Laos will erect a statue of former Vietnam president Ho Chi Minh in the Lao capital Vientiane to underscore cooperation between the two communist neighbors, officials said, angering many Laotians who say the project will undermine their nation’s sovereignty.
It will be the second monument to the communist revolutionary leader in Laos. The first one was set up several years ago in central Khammuan province’s Nong Bok district.
“I think it’s a good idea [to have a monument in the capital] because of the friendship [between Laos and Vietnam],” a Lao official told RFA’s Lao Service, saying it would reflect the increasing cooperation between the two countries.
“It has been a good relationship for years—a traditional relationship,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The plan to build the statue was announced as part of a package of joint projects agreed to during Lao Deputy Prime Minister Bunpon Buttanavong’s meeting with his Vietnamese counterpart Vu Van Ninh in Vietnam’s capital Hanoi last week, according to the official English-language Vietnam News daily.
“Both ministers highlighted the need to accelerate strategic co-operation projects, including the erection of a statue of President Ho Chi Minh in Vientiane to mark his 125th birthday and the 85th anniversary of the Indochinese Communist Party, as well as other celebrations next year,” the report said.
The ruling Vietnamese Communist Party is the successor to the Indochinese Communist Party, set up in 1930 as part of a bid to actively promote the communist movement in all of what was then known as French Indochina—including modern day Laos and Cambodia.
Vietnam News said that Ninh had pledged to support Laos in its five-year socioeconomic plan during the Oct. 6 meeting and had pushed for increased negotiations between the two nations, as well as the signing of a new trade deal aimed at raising bilateral trade to U.S. $2 billion by 2015.
Symbol of ‘interference’
But Laotians expressed concerns that placing a statue of Ho Chi Minh in the capital of Laos would suggest that the country is under the influence of Vietnam.
“I think it’s strange to erect a monument to Ho Chi Minh in Laos,” a Laotian said in an RFA call-in show recently.
“We are an independent country. If Lao leaders do this, it may indicate some deeper plan that [the citizens] don’t know about. In the future, this land may no longer belong to Laos.”
Another caller said that building a statue of Ho Chi Minh would symbolize Vietnamese “interference” in Lao affairs and might suggest “we are their colony.”
“There are many Lao heroes who have done many good things for the country during the revolutionary era who have been forgotten. What is the meaning of a Ho Chi Minh monument—that Laos depends on or is a part of Vietnam?” the caller asked, saying the government should reconsider the decision.
A third caller said that a statue of Ho Chi Minh in the capital was “unnecessary,” questioning what the former Vietnamese president had done for Laos to deserve such an honor.
“On the contrary, he pulled the people of Laos into the Vietnam war,” the caller said.
Ho Chi Minh’s influence
In 1954, following Vietnam’s independence from France, the Geneva Conference partitioned the country into the communist north and non-communist south.
On Ho Chi Minh’s orders, North Vietnam invaded Laos in 1959, aided by the communist Pathet Lao, and built invasion and supply routes through Laos known as the Ho Chi Minh trail, which allowed the North to send troops and aid to the Vietcong communist uprising in South Vietnam.
The strategy escalated the war in Vietnam and tipped its balance in the favor of the North, prompting the U.S. to send troops to the South and the bombardment of trail by the U.S. Air Force.
From 1964 to 1973, the U.S. dropped more than two million tons of ordnance on Laos aimed at preventing use of the Ho Chi Minh trail and to prevent the collapse of the country’s central government, the Royal Kingdom of Laos, making Laos the most heavily bombed country per capita in history.
Reported by Ounkeo Souksavanh for RFA’s Lao Service. Translated by Bounchanh Mouangkham. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.