John Galliano would love it in Thailand.
Yes, these days, Nazism is all the rage in the land formerly known as Siam. The first major episode occurred back in September 2011, when a group of students at Sacred Heart Catholic School, a high school in Chiang Mai, showed up to its annual summer sports day dressed in full Nazi regalia and carrying large Swastika flags. The brigade was led by a young woman dressed as Adolf Hitler, followed by a procession of students sporting SS uniforms and fake machine guns. Then, in June of last year, a KFC-like fast food joint named “Hitler” sprouted up, replete with a logo of the effete führer, pencil mustache and all. And the following month, art school students at Chulalongkorn University unveiled a massive billboard bearing the word “Congratulations,” and showing a superhero-like Hitler giving the Nazi salute nestled between Batman, Captain America, Iron Man, and the Incredible Hulk. Nazi t-shirts are also very popular in Thailand, which is one step away from staging a revival of Springtime For Hitler.
In all these cases, the students and even faculty members plead ignorance. Since the Holocaust isn’t taught in many Asian schools—including those in Thailand—these oblivious youngsters merely view Nazi symbols as attractive iconography, rather then hateful reminders of the systematic slaughter of 11 million people, including 6 million Jews.
But a recent propaganda video issued by Prime Minister General Prayuth Chan-ocha—and screened nationwide in cinemas on December 6—bears the distinction of being one of the first examples of state-sponsored Nazi worship.
The short film is titled 30, and directed by Kulp Kaljaruek as part of the Thai Niyom (Thai Pride) movie—a propaganda film promoting the “12 core values” of Gen. Prayuth’s regime. These “values” include discipline, morality, respecting one’s superiors, upholding traditional Thai customs, steering away from “religious sins,” and eschewing greed. The “values” are displayed in large banners outside Thai schools, and schoolchildren are forced to recite them twice daily in poem form.
30 is a didactic movie about a young, blue-blooded Thai boy learning to accept his goofy slacker of a best friend. But, during the film’s animated opening sequence, the rich protagonist is seen standing proudly in front of a portrait he drew in art class of Adolf Hitler. The clip received heaps of Internet criticism after it went viral, and has since been pulled down from state channels.
Still, director Kulp Kaljaruek doesn’t quite see what the big deal is.
“I didn't think it would be an issue,” Kaljaruek told Khaosod English. “As for Hitler's portrait, I have seen so many people using it on T-Shirts everywhere. It's even considered a fashion. It doesn't mean I agree with it, but I didn't expect it to be an issue at all.”
On Wednesday, Simon Roded, the Israeli ambassador to Thailand, issued a statement explaining how “deeply saddened” he was to see this troubling image in an official Thai government film. “Hitler and the Nazi regime were responsible for a systemic, horrific and racist murder of 11 million people during the Holocaust,” Roded’s statement read. “I was surprised that throughout the screening process this movie must have gone through to be approved for public broadcast, none of the smart, well educated people checking it had identified it as being problematic and offensive.”
Thai Niyom is comprised of 12 short films helmed by 12 different directors, and was commissioned by Gen. Prayuth in October to both celebrate His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s 87th birthday on December 5, and also promote nationalism.
Gen. Prayuth launched a military coup on May 22 to overthrow the government before pushing through an interim constitution that granted him ridiculous power. Since he was elected prime minister in August by a handpicked national legislature, he has transformed the country into an Orwellian nightmare where talk of democracy and criticism of the government has been banned. Hundreds of dissidents have been jailed, the news media is censored, the name of the previous prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, has been stricken from school textbooks, and students are required to have “merit passports” where they keep a detailed record of their behavior.
Student protesters have adopted The Hunger Games’ three-finger salute as an act of silent, anti-authoritarian rebellion against the military government—one punishable by imprisonment, and which has led several Thai theater chains to ban The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1.
Where’s Katniss when you need her?