Thailand Talks
Thailand Talks sets a deeply divided Thai society a good example of being tolerant to differing political opinions

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Thailand Talks sets a deeply divided Thai society a good example of being tolerant to differing political opinions

 

Amid a series of political unrest and tension brewing in the country, a space and platform for a constructive dialogue where people in Thai society can have healthy debate over political and social issues will be the key driver for the Kingdom to become more open to embracing opposing views.

 

Speaking at the opening ceremony of Thailand Talks, Mr. Frederic Spohr, head of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom (FNF), said he was quite optimistic that the project will work since it has proved to be successful in many other countries

 

“People may have different ideas or political opinions, but in the end, we all share a common goal which is to see a healthy society and good future for all children,” Mr. Frederic told a packed room at Sivatel Bangkok Hotel where Thailand Talks, the dating platform for politics and other social issues took place for the first time in Asia.

 

While Dr. Pimrapaat Dusadeeisariyakul, Project Manager at the FNF, echoed Mr. Federic’s remark, saying she was hopeful that Thailand Talks will make Thailand stand out as a free society and bridge the political divide to reduce potential violence.

 

“Some people were very doubtful if this project will work in Thailand because the society isn’t that open, but I am very confident it will bring about positive change. Today, some pairs who hold completely opposing views showed up earlier to get to know each other prior to the event,” she said.

 

Thailand Talks was co-organized on 20 November 2021 by the FNF and several media networks to bring people with opposing views together and let the pairs discuss pressing political, economic and social issues.

 

The event was streamed live on Thailand Talks’s Facebook page on the same day.

 

The project was first introduced in Germany in 2017, known as My Country Talks. The idea was formed when Europe and the USA saw many pressing issues such as the Brexit referendum, the Trump administration and an influx of war refugees fleeing across the border. The project has later been developed across regions and the title has been adapted to suit the local context, including Thailand Talks.

 

“We reached out to people by asking them controversial questions such as should Germany accept more refugees? We expected about 500 people, but more than 12,000 people signed up to meet their discussion pairs whom they never met,” Ms. Hanna Israel, the Project Lead, said in a video clip.

 

During the talk that took place as a parallel session, a group of people who took part in the experimental discussion and engaged in political dialogue earlier shared their experiences.

 

Among the speakers was Ms. Tirisara Gedmee, a 22-year-old university student, who urged the audience to bring out empathy for the other side as a way to bridge conflict. “Thailand can be better if people are more empathetic when facing with someone who has complete different views,” said Ms. Tirisara.

 

According to the FNF, 20 pairs met and discussed the given topics in person while another 30 pairs talked together via zoom, and almost 50 pairs arrange their own meet ups.

 

Each pair spent more than an hour to discuss seven political and social issues that deepen the divides within the society. The topic covered the government’s cash handout policy, religion and the LGBT rights.

 

Last month, participants were asked to answer questions upon registration. Their answers were considered in the process of matching them with those who have completely opposing views to their own. Those questions became the pairs’ discussion topics when they meet virtually or in person.

 

“I matched with a nearly 40-year-old man. We went beyond the given topics and talked about the government's handling of the Covid-19 vaccination. It was fun. I wanted to try this approach with my family,” said Mr. Tanakorn Tiyanont, 20 years old, a Silpakorn University student.

 

Among the 20 pairs, Mr. Worasak Janphakdee, 29, a civil servant who paired with Mr. Pongpak Pitayachinchot, a teacher under the Ministry of Higher Education, Science, Research and Innovation, had high hope that the activity can be a good example for Thailand where a listening practice is needed.

 

“We talked a lot about education system in Thailand. We agreed that it is totally fine that children voice opinion against phuyai, or senior figures. The concept of true listening should also be taught to children from a very young age,” Mr. Worasak opined.

 

“It will be very challenging, but that does not mean wind of change isn’t coming.”