The hugely popular Thai band posted shots of a rehearsal on Friday night at Bangkok’s Impact Arena at Muang Thong Thani for a televised show to go live on Saturday night. The BNK48 singer’s T shirt was emblazoned with a military flag used by Nazi Germany. The manufacture of such a T Shirt and the failure to see the impact of it when publicly released, simply demonstrates the lack of awareness in Thailand, among most people, of European history and the dark story of Nazi Germany. It is appropriate that the apology from the band and singer, in person, to the Israeli ambassador in Thailand comes on the day that the world remembers the holocaust and the unspeakable evil and danger to humanity that it still represents.
The manager and CEO of Thailand’s popular girl band BNK48 has met today with Israel’s ambassador to Thailand in a hastily arranged meeting to apologise for photos which appeared on Friday. The photo of a girl singer with the band, while rehearsing for a Saturday night concert, showed her wearing a Nazi military flag. The apology comes on the solemn day that people around the world remember the Nazi holocaust and reflect upon how to make sure that something like it never happens again.
A singer with Thailand’s pop band BNK48 together with its CEO and Manager, dressed seriously in conservative, low key clothes to remember the Holocaust, have met the Israeli Ambassador to Thailand, Meir Shlomo in Bangkok and apologised following a mistake on Friday evening when the band member and singer appeared on stage wearing a shirt top featuring a Nazi German military flag. The outrage over the incident has prompted many Thai people to take to Twitter not only to condemn the symbol but also to express sympathy for the young singer who was clearly taken aback by the reaction to her shirt and was oblivious to the hurt caused by the offensive attire. Many have highlighted the lack of history coverage on Thailand’s national curriculum when it comes to European or World history. ‘What do you expect? When we were in school, they teach only about Thailand and Myanmar wars,’ one online poster, Samruay Kraspra, posted on the social media site Facebook.
Thai band caused diplomatic furore as Thai girl singer wears Nazi German military flag on her T Shirt
The Thai girl band caused the diplomatic furore on Friday after the singer appeared on stage wearing the outfit displaying the Nazi swastika symbol. The photos from the event were beamed around the world and caused consternation, particularly as this is the weekend when the world solemnly remembers the holocaust. However, to be fair to the young girl band member, she appeared later at the live performance which went ahead, as planned, within the hugely popular and packed Impact Arena in Muang Thong Thani. She expressed not only remorse for her actions but also both asked for forgiveness and promised not to wear the offending costume again. Sunday the 27th of January is the day for remembrance for the victims of the holocaust when millions of European Jews were annihilated in concentrations camps by Germany’s National Socialist (Nazi) regime led by Adolf Hitler and coordinated by his SS henchman Heinrich Himmler. Thailand’s Deputy Chief of Mission, Samruay Kraspra, at the Israeli Embassy in Bangkok, had earlier issued a tweet expressing ‘shock’ and ‘dismay’ over the images.
Nazi symbols and paraphernalia part of explosion in new Asian popular culture which includes Thailand
There has been an uptick in such outrages in Asia in the last few decades as young Asian men but particularly women, both in Thailand and other Asian countries, including Japan, appear to associate the symbol with a certain chic in a world where popular culture has exploded. The offensive symbol itself and the source of Nazi variations used by the regime, also originated in Asia as an ancient religious symbol. It was borrowed by Adolf Hitler in the 1920s when he worked to build his National Socialist (Nazi) movement and party. However, the symbol has come to be associated, in the worldwide consciousness, with the Nazi regime and its atrocities. It is, in fact, illegal to use the symbol in Germany and some other European countries.
Friday night rehearsal for Saturday show proves explosive for Thailand’s BNK48 band
The outrage over the incident was sparked on Friday night when the young member of Thailand’s leading girl band BNK 48, Pichayapa ‘Namsai’ Natha, appeared on stage dressed in an outfit on which the Nazi symbol was clearly visible and highlighted for a rehearsal and photograph session. The photos were promoted and released on social media as images of a TV rehearsal to promote the band’s up and coming Bangkok live TV performance and concert. The photos were published on the band’s Facebook page. They drew immediate negative feedback. The BNK48 band is linked to the Japanese band AKB48 and is part of a growing phenomenon of extended girl bands which run as a brand or icon. One Facebook fan said the image had left her dumbfounded. It comes at a time when the world in Europe and America appears to be in crisis with the rise of far right groups, an atmosphere that is also being felt in Thailand where consumers are now more open to the outside world but less educated about the past. This sense of crisis has also brought about an even more acute sensitivity, in the West and among foreigners, to the symbol of the murderous, abhorrent regime.
Thai band campaigns against racism and intolerance
It should be remembered that BNK48 is a band that campaigns against racism and intolerance. The band is very popular in Thailand among Thailand’s youth. However, the incident has been linked to other such events where Thai students and young people have, in the past, accidentally been caught out by copying the emblem and the associated image from the era of Adolf Hitler’s time in power. Thai students and indeed most adults are simply not fully aware of European history and the sensitivities that sill exist today.
Cultural factors which lead to such incidents in Thailand must be understood by foreigners
There is also a cultural attribute or factor which is playing out here. Thailand and Germany were similar countries in terms of their cultural history up to World War II even though Germany was an industrial giant. Both countries have a strong sense of national identity and were very patriarchal up to the outbreak of the world war. Thailand, which did not suffer the ravages of World War II as much as many countries did, such as Germany itself, has remained a very conservative society which today contrasts sharply with some more liberal trends in Europe and western countries.
While Thailand has its own liberal movement, there are are some who question the extreme liberalism and internationalism of the West in recent years and seek to protect Thailand’s more traditional way of life. For instance, the Thai military is a highly respected institution in Thailand. The result of this is that Thailand is simply not a politically correct country although it works hard to be an accepted international partner on the world stage with other nations on a bilateral basis. While not causing offence to others is a key element of Thai culture and all Thai people would be horrified at the meaning of this incident, it must be understood that Thai people feel more free to express themselves and the country has a penchant for uniforms and military style dress which is all part of Thailand’s unique culture.
Thailand’ flair for marketing foreign cultures and zeitgeists in apparel and other cheap but chic products appeals to both tourists and local Thais
The Nazis were also masters of propaganda. Thai people have long had an instinct for clever marketing or for adapting the spirits and zeitgeist of other cultures. The ingenuity of Thailand’s fake goods industry, particularly in creating clever T shirts, all of which borrow from other cultures to create what are considered by many world travelers, to be both cheap but ultra chic products, is part of this appeal. To most Thai people there is a nothing political about this except a flair among Thai people, particularly fashion conscious Thai women, for things that look ‘smart’.
Apology on stage and swift meeting with Israeli ambassador a good response to the PR nightmare
The photos appear to have been taken in preparation for Saturday’s sell out concert at the Impact Arena outside Bangkok. The band’s management did not respond immediately, through the press, to the online criticism and the comments from the Israeli Embassy. The later meeting and apology was obviously an inspired move which underlined both how serious the matter was to them and their regret. The young singer’s tearful and personal apology on stage on Saturday night was also a very effective direct response. The young singer also apologised on her Facebook page for the blunder. She had in fact, been wearing the war flag associated with Nazi Germany that flew on all Germany’s naval fleet during World War II. It is an eye catching flag, despite it evil background, like much Nazi paraphernalia.
Thai singer unaware of flag’s meaning but symbol hurts feelings of millions worldwide
It is quite clear that the young Thai woman was oblivious to its meaning and significance when she wore it. ‘I want this to be an example for everyone, please forgive me,’ the young singer told the audience at the Impact Arena during Saturday’s concert attended by enthusiastic BNK48 fans from all over Thailand. ‘Please give me advice so that I can grow up to be a good adult in the future, I cannot fix the mistake but I promise I will not let it happen again,’ Ms Natha said in her Facebook message. ‘Presenting Nazi symbols by the band’s singer hurt the feelings of millions around the world,’ the Israeli Embassy official and Deputy Chief of Mission, Samruay Kraspra had said, prior to this.
Past incidents and scandals of Nazi symbols appearing inadvertently in Thailand
Past incidents of Nazi symbols causing outrage among foreigners and some, more aware Thais have involved university students at Bangkok’s Silpakorn University who once dressed up as Adolf Hitler in 2016. Chulalongkorn University had a similar problem in 2013 when some of its students gave the Nazi salute and unveiled a mural to superheroes including the Nazi leader and former German Chancellor from 1933 to 1945. A school parade caused stunning disbelief in Chiang Mai in 2011 when students turned up dressed as a full Nazi SS squad, the murderous Nazi elite within the German armed forces.
Episodes may allude to more dangerous times or at least, a failure to remember the past
These incidents, understandably, cause genuine hurt and even outrage to Jewish groups. Indeed all who have been impacted by both the holocaust and those who have relatives of loved family members who lost their lives as a result of that vile regime. In some cases and in particular among UK and Allied families of war veterans, the hurt is devastating as it suggests that no lessons have been learned from the appalling loss of life from 1939 to 1945. However, all the incidents are largely the result of ignorance. On the other hand, some in these contemporary and challenging times may see these episodes as beginning to allude to a changing and more threatening atmosphere in world affairs. It would be wrong to completely ignore this too.