Friday, January 11, 2008

Frankfurt, Germany

Admiration FROM AFAR

With Thais celebrating the 80th birthday of their beloved King yesterday, two Germans and a Swede in Frankfurt who have glimpsed the monarch at different times shared their admiration with The Nation.

Published on December 6, 2007

Frankfurt, Germany

Marc B?ttgenbach was in Thailand last year for the 60th-anniversary celebrations of His Majesty's reign and saw Bangkok's streets become rivers of yellow in honour of the King.

"My first impression was, 'This could happen only in a suppressed country - everyone wearing the same colour out of fear of the government', but Thailand is totally different. People wear yellow on a free-will basis. I even wore yellow myself!

"It means that the King is loved not because he is the King, but because of the things he has done for his people," B?ttgenbach said.

His interest in the Thai monarchy was piqued. Coming from a country that long ago dispensed with its own monarchy, the sales director of a private German firm that bears his surname said that even if Germany still had a king, he would only be a mere figurehead with no real influence.

"Germans decided that the monarchy was bad for us because those in power tended to be corrupt and looked out only for themselves. But the Thai monarchy is different. It doesn't seek out personal wealth or collect taxes just to support an opulent way of life. The Thai King provides orientation, security and stability to the people.

"I think the King serves in this role perfectly because he influences politics, and society lives according to his recommendations, as delivered in his impressive speeches."

Perhaps what impresses B?ttgenbach most is His Majesty's experience. "He is probable the most well-rounded monarch in the world. I heard that he travels a lot - almost all the time. There are very few people at his age who have the experience he has."

Mattias Skold, a former Southeast Asia correspondent for several Swedish newspapers, considers King Bhumibol the world's most enlightened constitutional monarch.

"By 'enlightened' I mean two things: First, he has devoted hours and hours to learning about agriculture and national development. This is hardly for his own amusement - it's part of his sense of duty as head of state.

"Second, the enlightened monarch always acts with the people and the nation in mind, never letting personal interests get in the way."

Sweden is also a constitutional monarchy country, but for decades its royalty has been limited to ceremonial functions. Skold said the role of Thailand's King is markedly different: "His role as a stabilising and unifying force cannot be underestimated.

"In fact, what I admire most about the King is his rare royal interventions in politics, helping Thailand back on a democratic track after periods of abusive authoritarian rule."

Based in Thailand for more than three years and have visiting every region of the country, Skold was both fascinated and moved by the public expressions of love and loyalty to the King.

"When Thai people say, 'We love the King', they really mean it. No matter which province or what segment of society, you find the same devotion. I remember thinking that nationalism expressed in this loving way is a beautiful thing. I was deeply touched."

Ursula Stiehler of the German town Bad Homburg has never been to Thailand, but she knows a great deal about the country and its monarchy as a museum director who spent a year assembling an exhibition about King Chulalongkorn's visit to her city, famed for its natural spas. As previously described in The Nation, the exhibition was visited by Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn last October.

"First it was about the history, when the King and the Queen were in Bad Homburg in 1960," Stiehler said. "Most of the people including me remembered the event very well - the visit was very important to our city. Their Majesties were visiting the Thai Sala, which the King's grandfather gave to the city after his second European voyage in 1907.

"I know that the current King is very much revered by the Thai people because he is very intelligent and a loving father. I have read about his projects and I find especially the ecological ones very interesting.

"My impression is that he is very close to the people and looks very much after their problems. Above all I'm impressed with the care he shows to his people.

"To me the royal family seems to be the pillar of Thailand, and I hope that it will continue to be so in the future."

None of these three Europeans were able to personally witness this year's birthday celebrations, but all wished him well. And all dearly wish they could see him in person.

"Even for a western European like me, it would be a very special and unforgettable event to meet the King," said B?ttgenbach.

Sopaporn Kurz

Special to The Nation

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