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Erkki Viitasaari, PhD, University of Helsinki.

Standing out Among Giants - National Museums in Singapore, Brunei, Taiwan and Palau.

I am a doctoral student at the University of Helsinki, Department of World Cultures, East Asian Studies. In my research I study the national museums of Singapore, Brunei, Taiwan and Palau - all small nations compared to their immediate neighbors in what I have defined as Greater Southeast Asia. All these nations have a history under Japanese rule, the depiction of which is one of my topics. Another one is how the poorly-documented pre-European period is presented in the exhibitions.


Duncan McCargo comments in the Wall Street Journal on the political situation in Thailand

Thai Court Rules Pro-Democracy Party Leader Violated Electoral Law

Potentially more troubling for the Future Forward Party are the trials to come. One lawsuit alleges party links to the Illuminati.

Future Forward Party leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit leaves Constitutional Court in Bangkok, Nov. 20. PHOTO: GEMUNU AMARASINGHE/ASSOCIATED PRESS

By Feliz Solomon

Nov. 20, 2019 6:41 am ET

A Thai court dealt a setback to a pro-democracy opposition leader, effectively stripping him of his status as a lawmaker in the first ruling to come out of a string of legal cases against him and his political party.

Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, the 40-year-old leader of the Future Forward Party, was found guilty Wednesday by Thailand’s Constitutional Court of owning shares in a media company in violation of electoral law, rendering him ineligible to serve as an elected member of parliament.

In an interview, Mr. Thanathorn said he was innocent and that he would continue to lead his party.

Mr. Thanathorn, the heir to an auto-parts manufacturing fortune, emerged last year as an outspoken challenger to the country’s ruling pro-military establishment. He is openly critical of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, the former army leader who led a coup in 2014 and oversaw nearly five years of military rule.

Mr. Prayuth was chosen as prime minister by the parliament in June after a widely criticized general election. He relied on votes from the army’s handpicked 250-member Senate, whose appointed members vote alongside lawmakers from the elected lower house.

Future Forward secured a substantial presence in the lower house, winning 81 of 500 seats and more than 6 million votes, surpassing expectations.

Future Forward poses a challenge to the status quo because of its appeal among young voters, particularly those under 25 years old, who tend to be less conservative than Thailand’s older generations, said Duncan McCargo, director of the Nordic Institute of Asian Studies at the University of Copenhagen. “Thanathorn has single-handedly mobilized young people, who are in turn terrifying their own parents with their critical views and questions,” Mr. McCargo said.

But Future Forward faces a cascade of legal battles that could lead to its dissolution and see key leaders imprisoned on charges including sedition and libel. A spokeswoman for the party, Pannika Wanich, said its members face a total of 27 lawsuits, several of which she called “politically motivated.”

Lawsuits against the party have been filed by conservative civil-society groups, individuals and military personnel. Ten of the cases, including the one concluded on Wednesday, were filed on behalf of an organization called the Association to Protect Thai Constitution, according to Future Forward. The group’s secretary and the plaintiff in the cases, Srisuwan Janya, didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

A spokesman for the ruling People’s State Power Party declined to comment.

Wednesday’s verdict related to Mr. Thanathorn’s ownership of shares in a company called V-Luck Media. Mr. Thanathorn said he divested his stake in the company, which published magazines for a domestic airline and bank, before registering his candidacy. He also said the company ceased operations before the election date was announced.

The Constitutional Court suspended Mr. Thanathorn from parliament in May, when it accepted the case against him. The verdict is binding and can’t be appealed.

Potentially more troubling for the party are the trials to come. Those involve charges including insulting the monarchy, computer crimes and corruption—each carrying possible prison terms. One lawsuit alleges senior members have links to the Illuminati, an Enlightenment-era secret society, and that the party seeks to end Thailand’s constitutional monarchy.

Michael Montesano, coordinator of the Thailand studies program at Singapore-based ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, called the cases “a naked assault” on the party and its leader. “It is difficult to view them as anything but a determined effort to drive Mr. Thanathorn from politics and to shut his party down,” Mr. Montesano said.

Mr. Thanathorn said he is preparing for a protracted battle with his political opponents and bracing for the possibility that he may be imprisoned. The party’s aim, he said, is to see Thailand return to fully democratic governance under an amended constitution, overturning some of the powers that the current army-drafted charter reserves for the armed forces.

“It’s going to be a long fight,” Mr. Thanathorn said. “I am convinced that the people cannot tolerate this anymore, they want to see change.”


Lorraine (Yong Xin) Mo, MPhil Student, UiT The Arctic University of Norway

I was a Bachelor of History (second-upper honour) at Lingnan University in 2010 with a project  “The Role of Grigory Rasputin in the Collapse of Czarist Russia” and worked some years in Hong Kong SAR in civil service. In 2017, I got admitted to the University of Arctic Norway in Tromsø in MPhil in Peace Studies.

Barents-Euro Arctic region, as an area of geopolitical interest for the Nordic states which are of the post-cold war west and east division is facing escalating tension and conflictual relations at national and supra-national levels between NATO and post-Soviet Russia. Having observed that the escalated tension at these levels are not reflected in the way people close to the border experience each other in the academic-mobility sector in the High North, my inferences from living experiences as a North East Eurasian from Hong Kong SAR-Siberia is that it is the displaced indigenous people-to-people cultural exchanges between the Norwegian-Russian borders at the Barents Sea to Siberia after the fall of the Romanov-Manchurian Dynasty in the East that can explain why such tense atmosphere exists in the contemporary context. The asymmetrical dichotomy between the national-supra-national levels (political) and the people-to-people level crossing the border motivates me to do an interpretative-qualitative study with reflexive(historical)-ethnographic approach on the socio-cultural exchanges as an alternative peacebuilding discourse.


Keshav Raj Acharya, MA Student, University of Oslo

I am a masters student in Musicology program at Department of Musicology, University of Oslo, Norway. I have a Bachelor of Music from Kathmandu University, Nepal.  In my master thesis I am trying to explore Kauda (which is sometimes written as Kanraha, Kahaura etc.), one of the traditional folk music genres comprising dance, which is highly prevalent in the Magar communities of Western Nepal. The purpose of my thesis is to identify how Kauda music functions and establishes the various forms of identities of the Nepalese Magars in relation to their indigenous existence, self-existence and identity given by outsiders.

New Workplace Student at NIAS

Erik Wernberg-Tougaard


I am a masters student at International Business and Politics at Copenhagen Business School. I have a Bachelor of Arts in China Studies from University of Copenhagen, and have been studying at Peking University (China), Fudan University (China) and Ivey Business School (Canada) as part of my studies. My master thesis investigates why and how the CCP is using its industrial policy (IP) plan Made in China 2025 (MIC2025) to achieve industrial modernisation, and to what extend this can be explained and assessed by the existing theory on industrial policy. I also look at which key factors led to the emergence of MIC2025 and what the role of these factors have been in the emergence and design of MIC2025.

Research area

My master thesis investigates China’s industrial policy plan Made in China 2025. My main focus is on why and how China is using its industrial policy plan Made in China 2025 to achieve industrial modernisation, and to what extend this can be explained and assessed by the existing theory on industrial policy.

New publication co-authored by Director of NIAS Duncan McCargo

Thailand's 2019 Elections: A State of Democratic Dictatorship?

Thailand’s elections on March 24, 2019, were supposed to restore the country to parliamentary democracy following a military coup d’état in May 2014. The junta repeatedly delayed holding the elections, and the new 2017 constitution deployed an unusual voting system combined with interim provisions that allowed the appointed Senate to share in selecting the prime minister, changes that favored the ruling military clique. An important opposition party, Thai Raksa Chart, was dissolved by the Election Commission during the campaign on highly dubious legal grounds. The pro-military Palang Pracharat Party was created as a vehicle to allow junta members to continue in office beyond the elections, and succeeded in taking away millions of votes from the long-standing conservative and royalist Democrat Party. Meanwhile, the previously dominant Pheu Thai Party—closely associated with former prime ministers Thaksin and Yingluck Shinawatra—was challenged by the upstart Future Forward Party, which attracted huge numbers of younger voters with its anti-junta stance. Ultimately, the Democrats entered a fractious multi-party coalition with Palang Pracharat, made possible only when the Election Commission controversially changed the rules for calculating the allocation of party-list seats. As a result, coup leader General Prayuth Chan-ocha was reappointed as prime minister. The palpably unfair election outcome has effectively perpetuated military rule and left those who had supported opposition parties intensely frustrated.

Reference: McCargo, Duncan & Alexander, Saowanee T. “Thailand's 2019 Elections: A State of Democratic Dictatorship?” Asia Policy 14-4 (October 2019)


Savina Sirik, PhD Candidate, University of Gothenburg

I am a doctoral candidate in Peace and Development Research at School of Global Studies, University of Gothenburg. My research aims to understand the complex processes of constructing and representing atrocity narratives in societies that emerged from wars and atrocities. Through the case study of post-genocide Cambodia, I investigate how Khmer Rouge survivors construct narratives of the Khmer Rouge period in interaction with national and transnational memory discourses. By examining memory projects at the Documentation Center of Cambodia, I seek to understand the way in which narratives of the Khmer Rouge are being represented and materialized in public spaces and how these representations reflect the tension of memory at work in post-genocide memorialization. Drawing on my fieldwork in Cambodia, this research attempts to provide an empirically rich account of survivors who construct their understanding of the past and formulate their identities in the context of contemporary identity and memory politics.


Christina Warning, PhD Candidate, Chulalongkorn University

I am currently a PhD candidate at the Thai Studies Center, Faculty of Arts, Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok. My research explores the relations between Thailand and the German Democratic Republic (GDR) in the Cold War period during the 1970s and 1980s. Having obtained a Graduate Diploma in Southeast Asian Studies at the Australian National University in Canberra, I was subsequently employed by the United Nations in Bangkok and Phnom Penh in the early 2000s. From 2005-2014, I was working with the German non-governmental organization Welthungerhilfe in Phnom Penh, which I represented as regional director during my final four years in office. Prior to commencing my PhD studies, I completed a Masters Degree with the Southeast Asian Studies Program at the Graduate School of Chulalongkorn University in 2016.

New publication by Director of NIAS Duncan McCargo

Southeast Asia’s Troubling Elections: Democratic Demolition in Thailand
Thailand’s long-awaited March 2019 parliamentary election was supposed to usher in a degree of political normalcy in the wake of the May 2014 military coup. Instead, the promilitary Palang Pracharath Party was able to form a government, despite the fact that parties campaigning on an anti-junta platform won the greater number of parliamentary seats. Junta leader General Prayuth Chan-ocha and his key associates remain in office thanks to the connivance of various state institutions, notably the Election Commission. Nevertheless, the election was also notable for the astounding popularity of the new opposition Future Forward Party, especially among younger voters.
Reference: McCargo, Duncan. “Southeast Asia’s Troubling Elections: Democratic Demolition in Thailand.” Journal of Democracy 30, no. 4 (2019): 119–33.
Duncan was also recently quoted in in the New York Times article He Acquitted 5 Men of Murder, Then Shot Himself by Hannah Beech and Ryn Jirenuwat, and his book Fighting for Virtue: Justice and Politics in Thailand is forthcoming from Cornell University Press.


Magda Lorena Cárdenas, PhD Candidate, Umeå University

I am a PhD Candidate in Political Science at Umeå University, Sweden. My research introduces and illustrates the concept of women-to-women diplomacy through cases of bottom-up peacebuilding strategies developed by women’s organizations in dissimilar stages of conflict, covering both situations of active fighting and when the opposing sides are stalemated. The first case focuses on the strategies developed by women’s organizations in Myanmar and the second, on women’s initiatives in Georgia. The experiences of women’s organizations in Georgia and Myanmar illustrate how women contribute to peacebuilding by challenging the “us-and-them” dichotomy and establishing dialogue across ethnic lines that leads to the creation of a new arena for coalition building. During my time in NIAS, I will be focused on the case of the women’s movement in Myanmar, its strategies and current challenges. My work has been recently published in Civil Wars and Canadian Foreign Policy Journal, and I contributed to the edited volume “Women, peace and security in Myanmar. Between feminism and ethno-politics” (Routledge, 2019).


Eeva Holopainen, MA student, Helsinki University

In her master’s thesis, Eeva concentrates on immigration, belonging and group membership in South Korea. The aim is to study the concept of (South) Koreanness, how children with immigrant backgrounds or minority ethnic identities are educated and raised and what is expected of them; and whether Koreanness is only attainable at birth as often suggested by popular narrative, or whether it can be taught and learnt as per recent official policy narrative. The study is based on a three-month ethnographic fieldwork conducted in a regional children’s centre in urban environment, a place dedicated to after school education of so-called “children of multicultural families”.

Petra Desatová New Post Doc Researcher at NIAS

Petra Desatová is a postdoctoral researcher at the Nordic Institute of Asian Studies, Department of Political Science, University of Copenhagen. She gained her PhD from the School of Politics and International Studies, University of Leeds, passing with no corrections. Her doctoral thesis, which examined the relationship between nation branding and political legitimation in non-democratic regimes on the example of military-ruled Thailand (2014-2016), was recognised for excellence by the Anglo-Thai Society (UK) and the School of Politics and International Studies, University of Leeds.

Besides her PhD research, Petra’s other research work has been concerned with the issue of electoral violence and its prevention. She has been a researcher on a project funded by the United States Institute of Peace that examines the role of peace messaging in the recent 2019 general election in Thailand.

Petra has presented her research work at academic conferences in Thailand, Europe, the UK and the US and has given briefings to research analysists at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. She has also given media interviews to Prachatai English, an online Thai newspaper, and BBC Thai and written short articles and blogposts for the Council on Foreign Relations, Thai Data Points and Kyoto Review of Southeast Asia.

Her academic publications include:

  • Desatova, Petra. ‘Bangkok: Two Cities’ Contemporary Southeast Asia: A Journal of International and Strategic Affairs 41, no. 2 (August 2019): 176-182.
  • Desatova, Petra. ‘Thailand 4.0 and the Internal Focus of Nation Branding.’ Asian Studies Review 42, no. 4 (December 2018): 1-19.
  • McCargo, Duncan, Saowanee T. Alexander and Petra Desatova, ‘Ordering Peace: Thailand’s 2016 Constitutional Referendum.’ Contemporary Southeast Asia: A Journal of International and Strategic Affairs 39, no. 1 (April 2017): 65-95.
  • McCargo, Duncan, and Petra Desatova, ‘Thailand: Electoral Intimidation.’ In Electing Peace: Violence Prevention and Impact at the Polls, edited by Jonas Claes, 63-96. Washington DC: United States Institute of Peace Press, 2016.

Research areas:

Nation branding, political branding/marketing, governance, forms and techniques of state power, authoritarianism and its resilience, elections and electoral violence, nationalism, national identity, gastrodiplomacy and food nationalism, and Southeast Asian politics (with a focus on Thailand).


Mária Kubincová, MA student, University of Turku

I am a student in the master's degree programme of East Asian Studies at CEAS. The topic of my thesis is the Japanese phenomenon of hikikomori, also known as "social recluses" or "shut-ins", in other words, people who voluntarily cut their ties with society and stay inside their rooms or homes for months or even years. Originally, this problem was believed to be predominantly affecting young adult males in Japan, however latest surveys conducted by the Japanese government revealed potentially thousands of cases also among older Japanese citizens. Hikikomori is now considered to be one of the most pressing issues in contemporary Japanese society, and it is being recognised outside of Japan as well (Italy, South Korea, Finland...). In my research I am focusing on the media discourse and how the issue of hikikomori is presented in Japanese media, the stigmatisation of this condition and how it is contrasting with the self-image and self-representation of hikikomori.


Nicholas Bernardi, MA student, University of Turku

As a student of East Asian Studies, my thesis focuses on Japanese media and their degree of freedom in the face of external influence.
Japan is considered a strong democratic country, especially in East Asia, but it has faced strong criticism regarding press freedom from various organizations because of limitations imposed by its political class. Through a series of interviews to reporter actively involved with Japan, both from Japanese and international newspapers, I plan to collect their opinions on the topic of press freedom and see how much they overlap with the current academic view. The objective of this research is to re-analyse and find new aspects within the Japanese media system that will let us understand more clearly how impactful external influence is on Japanese press freedom.