“Democracy Monument”

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Designed by Maeo Aphaiyawong, Bangkok, Thailand (Photo: Gosia Głowacka, February 2016)

The Democracy Monument (Thai: อนุสาวรีย์ประชาธิปไตย Anusawari Prachathipatai) is a public monument in the centre of Bangkok, capital of Thailand. It occupies a traffic circle on the wide east-west Ratchadamnoen Klang Road, at the intersection of Dinso Road. The monument is roughly halfway between Sanam Luang, the former royal cremation ground in front of Wat Phra Kaew, and the temple of the Golden Mount (Phu Kao Thong)

The Democracy Monument (Thai: อนุสาวรีย์ประชาธิปไตย Anusawari Prachathipatai) is a public monument in the centre of Bangkok, capital of Thailand. It occupies a traffic circle on the wide east-west Ratchadamnoen Klang Road, at the intersection of Dinso Road. The monument is roughly halfway between Sanam Luang, the former royal cremation ground in front of Wat Phra Kaew, and the temple of the Golden Mount (Phu Kao Thong)
The monument was designed by Maeo Aphaiyawong, an architect whose brother, Khuang Aphaiyawong, was a leading member of Phibun’s government. The Italian sculptor Corrado Feroci, who became a Thai citizen and used the Thai name Silpa Bhirasi from the Second World War on, initially to avoid Japanese military ire, executed the relief sculptures around the base of the monument. He also provided the main sculpting for the renowned Lady Mo monument in the northeast Thailand city of Nakhon Ratchasima.

The building of the monument was highly unpopular at the time. Local residents and shopkeepers (mostly Chinese) were evicted from their homes and businesses with 60 days’ notice. The widening of Ratchadamnoen Road to create a ceremonial boulevard involved cutting down hundreds of shade trees, a serious matter in the days before air conditioning, given Bangkok’s torrid climate.

Design elements

The centrepiece of the monument  is a carved representation of a palm-leaf manuscript box holding the Thai Constitution of 1932, on top of two golden offering bowls above a round turret. The constitution is symbolically guarded by four wing-like structures, representing the four branches of the Thai armed forces—army, navy, air force and police—which carried out the 1932 coup.

The wings are 24 metres high, and this is also the radius of the base of the monument, marking the fact that the 1932 coup took place on 24 June. The central turret is three metres high, representing the month of June, which is the third month of the traditional Thai calendar. There were originally 75 small cannon around the outer ring of the monument, representing the year of the coup, 2475 in the Buddhist calendar. The six gates of the turret represent the six proclaimed policies of the Phibun regime: “independence, internal peace, equality, freedom, economy, and education.”

Facing outwards from the base of two of the wings are fountains in the form of naga, the protective snake creatures of Hindu and Buddhist mythology, although the sculptures resemble Western dragons more than traditional naga sculptures.

The relief sculptures at the base of the monument are propagandistic in their design. They depict the armed forces both as champions of democracy and as the personification of the Thai people. In the version of events depicted in these sculptures, the coup of 1932 was carried out by a united and idealistic Thai armed forces on behalf of the people, and had both the intention and effect of making Thailand a democracy. In the reliefs, civilians appear only as the grateful recipients of the heroism and benevolence of the armed forces.

The panel titled “Soldiers Fighting for Democracy” , shows a heroic and united armed forces doing battle (it is not clear against whom) for “democracy”. The panel titled “Personification of the People”, shows a soldier protecting the Thai people while they go about their civil pursuits. The mother with child at left is the only woman depicted anywhere at the Democracy Monument. The panel represents the view of the military regime in 1939 that the armed forces were ruling on behalf of the people.

The panel titled “Personification of Balance and Good Life” , represents the social ideology of the military regime. An allegorical figure representing the nation, seated in a Buddha-like posture (but not Buddha himself), holding a sword and a set of scales, representing the armed forces and justice respectively, sits in the centre, flanked by figures representing (from left) sport, education, religion, and the arts. The figure of “sport”, a naked man with a shot put, is wholly European in origin (source: Wikipedia)

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