No short skirts or low-cut dresses for women, no long hair or earrings for men—These are among government social guidelines for the people of Laos ahead of its capital Vientiane's 450th anniversary and national day celebrations.
The cash-starved government of the communist single-party state is also asking civil servants and schoolchildren to make mandatory cash contributions to its celebrations' kitty, much to the chagrin of some residents.
Village chiefs from outlying areas have also been told to keep a close watch on “people with bad intentions” and to make sure they don’t stir up any trouble as events are held to mark Vientiane's anniversary on Nov. 15 and National Day on Dec. 2.
But while many residents are unhappy about the new regulations, few have spoken out against them, fearing reprisals from the authorities.
One resident of the capital, who asked to remain anonymous, has posted an open letter describing his frustration with event preparations.
“[The government is] now selling rubber bracelets for U.S. $2 each and pins for U.S. $2.50 each to Vientiane residents in order to raise funds" for the celebrations, the resident wrote.
“If you are a government worker, you have to buy one [bracelet or pin] at work and then when you go home, as a member of a village you have to buy one or two more. If you have children who go to primary, secondary, or post-secondary schools, each of them also has an obligation to buy at least one,” he wrote.
“It’s OK to buy that many bracelets or pins if you make U.S. $200 a month, but most Laotians, including government employees, are poor. So are students, and they must ask for money from their parents to buy those items. Also the use of the proceeds from the sales is nontransparent.”
Somvang Khuabsaphone, a member of the National Organizing Committee for the anniversary event, has acknowledged that the city is short of the money it needs to hold the event as planned, and is considering selling special bonds to raise additional funds.
“The government provides 15 billion kip (U.S. $1.9 million). That is not enough. We have to raise 15 billion (kip) more. Altogether we need 30 billion kip (U.S. $3.8 million),” he said.Conservative values
City officials issued a set of regulations requiring residents to strictly observe Lao traditional culture in appearance and conduct.
In public, women must dress conservatively and are forbidden from wearing shorts, skirts, tank-tops, or low-cut dresses, according to information provided to residents at community meetings.
Men have been instructed to remove any earrings and to cut long hair, the residents were told. Men are also advised against wearing hair dye.
The capital’s officials are also requiring all hotels, restaurants, and entertainment venues to strictly follow business rules.
Fireworks have been banned, and social gatherings and parties must end by 10:30 p.m. Anyone hosting guests overnight are advised to inform their local authorities beforehand.
Some Vientiane residents agree with the guidelines and have urged fellow citizens to comply.
“All residents should keep the capital clean, safe, and peaceful,” said resident Khamsouk Keomixay.
Another resident, Viengphone Sengpraseuth, called on fellow residents to participate in preparations by assisting authorities.
“Everybody should keep an eye on what is happening in their community. No one should go out late at night or ride motorcycles in a big group. If something happens, one should inform police immediately, especially during the time of the celebrations.”
Vientiane authorities have vastly increased security in the city during the celebrations.
Some residents wonder if the extra precautions are a response to protests during last year’s celebrations, when about 100 human rights and pro-democracy activists were quickly detained before they could enter the city for street demonstrations.
Vientiane originally served as an important administrative city when Fa Ngum founded the Lao kingdom of Lan Xang in 1354. King Setthathirath officially established it as the capital of Lan Xang in 1560.
The city will also play host to celebrations surrounding the 35th anniversary of the founding of the Lao People's Democratic Republic on Dec. 2.
Reported by RFA’s Lao service. Translated by Max Avary. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.