Thursday night a young Norwegian woman made herself known among journalists and others at the Foreign Correspondents Club in Bangkok. In the end of a two hour long debate on the recent political unrest in Bangkok, the Norwegian woman stood up and declared her support for the Red Shirts and blamed the media for unnecessary focus on violence and weapon.
“I have been at the demonstrations several times from the very start, when the protest was at the area around the Phanfa Brigde – Where were you then?” Linda Renland asked the audience while she continued and explained she herself had been in several protests in Europe and that the media always focused on the few violent elements instead of the demonstration as a whole.
Her comments were almost drowned in buhhs from the audience and the moderator called off the debate for the night.
In two hours journalists, photographers, i-reporters and others had told their version of the truth about the last days of the red shirt protest in central Bangkok. Some of the professionals showed their video footage.
Others told eyewitness stories of being among soldiers and protesters, and around people being shot among them the Italian journalist Fabio Polenghi who died covering the protests.
A big part of the discussion was about whether the red shirt protesters carried weapons or not, if the black shirts were actually red shirts. Or who these men with guns actually were.
Some had seen weapons with their own eyes, and some had not. But everyone agreed that there were weapons on the red shirts’ side of the barricades, but many also underlined that the number of men with guns was put too high by the government, which claims that there were up till 500 terrorists. Some people this night claimed the number was less than 50 others around 200.
The question was then: “Does it matter? Does matter how many carried weapons?” For some it did, for others not. If there were weapons the whole peaceful movement for democracy was a lie for some people. For others the focus on weapons drew too much focus on violent gun men, and away from the government’s actions and the big group of nonviolent protesters.
Norwegian Linda Renland was one of the latest. Linda Renlance studies Southeast Asian Studies at Mahidol University and has lived in Bangkok for four years.
She is a self declared red shirt supporter and sees the red shirts as a movement for social justice. And she disagrees with the idea that expatiates in Thailand should shut up and leave it to the Thais to solve their problems:
“I live here, I have my life here, I have a Thai boyfriend, I have Thai friends. I live in Thailand and I have the right to have an opinion like everyone else,” she says to an older man who confronts her with what he thinks about foreigners’ role in Thailand.
And indeed she does have them – her opinions. She strongly dislike Thaksin for what he did in the South and in the war against drugs. She began supporting the red shirts when she met the people in the streets, when she saw what she thinks is a people’s movement and she is furious that a small group of people with guns has ruined it for everyone:
“When I met the red shirts I understood that this was also my fight – a fight for justice. And that should not be destroyed by a small group with guns,” she says.
Linda Renland says that she has been in many protests in Europe and that she thinks the picture is the same there. A small group destroys it for everyone.