Communist-Kitsch Cafe in Vietnam Castigated for ‘Blasphemous’ Decor

vietnam-party-anniversary-feb-2013.jpg A street vendor walks past a Vietnamese Communist Party poster in downtown Hanoi, Feb. 3, 2013.

Updated at 11:00 a.m. ET on 2013-09-09

A Communism-themed cafe in the Vietnamese capital has been placed under police investigation after being castigated in local newspapers for its “blasphemous” decor.

The Communism Cafe in Hanoi’s Trung Hoa area, part of a chain of cafes in the cosmopolitan city owned by prominent Vietnamese singer Linh Dung, makes a mockery of the political traditions in the one-party communist state, recent reports in the state-controlled media said.

But patrons told RFA’s Vietnamese Service that the vintage propaganda images and other kitschy decor used in the cafe were politically innocuous and created a nostalgic atmosphere reminiscent of a bygone era in the politically communist but economically capitalist country.

Government officials are preparing a report on the controversy after the cafe came under investigation by the police ministry’s PA-83 unit, which deals with political and domestic security issues, state media reports said.

“We … have been working with police for the past 10 days to prepare a report for Hanoi’s government,” head of Hanoi’s culture and information department To Van Dong said, according to the Dat Viet newspaper.

“Our stance is to deal with this cafe strictly because what they did is also related to our security and politics,” he said.

'Not reactionary'

The chain of Communism Cafe, also known as Cong Caphes, feature rustic wooden tables and vintage propaganda posters, and have their menus scribbled on volumes of Russian Communist hero Vladimir Lenin’s collected works.

They also feature slogans based on twisted quotes of Lenin and Vietnamese Communist revolutionary leader Ho Chi Minh.

Owner Linh Dung defended the style choices as legal, saying it was hard to understand why it was facing such criticism.

“I don’t have any explanation for this,” Dat Viet quoted the singer as saying.

“My business stemmed from innocent thoughts, not reactionary acts.”

Criticisms 'ridiculous'

Patrons of the Trang Hoa shop said the decor was meant to be ironic, but that it was ultimately apolitical and nostalgic.

“It has a touch of jest but nothing as serious as what newspapers said,” blogger Nguyen Lan Thang commented, saying the cafe reminded him of a bygone era.

“I think there is nothing wrong with the shop,” one young painter who visited the cafe said.  “The atmosphere is very tranquil.”

“I read some of the articles and I found them ridiculous. There is no basis for the criticism,” she said.

'Disgracing' Ho Chi Minh

But others have been offended that the cafe is capitalizing on Communist traditions, saying the decor is disrespectful toward the late revered leader Ho Chi Minh.

State-owned newspaper Petro Times published back-to-back articles on the cafe on Aug. 22 and 23, saying noise from the establishment was a disturbance to neighbors and criticizing its use of modified political slogans.

“It is sad that many young people come here thinking the cafe has a unique style and without thinking of sacred things, which have been blasphemed by the cafe’s owner,” the paper said.

“This cafe has trampled on our ideological values, the moral basis of leaders like Lenin and especially Ho Chi Minh,” it said.

Reported by Kinh Hoa for RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.

Correction: An earlier version of this article included an incorrect quote.


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