Vietnam Currents by Hai V Tran: “Liberty-free Vietnam goes back to ‘1984.’

by Hai V. TranViet-Am Review

Liberty-free Vietnam steps back to “1984”

In his novel of the brave new world of “1984” George Orwell foretold the efforts of tyrants to affect history with his immortal prescription, “He who controls the present, controls the past; he who controls the past, controls the future.”

The Vietnam communists have been doing just that since the total subjugation of South Vietnam under communism in 1975. Even though every victor tries to rewrite history, Hanoi communists are especially adept at using the complete control of the media to portray everything according to the party line. Recent happenings in Vietnam have revealed the incredibly relentless efforts of Hanoi dictators to cleanse their past.

A few months ago, the directors of state-controlled publishing houses mandated that publishing of collected works of writers and artists should not contain anything “that could impact negatively on their careers.” The directive sounded innocent enough until people found out that any criticism by these writers and artists toward the Vietnamese Communist Party (VCP) at any time should be deleted. That means, no critique of the “land reform” campaign in North Vietnam from 1953-1956 in which around 172,000 persons were wrongly labeled “landowners” and executed according to the dictum of “class warfare” of the communist ideology; nor should anything involving the purges of the writers and artists during the “Literary and Humanities” publications in 1956-1957 that sent hundreds of most talented and prominent poets and writers to prison or internal exile. When some were “rehabilitated” in early 1990s, their lives had already been wasted. Any critiques or the party could undermine “the unity of the party and the people,” the directors warned.  And absolutely no atrocities the communist forces committed during the conquest of the South!

But those directives from the party’s publishing outfits did not come from over-zealous cadres. They were direct implementation orders of a government policy. Just a few days before stepping down as prime minister, Phan Van Khai, signed Degree 56/2006/ND-CP, Administrative Sanctions on Information and Culture Activities, effective July 1, 2006, which its critics say provides “fines and sanctions on information that “violates cultural traditions” or contains content that is “harmful, reactionary or superstitious.”

Specifically, consider section 21(3) (c ):

“On infringements of regulations of prohibitions relative to the content of the product of publication? Monetary penalties from 20M Dong (about 1300 US dollars) to 30M Dong (about 1900 US dollars) for one of the following conducts:

 (c ) Publish publications with contents which disclose VCP secrets, government secrets, Armed Forces secrets, security secrets, economic secrets, external affairs secrets and other secrets as defined by law.

 (d) Publish publications with contents defaming historical truths; denying revolutionary gains; dishonoring the people, great men, national heroes; defaming, violating the reputation of organs, organizations.”

How can a publisher be responsible for the accuracy, integrity, reliability, and confidentiality or not of the contents of a publication? And how can Vietnam engage in global trade if anything published can be labeled  an “economic secret”?

Most notably, who decides the criteria and sits in judgment of these infringements? Not the courts but the officials in the Central Committee on Thought and Culture, the Ministry of the Public Security, and the Ministry of Culture and Information. These handfuls of unelected cultural czars specify what to think, what to read, what to write and what to publish for the 83 million Vietnamese people! This is a blow to whatever it is left of the state-controlled media where all editors and directors are high-ranking party members who have to receive instructions from those cultural gatekeepers what and how much to cover each week.

 Which means that after a while, all that is available in art and literature in Vietnam is nothing but the singing of one tune: the glorification of the VCP and whatever its policy at any time, wrong or right, good or bad. It is exactly what happens to Winston Smith in “1984” when he witnesses the constant revision of the past of Oceania according to the party’s political orthodoxy of the moment! 

But the Hanoi communists forget one thing: there are nearly 3 million overseas Vietnamese. They are the first-hand witnesses of the crimes of the VCP since its beginning in 1930 under Ho Chi Minh. And there are also many first-hand witnesses of the genocidal campaigns in the North and the fanatical pursuit of the ideological conquest in the South are still living in Vietnam. For example, the people of Hue are still commemorating the deaths of more than 3,000 loved ones who were massacred by the communist forces during the Tet Offensive of 1968, albeit with silent tears in secret.

And millions of living Northerners still remember the horror of the “land reform” days as recounted by writers such as Tran Manh Hao, Duong Thu Huong, and poet Nguyen Chi Thien, whose works are all banned in Vietnam today.

One day, the truth will be told!

Note that Decree 56 also extends to Internet usage, as it threatens to fine and shut down service providers who allow users to log onto “harmful” web sites. But while they have erected firewalls and engaged in hacking sabotages, thousands of web sites exist to document and record for history whatever the truths about the people and the country of Vietnam. Decree 56 is nothing but Hanoi’s admission that truth hurts and that “they can’t handle the truths.”

Another bizarre decree, signed by the former prime minister Phan Van Khai in 2005 and only recently came to light, is probably the most idiotic in world communist annals. Decree 38/2005/ND-CP requires that “any gathering of 5 or more people in public” must submit applications to local police and administrative authorities and must obtain permits in advance. It does not specify how fast the police or authority has to respond to the applications. They can take all the time they need!

So, the next time you visit Vietnam, if you plan to get together with your family, relatives, or friends, remember that you could be unwittingly violating their law. You should all agree on a topic in advance should the security police suddenly appear, isolate you and ask each of you to write down what has just been discussed! Moreover, for overseas Vietnamese, whatever happens to you no one can help because you are considered Vietnamese citizens while there and therefore will be subjected to their laws of the jungle.

Yet, those oppressive measures seem all lost on the international media representatives in Vietnam. They were so busy singing the chorus of “Vietnam’s accession to the WTO” and “the rise of the young communist leaders” that there are hardly any thoughtful and substantive looks at the new guards. They seem to forget or ignore to tell you that these young cadres are well-trained and die-hard Leninists. They will do anything to keep their monopoly on political power because it will give them everything else!

So for now, welcome to “1984” Vietnam, with relaxed commerce and enslaved politics. That’s only a slight modification of Karl Marx’s promise: barbaric capitalism with communist orientation!

Virginia, USA

You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free 

Reprinted with permission of Hai V. Tran – Viet-Am Review

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