The talk concerns a protest against a wildlife sanctuary in northern Thailand's Phayao Province during 1999. Mien ethnic minority farmers, agitated because they were not able to have a good road connection or enjoy other basic benefits of modernization, proceeded to burn down official buildings at the sanctuary after having driven off the staff. Their reason, stated in official letters and elsewhere, was 18 years of suffering from the sanctuary's director. Many meetings were held to try to find a solution that worked for both parties, the farmers and the authorities, but so far nothing has come of the protest. The protest, the meetings, and the NGO-documentation of both are suggestive about the contemporary politics of nature, identity, and democracy, and the character of state control. The issue of preserving nature hints at current changes in Thai society; a redefinition of the sphere of economics as much as the relations of economics to politics and the environment, that indicate the growing prominence of middle class values in the national public sphere.
*Dr. Leif (Hjorleifur) Jonsson is currently on leave from the Dept. of Anthropology at Arizona State University as Visiting Research Fellow at CSEAS. He has conducted long-term field research among the Mien in Northern Thailand, and also has research experience in Cambodia and Vietnam. .