Isaan writers close ranks against state-sponsored nationalism

YASOTHON – A group of northeastern writers have formed an association to promote liberal thinking to counter what they see as the central state’s attempt to spread nationalism and conservatism.

“The Thai state has dominated people’s thinking process while using conservative ideas to determine several aspects in society such as politics, education, and culture,” said Chatchawan Kotsongkram, a founder of the association.

The formation of the “Mekong Literature Association” was announced on October 16 in a literary seminar at the Yasothon Provincial Administration Office. The event was attended by 60 people, including writers, artists, academics and members of the public.

The association also created an award to promote artists, writers, and poets.

On October 16, writers and artists at a literary seminar in Yasothon Province announced the establishment of the Mekong Literature Association.

The dominance of state ideology in education and politics has lead to a lack of development and progress in Thai literature, Mr. Chatchawan argued.

In the education system, the government forces students to read certain types of books while tightly controlling the content of the curriculum. Children are growing up with one-sided information in order to instill them with a sense of political unity for the central government, Mr. Chatchawan said.

“Literature with themes related to social issues, ethnic diversity, or problems occurring in the country are ignored and given less importance,” Mr Chatchawan said. “This is an attempt to create a united nation and to make everyone think and do the same. When in reality, Thai society is full of ethnicity and culture, which is the beauty of life.”

Wittayakorn Sowat, a writer and the owner of the Philadelphia book store in Ubon Ratchathani, said while there are several other book clubs and associations in the Northeast, they are limited in terms of ideas and variety, and are also often associated with colour-coded politics.

Wittayakorn Sowat, a writer and the owner of the alternative book shop Philadelphia in Ubon Ratchathani, reads poetry at the inauguration event of the Mekhong River Writers Association.

The association’s purpose is to open up space for writers and artists regardless of their political standing, ethnicity, or religion. The group wants to encourage exchanges through reading, writing, and criticizing literature without an attachment to nationalism, Mr. Chatchawan said.

The choice of name and spelling of the association reflects its trans-national approach that potentially includes writers from Laos. It is part of an emerging movement to recognize a shared cultural region on both sides of the Mekong River.

In an interview with The Isaan Record in March, Mr. Chatchawan rejected the label “Isaan writer” calling himself a “Lao writer from the right side of the Mekong River.”

Reporting by Danuchat Boon-aran, a participant of The Isaan Journalism Network Project 2017 organized by The Isaan Record.