History and the AEC
Recently a couple of Thai university lecturers created headlines when they controversially suggested the current biased views of Thais towards their neighbour nations will need to change.
Thamrongsak Petchlertanan, chairman of the political science programme at Rangsit University and Akkhaphong Khamkhun, a junior lecturer in Thai studies at Thammasat University, expressed the view that Thailand’s nationalistic style of teaching history needs to be changed in the lead-up to the start of the Asean Economic Community (AEC).
Thamrongsak noted that Thai history had largely demonized its near neighbours, especially Myanmar, Laos, and Cambodia, and this had led to many Thais believing they were superior to their neighbours. This also led to a general mistrust of the Burmese, Lao, and Cambodian peoples.
The long-standing dispute between Cambodia and Thailand over the Preah Vihear temple (called Phra Viharn by the Thais), which was once more before the International Court of Justice (ICJ), merely served as a prime example of Thai attitudes towards Cambodia.
While Thailand certainly has strong claims based on historical failures by the French, the former colonial power in Cambodia, it is the way the argument has tended to portray the Cambodian people which has often raised the ire of Thailand’s neighbor.
Thamrongsak, who specializes in Thai and Cambodian history, said a century of nationalistic Thai education, casting its neighbours as villains, had led to mistrust and hatred.
“One hundred years is a long time. Thais have been taught about the greatness of the Thai state [but] it will be the responsibility of the state, particularly the Education Ministry, [to initiate reform],” Thamrongsak was quoted as saying.
Akkhaphong suggested that beyond the biased nationalistic teaching of Thai history the religious belief in karma was another major factor. This belief in karma led to many Thais thinking the reason countries such as Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia were less developed than Thailand was simply down to those neighbours not having accrued as much good karma, or merit, as Thailand.
Many Thais also believed people in some neighbouring countries are simply not as smart as those from Thailand suggested Akkhaphong.
“Nationalistic ‘logic’ reduces the humanity of others,” Akkhaphong noted.
Thamrongsak said the task of changing these flawed beliefs is generational and can only begin with a revamp of the teaching curriculum. The problem was exacerbated by his feeling that many elected representatives held condescending attitudes towards their nearest neighbours and changing teacher’s education methods would not be an easy task.
Thamrongsak said Thailand’s relations with its neighbours was of strategic interest with the imminent arrival of the AEC and should be given priority now. As he said, more people from these countries will be working in and visiting Thailand from 2015 onward.