Drones Watch as Bangkok's Streets Erupt

The Shinawatra political dynasty just won't go away, but if protesters on the streets of Bangkok get their way, Thailand's most powerful political family would be on the way out. Despite being ousted in a military coup in 2006, Thaksin Shinawatra, a former prime minister and billionaire media mogul, is thought to now rule the country remotely through his sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, the current prime minister. Protesters have now flooded the streets of Bangkok by the thousands and are engaged in a violent stand off with police as they demand Yingluck's ouster and seek to destroy the Shinawatras' political influence once and for all.

While these protests are unlikely to spell the demise of the Shinawatras, they have brought a level of political unrest to Bangkok not seen since 2010. The demonstrators managed to succesfully storm several government buildings last week, including the Finance Ministry and even the Thai army headquarters. It's a political crisis that has set the stage for a violent showdown between police and protesters.

On Monday, amid a renewed surge by protesters to occupy government buildings, Yingluck said that she would not give into demands for her government to step down. As divisions between the two camps have deepened, violence on the streets of Bangkok escalated sharply on Sunday and into Monday. Police have now launched a violent crackdown on protesters, leaving four dead and more than 110 injured on Sunday. Protesters have launched an energetic campaign to control key parts of Bangkok, and even managed to storm a state-owned telecommunications company, which resulted in a large Internet outage. While much of the capital remains calm, the area around Government House, which serves as the prime minister's office, has been the scene of intense clashes, a scene vividly captured by drone footage seen below. In the video, police can be seen using water cannons to beat away protesters and firing what appears to be tear gas at the protesters from behind a formidable barricade. 

The use of drones to document protests have become something of a commonplace technique, but the method retains a surreal quality nonetheless. The aircraft have been used both in Moscow and Istanbul to provide video of street protests there. As in Bangkok, drones provided a way to document intense clashes between protesters and police from an oddly disembodied point of view. But whom they benefit isn't exactly clear. For police, they provide a handy way to document the identities of the demonstrators; for protesters, they provide a convenient way to expose police violence.

Unless, of course, the police shoot them down first.



This Croatian Group Has Had Enough of Bob Dylan's Racism

Bob Dylan may be an icon of the American civil rights movement, but that hasn't stopped a Croatian community group in France from suing the folk singer over allegedly racist comments he made last year. 

With songs like "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll," "Oxford Town," and "Hurricane," Dylan established himself as an eloquent chronicler of issues of race in America. The same probably can't be said about the internecine conflicts of the Balkans. In an interview with the French edition of Rolling Stone, Dylan waded into a conflict he would probably have been better advised to stay out of. "[The United States] is just too fucked up about [skin] color," Dylan said. "... If you got a slave master or Klan in your blood, blacks can sense that ... Just like Jews can sense Nazi blood and the Serbs can sense Croatian blood."

That throwaway line about Serbs being able to sense Croat blood has landed the singer-songwriter in some hot water and has infuriated a group of Croats who aren't too happy about being lumped with slave masters, the Ku Klux Klan, and Nazis. 

In the words of Vlatko Maric, the secretary general of the Council of Croats in France (CRICCF), Dylan managed to "equate Croatian [war] criminals with all Croats." But there seems to be some confusion as to what alleged crimes the songwriter was referring to. Slate's French edition points out that Dylan is most likely referring to one of two dark periods in Balkan history. He may have been referring to the period between 1940 and 1945, when the Ustasha regime in Croatia, which was then a satellite state of the Nazi Third Reich, built 24 concentration camps for hundreds of thousands of deported Serbs. He could also have been referring to the Balkan wars and genocide of the 1990s, one starting shot of which came in May 1991 when Croatia and Slovenia declared independence from the Serbian-dominated Yugoslav government,  unleashing a brutal ethnic conflict.

The legal action taken in response to the comments highlights the strictness of hate speech laws in France, where the right to freedom of expression is often trumped by concerns about protecting minorities from racial slurs and other discriminatory speech. In France, denying the Holocaust is strictly prohibited, and France's criminalization of "hate speech" -- and the unclear definitions of hate speech itself -- has long been a point of contention for staunch free speech advocates. Journalist Glenn Greenwald, for instance, sees it as a free pass for governments to criminalize "ideas they dislike." Regardless of the criticism, punishment for using such speech is taken seriously. In 1997, there were 88 convictions of racist speech with prison sentences averaging two months. In a high-profile 2008 case, the actress and animal rights activist Brigitte Bardot was fined $23,000 for criticizing a Muslim ceremony involving the slaughter of sheep. Jean-Marie Le Pen, a right-wing French politician, has been convicted and fined multiple times for hate speech.

Of course, these qualities of French hate speech laws stand in stark contrast to those of the United States, where the government has been unable to stop marches by American Nazi groups and where courts generally invoke the First Amendment to protect the rights of groups like the Ku Klux Klan to spew racist rhetoric as long as it does not directly incite violence. It seems that Bob Dylan, a singer-songwriter whose musical ethos is rooted so deeply in American culture, was unprepared for the possibility of legal action in response to his comments. Peppered with casual swear words, they seem to have been delivered rather off-the-cuff.

Now, in a simple twist of fate, the tables look to have been turned on the man who performed at the 1963 March on Washington and became a symbol of resistance against a range of injustices in the United States.