or even liquidate people of other races, was one of the main causes of the decline in Germany and the loss of reputation in Germany the civilized world after the last war. For us Germans, the term racism has an absolutely negative burden, and only a few crazy neo-Nazis would still admit to it today.

However, racism did not only exist in the perverted form in Nazi Germany. English colonialism in particular was justified by the ideology of the inferiority of other peoples and the superiority of their own white race. The Thai, on the other hand, did not have a racist feeling, which shows, for example, the relatively good integration of the Chinese in Thailand - in contrast to the other nations of Southeast Asia. The Thai kings ruled a multi-ethnic population for centuries. A third of the population in the northeast of the country is of Lao or Cambodian descent. There is a large Malay minority in the south, and a few hundred thousand people of Chinese descent now make up almost all of the country's economic life. There is no trace of oppression or discrimination against these people for racist reasons. If some hill tribes in the north are exposed to repression today, then this is not due to their perception as a strange or inferior race, but the fact that their presence prevents the exploitation of natural resources there and is thus in the way of massive business interests. The Thais are therefore a multi-ethnic and therefore also multi-cultural society. Thailand, however, is not a melting pot like the USA, because here the different peoples settle more or less in closed areas and have largely preserved their cultural peculiarities.

Thais are definitely not racists in German terms. In a short period of Thai history, after Phibulsongkhram took over the government in 1938, with its slogan "Thailand den Thai", Thai nationalism also took on racist traits from which the Chinese in particular suffered, but its ideas were true Thai was more like copies of the "progressive West" and completely ignored the reality of the country's traditions. In contrast to his great role model in Germany at that time, Phibul failed miserably in his attempt to implant racist ideas in the Thais.

It looks a little different with nationalism. The German nationalism of the Hitler era, i.e. the feeling of being superior to other peoples and deriving from this the right to expand one's own living space at the expense of neighboring peoples, was also one of the main causes of the collapse of Germany in 1945. Consequently, the term nationalism is also for us Germans have negative connotations.

For the Thais, however, the term nationalism has a different meaning. The Thais have won their independence in centuries of conflict with neighboring peoples and in the 19th century had to defend themselves against attempts by Western colonial powers to colonize Thailand, like all neighboring countries. The fact that this has succeeded, despite extremely strong pressure and the temporary occupation of Ayutthaya and Bangkok by French troops, has resulted in a deep-seated distrust of all foreigners, from the World Currency Fund to Farang tourists, which the Farang often see as a form of xenophobia or even Nationalism may appear. It would never occur to a Thai to let his country merge into an international community, as is currently happening in Europe.

It was mostly King Rama VI. (1910-1925), who promoted the national pride of the Thai with the political ideology of nationalism. The strengthening of the Thai sense of unity seemed to him to be a suitable means to secure the sovereignty of the country and to facilitate recognition and acceptance in the international community. The strengthening of the national consciousness of the Thais is officially promoted by all means even today. This ranges from the daily repeated presence of the king and his family as a national symbol on television, the daily playing of the national anthem on television and radio to the daily flag parade with the singing of the national anthem in all schools.

Thais have a pronounced national pride, even if there are many things in Thailand that give absolutely no reason to be proud of, such as: For example, corruption, prostitution, the high rate of violent crime and, above all, the country's desolate economic situation. Thais see these problems with their eyes and generally do not apply Farang standards here. Corruption has always been an institution rather than an evil in Thailand. It is taken for granted that a public servant who assists you with a matter should be paid a certain sum for it. Prostitution is also seen with different eyes. For Thais there is nothing wrong with prostitution as long as it brings money and thus financial compensation for a possible loss of face. And in the current desperate economic situation, it is not the own inept politicians and the bankers who are only interested in their short-term profit, but the world currency fund and foreign banks to blame.

The national pride of the Thais, which sometimes seems strange to us farang, is strongly focused on the person of the king and was promoted by every government. The Thais do not derive from their national pride the right to oppress the members of foreign peoples, but to take them out with a smiling face, which every farang in the country can experience on their own every day.

Günther Ruffert

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