The Ministry of Fear
The Ministry of Fear
Today it is Nguyen Phuong Uyen and Dinh Nguyen Kha; twenty and twenty four respectively; student and computer repairman. Yesterday and tomorrow it is someone else.
The headlines appear like déjà vu; “police detain pair for propaganda against the State”; “dissidents arrested, fermenting revolution”; “bloggers involved in anti-state activity indicted”.
In recent months the crackdown by the government on “dissidents”, has increased. Charges range from believable (expressing support for a multiparty democracy) to absurd (fomenting revolution and working to create an independent indigenous kingdom in the Central Highlands).
The motivation for such a crackdown is uncertain but I can posit several theories.
Among an increasingly “wired” and Westernized youth population (Vietnam’s average age is 26) there is little interest in revolutionary ideology or “Ho Chi Minh thought”, both anchors for the regime. Young people are conspicuous consumers, connected to culture and ideas outside their homeland. Given the opportunity along with resources and hard to obtain visas, a large percentage of college age students would head to the US on the next flight.
Secondly, official Communist Party documents have bemoaned the insidious “soft” propaganda from the US and the West in the form of evil Fulbright’s, manipulative NGO’s, and “reactionary” organizations such as the Peace Corps and USAID. Such entities, according to the Party, are designed to destabilize Vietnam and besmirch the revolutionary character of the government and country.
Thirdly, Vietnam is in crisis. The economy is sputtering, land disputes rising, corruption rampant, the economic miracle bubble close to bursting and relations with China at another impasse. The China issue cuts hard. Vietnam has had millennia worth of issues with the neighbor to the north with current conflicts including trade, the dumping of unsafe products, and territorial rights in the East Asia Sea. Vietnamese youth, might be generally passive but are nearly uniform in their attitude toward China. The government walks a tightrope between public opinion and the realpolitik of dealing with their socialist brethren.
And of course there is fear. The government has been in power since 1975 via a military victory not success at the ballot box; one of the longest running single party rules in the world. Vietnamese youth have largely abandoned hopes of an Arab spring or a Green or Velvet revolution, dreaming instead of fashion, music, conspicuous consumption and those vestiges of consumerism that are associated with the West. Yet with consumerism comes choice and, more importantly, the freedom to choose.
The last thing the government wants is to allow some lowly blogger, photographer, musician, lawyer, computer repairman, student or farmer to question them and inspire others with hope. After all, this is what a Ministry of Fear fears the most.