A crown prince and Ger­man af­fairs

Why re­veal­ing – and bizarre – pho­tos of Thai­land’s crown prince are mak­ing roy­al­ists anx­ious

The Myanmar Times - - Front Page - PAVIN CHACHAVALPONGPUN news­room@mm­times.com Pavin Chachavalpongpun is as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor at Ky­oto Univer­sity’s Cen­ter for South­east Asian Stud­ies.

FROM the Chu­la­longkorn pe­riod on­ward, mem­bers of the Thai royal fam­ily liked to ship their chil­dren off to be ed­u­cated in the West. The goals were de­ter­minedly to catch up with Western moder­nity and to flaunt their own civilised ve­neer in front of their Western coun­ter­parts.

King Va­ji­ravudh and King Pra­jad­hipok were sent to Eton Col­lege in Eng­land. Pra­jad­hipok also grad­u­ated from the Wool­wich Mil­i­tary Academy and thus be­came fa­mil­iar with Bri­tish so­ci­ety. This could have ex­plained why he chose to re­tire in Sur­rey af­ter his ab­di­ca­tion in 1935.

Prince Chakkrabongse Bhu­vanath grad­u­ated from the Page Corps in St Petersburg, rep­re­sent­ing King Chu­la­longkorn at the tsarist court. Prince Mahi­dol Adulyadej pur­sued his med­i­cal stud­ies in Mas­sachusetts, where the cur­rent king, Bhu­mi­bol Adulyadej, was born. Bhu­mi­bol him­self was raised in pic­turesque Lausanne, at­tend­ing French-speak­ing schools and even­tu­ally en­rolling at the Univer­sity of Lausanne. But he never grad­u­ated.

Crown Prince Va­ji­ra­longkorn was nei­ther aca­demic nor in­tel­lec­tual. King Bhu­mi­bol sent his son to pri­vate col­leges in Great Bri­tain and Aus­tralia. Reck­on­ing that a ca­reer in the army would suit his per­son­al­ity, Va­ji­ra­longkorn un­der­took mil­i­tary train­ing at the Royal Mil­i­tary Col­lege, Dun­troon in Can­berra. In my in­ter­views with some of his class­mates in Aus­tralia, they re­ferred to him fondly. Va­ji­ra­longkorn still keeps in touch with his old col­leagues there and wel­comes them with a royal treat­ment when they visit him in Thai­land.

But it is the love of Ger­many’s Bavaria that ul­ti­mately drew Va­ji­ra­longkorn back time and again over the years. While the pri­mary rea­son for Va­ji­ra­longkorn mak­ing Mu­nich his sec­ond home are his reg­u­lar med­i­cal check-ups, the crown prince found the re­gion rel­a­tively tran­quil and far enough away from the so­phis­ti­cated at­mos­phere he nor­mally en­coun­ters else­where. In par­tic­u­lar, with­draw­ing from mad­den­ing crowds pro­vides him pri­vacy.

When King Fred­er­ick of Prus­sia yearned for a pri­vate res­i­dence where he could strip away royal cer­e­monies and cus­toms, he or­dered the con­struc­tion of a palace called Sans Souci (With­out Wor­ries) in Pots­dam, near Berlin, in 1745. At Sans Souci, Fred­er­ick was liv­ing a se­cret life in an all-male so­ci­ety away from the pub­lic eye, sim­i­lar to what was seen within the royal court of King Va­ji­ravudh.

Sans Souci lent its idea to Pra­jad­hipok, who built a sum­mer royal res­i­dence out­side Bangkok in Hua Hin – con­struc­tion com­menced in 1926 and fin­ished in 1933. Pra­jad­hipok called the new palace Klai Kang­won, a Thai translation of Sans Souci.

Va­ji­ra­longkorn’s fa­mil­iar­ity with Mu­nich was formed dur­ing the years he spent with his for­mer con­sort, Sri­rasmi, whom he divorced in late 2014. It is also im­per­a­tive to men­tion that the Crown Prop­erty Bureau has the ma­jor­ity hold­ing in the Kempin­ski Ho­tels group and Va­ji­ra­longkorn of­ten stayed at the Kempin­ski Mu­nich, be­fore he pur­chased an ul­tra-lux­u­ri­ous man­sion at Lake Starn­berg for 12 mil­lion eu­ros (US$13.2 mil­lion).

Named Villa Stol­berg, it has a liv­ing area of 1400 square me­tres, houses at least 15 rooms and serves as a main home for his new con­sort, Ma­jor Gen­eral Suthida Va­ji­ra­longkorn, nick­named Nui, a for­mer Thai Air­ways crew mem­ber, as well as for his son Prince Di­pankorn Ras­mi­choti (from his pre­vi­ous mar­riage). Lo­cated about 30 kilo­me­tres south­west of Mu­nich, the villa sits ad­ja­cent a beau­ti­ful lake.

But Va­ji­ra­longkorn’s new man­sion is con­sid­ered much smaller than the one in Lausanne where his fa­ther lived dur­ing his child­hood. Lo­cated in Pully, east of Lausanne, Villa Vad­hana, named af­ter King Bhu­mi­bol’s grand­mother, Queen Sa­vang Vad­hana, oc­cu­pied 3200 square me­tres with a view of Switzer­land’s famed Lac Lé­man. To­day, Villa Vad­hana no longer ex­ists, hav­ing burned down and been dis­man­tled many years ago.

The less so­phis­ti­cated life­style in Bavaria per­haps per­mits the crown prince to be him­self, and to let loose. The lat­est pho­tos of him wear­ing a skimpy un­der­sized sin­glet barely cov­er­ing mas­sive Yakuza-styled tat­too stick­ers on his back, chest and arms re­in­force this free­dom of ex­pres­sion out­side the rigidly royal tra­di­tions back in Bangkok. Yet, the beauty of the Bavar­ian scenic land­scape re­fuses to treat his un­in­hab­ited life­style kindly. He has pro­vided time and again much-sought-af­ter sto­ries to feed the ap­petite and cu­rios­ity of Ger­man tabloid read­ers.

Royal life over­seas is never free from in­tru­sions. When Prince Chakkrabong Bhu­vanath de­cided to marry his Kiev-born Eka­te­rina Ivanovna Des­nit­sky with­out the per­mis­sion of his fa­ther, Chu­la­longkorn, he was com­pelled to hide his se­cret from the Rus­sian me­dia and those close to Tsar Nicholas II. He held a pri­vate mar­riage cer­e­mony in Is­tan­bul and left his new wife in Sin­ga­pore on his jour­ney back to Siam. Chu­la­longkorn was furious when he dis­cov­ered that his son brought home a farang wife.

In Lausanne, Princess Mother Sang­wal, in the wake of the death of King Ananda in 1946, re­quested the Swiss po­lice to guard Villa Vad­hana 24 hours a day to en­sure the safety of the young King Bhu­mi­bol. What she did not re­alise was that the con­tent of the re­ports from the Swiss po­lice on the fam­ily’s daily ac­tiv­i­ties in­side the villa re­vealed many dark se­crets she would rather have con­cealed from the pub­lic.

Va­ji­ra­longkorn’s pres­ence in Mu­nich to­day is much more ex­plo­sive. In 2011, the Ger­man court im­pounded a Boe­ing 737 air­craft at Mu­nich Air­port, which be­longed to the crown prince, as com­pen­sa­tion for a long-over­due debt of 30 mil­lion eu­ros the Thai govern­ment owed a now-de­funct Ger­man con­struc­tion com­pany for the Don Muang Toll­way. The Thai govern­ment sub­se­quently agreed to pay a deposit of 20 mil­lion eu­ros to bail out the air­craft.

Mean­while, Va­ji­ra­longkorn took steps to prevent his Mercedes-Benz SLK be­ing confiscated af­ter the air­craft was seized, hid­ing it in a pri­vate carpark in­side the Mu­nich Kempin­ski, where it was pro­tected by a dozen body­guards.

Like his fa­ther, Va­ji­ra­longkorn loves fast cars. Ger­man pa­parazzi of­ten get snap­shots of him driv­ing ex­pen­sive cars in the Bavar­ian re­gion. For ex­am­ple, he was once spot­ted in Erd­ing with a white Porsche 911 Turbo, which costs al­most 200,000 eu­ros.

His ex­trav­a­gant and pe­cu­liar life­style has be­come a ma­jor at­trac­tion for the Ger­man me­dia. Va­ji­ra­longkorn of­ten makes head­lines – even on seem­ingly in­signif­i­cant sto­ries. For ex­am­ple, the Ger­man press once re­ported a dis­pute be­tween Va­ji­ra­longkorn and a restau­rant owner in Ger­many. Va­ji­ra­longkorn made a reser­va­tion at the restau­rant and the owner, eager to please him, closed the en­tire place for the pri­vacy of the Thai roy­alty. But Va­ji­ra­longkorn turned up very late and did not order a lot of food, thus up­set­ting the owner who claimed to have lost a sub­stan­tial profit that evening.

This week, a widely cir­cu­lated tabloid pa­per, Bild, pub­lished a set of pho­tos of Va­ji­ra­longkorn at the Mu­nich Air­port in a bizarre crop tank top with tat­too stick­ers on his body. A few days later, for­mer Reuters re­porter An­drew McGregor Marshall re­leased an­other photo of the crown prince roam­ing Mu­nich in a sim­i­lar tank top with dif­fer­ent tat­too prints on his torso. Al­though Va­ji­ra­longkorn is pro­tected by Ar­ti­cle 112 of the Thai Crim­i­nal Code, bet­ter known as lèse­ma­jesté, these pho­tos were shared widely on so­cial me­dia.

In the age of so­cial me­dia, the pri­vate life Va­ji­ra­longkorn re­ally wants, as if he were at Sans Souci, is nowhere to be found in Bavaria. In Thai­land, many Thais lack op­por­tu­ni­ties to see the heir ap­par­ent go­ing wild, as it is for­bid­den in Thai­land to print news, re­ports or pho­tos that po­ten­tially dam­age the rep­u­ta­tion of the monar­chy. But he is in Ger­many and there can be noth­ing to stop the Ger­man me­dia from pub­lish­ing his saucy sto­ries and dis­sem­i­nat­ing them through so­cial net­works.

At the crit­i­cal royal tran­si­tion, royal im­age-mak­ing is vi­tal, even if it is too late for Va­ji­ra­longkorn to rein­vent him­self. It might be true that Va­ji­ra­longkorn might care lit­tle about his own im­age in pub­lic. The mys­te­ri­ous death of Moh Yong seems to sug­gest this ar­gu­ment.

But the re­cent episode re­veal­ing the crown prince in shock­ing dress has caused great anx­i­ety, par­tic­u­larly among roy­al­ists who fear that the na­tion’s next reign will end in dis­as­ter. A throne in trou­ble is trou­ble for them too. – New Man­dala

In the age of so­cial me­dia, the pri­vate life [Crown Prince] Va­ji­ra­longkorn re­ally wants ... is nowhere to be found in Bavaria.

Pho­tos: EPA and Bild

Thai Crown Prince Va­ji­ra­longkorn is seen on the left at a royal cer­e­mony in Bangkok in May, and on the right at Ger­many’s Mu­nich Air­port ear­lier this month.

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