Academic journal article SOJOURN: Journal of Social Issues in Southeast Asia

Building a Human Border: The Thai Border Patrol Police School Project in the Post-Cold War Era

Academic journal article SOJOURN: Journal of Social Issues in Southeast Asia

Building a Human Border: The Thai Border Patrol Police School Project in the Post-Cold War Era

Article excerpt

Sinae: Teacher, what is your nationality?

Teacher: Thai.

Sinae: What is your ethnicity?

Teacher: Thai. (pause)

Sinae: Then, which language do you use when you talk with your family?

Teacher: I speak Lisu with my family.

Sinae: So you are Lisu, right?

Teacher: No, we are all Thai. (1)

I looked again at the list of teachers and the accompanying biographical information that I received from the Border Patrol Police (BPP) headquarters for Region Three. The biographical data for the teacher identified him as Lisu, but it took me a while to hear that word from him. In fact, this was one of my many repetitive wrestling matches with Border Patrol Police teachers during interviews conducted in Border Patrol Police schools in Northern Thailand during 2010-11.

In 1997, the Thai Border Patrol Police launched a project under the auspices of Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhom called the Border Patrol Police Heritage Teachers Program. (2) Under the auspices of this programme, the BPP began recruiting applicants among the graduates of BPP schools and training them to become teachers in its schools. Since the launch of the programme, the BPP had trained more than 800 BPP heritage teachers (Border Patrol Police Headquarters for Region Three 2011, p. 13). When I was conducting field research in Thailand on the history of the BPP and its civic action in Northern Thailand, I came to learn about this royal project and thought that, by interviewing heritage teachers, I could gain a better understanding of the impact of the BPP schools project on the lives of highland minorities over the course of the past half-century. I requested a list of heritage teachers from the headquarters of BPP Region Three in Chiangmai and began travelling to BPP schools in Northern Thailand to interview them. The conversation above was typical of the exchanges that began interviews with BPP heritage teachers. What, exactly, is strange about this conversation? More precisely, what is the tension between nationality and ethnicity (3) reflected in this exchange? And how does such an exchange help us understand the nature of modern nation-building processes in Thailand, particularly during the Cold War period, and their impact up to the present day?

This article briefly examines the Cold War nation-building processes undertaken by means of the schools project of the Thai Border Patrol Police. It seeks to understand the role of the project in the creation of a sense of Thainess among the highland minorities in remote border areas of Northern Thailand today. The article has two principal aims.

First, by briefly examining the characteristics of the BPP schools project, it examines the process of matching the borders of Thailand with the borders of Thainess, the process of building a "human border" at the geographical boundaries of the nation-state. Discussion of the process of building a human border highlights the hierarchical nature of ethnic and geopolitical relations strengthened through processes of nation-building during the Cold War period.

Second, drawing on the history of the BPP's Cold War nation-building project and interviews with the BPP teachers, this article examines the ambiguities of national identity among the border people of Northern Thailand in the present day. By investigating the process of building a human border of Thailand throughout the Cold War period and its impact on the present confusion regarding national identity, it highlights the emergence of a sense of belonging to the modern nation-states and the conflict between that sense and ethnic identity among the border people. The article thus seeks to broaden understanding of the nature of struggles for identity among the previously stateless border people in the post-Cold War era.

The Border Patrol Police School Project

BPP accounts of the origins of the BPP schools project go as follows. …

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