On Wednesday 26 August, Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha warned, “…just wait, everybody will be on fiery land, engulfed in flames,” if student protests keep going. He was responding to a month of entirely peaceful student rallies protesting his authoritarian regime. So far the action his government has undertaken is to arrest a few young speakers (since the student movement does not have an identifiable leader). The government has also resorted to banning more than 1024 anti-government URLs online, including Facebook. Facebook has declared it will use its considerable resources to fight this.
How this is going to lead to the nation in flames is impossible to imagine unless the PM sends out his military incendiaries.
Just a few hours earlier Belarus’s President, Alexander Lukashenko, wielded an assault rifle as he arrived in Minsk by helicopter with his 15-year old son in battle gear and also carrying an automatic weapon. It was a photo-op moment. Lukashenko recently “won” a “fixed election” having banned or jailed all viable opposition candidates to insure continuation of his quarter-century reign. People began to protest, with a Sunday rally on August 16 drawing 100,000 peaceful participants, a historic amount up to that time.
Lukashenko warned his people not to do that again. Anyone joining an opposition protest against the election results would be treated as a terrorist. “We will wring their necks, as one might a duck.”
Apparently the Belarus citizenry was not intimidated. The next Sunday more than 200,000 people came to the rally. That would have been a lot of necks to wring. The military resorted to playing martial music and making demands that the crowd go home. The crowd drowned out the music with chants for Lukashenko to resign. They went home at 6 p.m. as they had planned to do, cleaning up their own debris as they left. Such order by such a large crowd makes it hard for an authoritarian to hit back.
Those were two incidents this week of authoritarian rulers threatening their own citizens. So far the threats have not led to violence on any large scale. That has not been the case everywhere in the world, as we know unless we’ve been living in a cocoon for the past decade.
The authoritarian(s) in the USA have sent armed troops (actually “mercenaries” is the accurate term) against protestors in Portland and several other cities. Hong Kong has now succumbed to the same martial order as the rest of China, following unsuccessful police action against citizen protest rallies. In the Philippines, President Duterte is continuing his war of threats against various segments of his population, but his actual shooting war against Muslims in the South and his license to kill whoever might be involved with narcotics seems to have ended in cease fires.
So far in this year of raging forest fires, worldwide pandemic, and civil unhappiness, threats against one’s own citizens has not worked. For it to work the citizens have to be manipulated into sharp divisions with a targeted opponent agreed upon by overwhelming consensus by one side. Then the threats can be real.
Rev. Dr. Kenneth Dobson posts his weekly reflections on this blog.