Asia-Pacific

Promoting 'love' after Thailand's protests

A still from the music video about the recent protests
Image caption The director says his video sends a message of peace

Travelling on Bangkok's elevated transport system, known as the Sky Train, always carries the risk of an assault on the ear drums.

Each carriage has a screen on which advertisements are played at high volume. Now there is something new on offer, though no less loud.

It is a music video with a message of national unity.

Superstars from the pantheon of Thai pop appear together, superimposed over images from the final, violent days of the recent anti-government red-shirt protests.

An armoured personnel carrier manoeuvres in the background as one singer croons passionately about happiness being blown away.

Another stands in front of a burning barricade. Soldiers peer through binoculars as the music rises in a steady crescendo.

"May our happiness return," the chorus goes. "Bring back the love. Bring back the smiles. Bring back the old, peaceful, Thailand".

The protesters occupied parts of the Thai capital from mid-March to mid-May.

Image caption The stand-off dominated the Thai capital for two months

They were demanding fresh elections and an end to what they claimed were double standards in the political and legal systems.

The dispute goes back to the military coup of 2006 which removed the populist prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, from power.

He now lives in exile having been found guilty of corruption. Many of the red-shirt protesters, though not all, remain his loyal supporters.

The protest started peacefully, but became increasingly provocative and confrontational.

After two months of bitter stand-off, and several failed attempts to bring the crisis to an end, the army was sent in. Street battles with demonstrators and some armed militants followed.

By the end of the protracted protest, 90 people had been killed. It was a traumatic time, even by the standards of Thailand's recent years of political turmoil.

The music video is one attempt to ease the pain.

'Happiness back'

The project was the brainchild of one of Thailand's best-known film directors, Prachya Pinkaew.

"I saw how all those familiar places had changed," he told me when I met him. "So I wanted to have the singers standing right there surrounded by burned-down buildings.

"What the singers are saying is deliberately opposite to the background. We want our happiness back and we don't want it to be like this again."

But why, I wondered, were there no protesters in the video, no red-shirts at all.

"I didn't want to take sides," Mr Prachya said. "If I added visuals of red-shirt protesters I think it might create more misunderstandings."

Bangkok is gradually picking up the pieces.

In the area where the protesters had their main camp the roads have returned to their traffic clogged norm. Except for one where a street market has sprung up.

When the protest was brought to an end by the military, some of the demonstrators went on the rampage, setting fire to buildings including shopping centres.

So now the traders have had to adapt, many of them by moving outside.

'Feel better'

The Densuphakit family used to own a shop specialising in silk evening dresses.

Image caption Sanguan says he hopes his T-shirts will cheer Bangkok residents up

Now they are selling T-shirts from a market stall. T-shirts emblazoned with positive messages: I love, or more accurately, I heart Thailand, and Together We Can.

The problem these days, Wongsuwan said, is that Thai people don't love each other anymore.

"So I designed these T-shirts to try to create a new trend and help people forget their differences," he said.

"They're very popular" his brother Sanguan added. "I lost a lot of money in the fire. But people are helping us by buying the T-shirts and maybe the messages help them feel better too."

The Densuphakits are not the only ones to have the idea. All over Bangkok people are sporting similar items. Walls and shops are festooned with posters professing love for the city.

But is all this about resolving differences or burying the past?

Just around the corner from the T-shirt sellers I met Jiravara Virayavardhana, who works in communications.

I asked if she believed sentimental songs and slogans could really help overcome Thailand's bitter divisions.

"I think it can work," she said "Thais believe that everything is going to be fine. It's very Buddhist, you know. What we have to do is just move on. It's like the lesson is learned and reminds us not to make a mistake again."

Whether or not any lessons have been learned from the recent protests is very much open to question.

The underlying grievances which persuaded people onto the streets in the first place remain unresolved.

The government is now promoting a plan for national reconciliation, but it admits the process will not be easy.

A musical anthem with a message of peace and love might perhaps at least help set the right tone.