Hanoi (AsiaNews) – Some dissident voices are emerging among the panoply of state media as the country prepares for the 11th Congress of the Communist Party in January 2011. On the one hand, newspapers and television are full of stories calling for the “perseverance of Communism”, whilst courts are overcrowded with dissidents on trial in what is clearly a strategy of intimidation; on the other, some intellectuals, including part members, are going online to ask the government to break its ties with its ideology.
In September, members of a think tank, the Vietnam Institute of Development Studies (IDS), chose to stop all activities and disband in protest at a government ban on all public opposition or expressions of disagreement with the government.
Set up in 2004, the Institute included prominent economists, some of whom are card-carrying party members who served in government. In the past five years, it played a crucial role in pushing the government towards a market economy.
IDS members repeatedly criticised government Communist-oriented policies, calling on the authorities to introduce major political and economic reforms to enable Vietnam to join in the international community and leave behind almost a century of isolation.
Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung immediately slammed the IDS disbandment, questioning the political motives of its members and threatening legal action against them.
Last month, six people were imprisoned for advocating democracy. Earlier, three more suffered the same fate.
On 8 October, a dissident writer and journalist, Tran Khai Thanh Thuy, was arrested for her criticism of government policies.
Despite this, a scholar, Nguyen Thanh Giang from Hanoi, also openly criticised the Communist ideology in an article published in VietCatholic News. In it, he said that it was not enough for Vietnam to adopt a market economy but that it had to break its ties to the “evil Communist ideology.”
In his view, the latter was responsible for the large scale loss of life during the 1955-1957 land reform (officially 172,000 peasants died but the real number remains unknown) and the 1961-1975 Vietnam War (three million lives).
Communism still harms the country today that the economy is moving towards the market because its ideological principles are still being enforced. A typical example is the conflict with religious orders over real estate.
According to Communist ideology, all the land belongs to the people and is managed by the state for their benefit. However, this has given local officials a power base, which they have used to strip religious communities of their land like in Thai Ha, Tam Toa, Loan Ly and Bat Nha.
The huge rise in real estate values has increased corruption as farmland is seized or bought cheap for unfeasable plans. The land is then resold at higher prices to build hotels, restaurants, nightclubs to the benefit of officials.
Marxism-Leninism’s negative and hostile view of religion also explains events like the one reported on 28 October by Mgr Thomas Nguyen Van Tan, bishop of Vinh Long.
The Sisters of the Congregation of Saint Paul de Chartres ran an orphanage but were accused of preparing young people to be counterrevolutionaries. This was done in order to justify a plan to seize their property so that officials could sell it to foreign investors for millions of dollars.
Faced with protests by the diocese and the religious congregation, the authorities tore down the monastery and turned it into a public square.
The same thing happened to the former apostolic delegation in Hanoi (Pictured), the parish of Thai Ha and elsewhere.
Still, there are some new positive aspects to the government’s religious policy, especially with regard to Catholicism. On 29 October, a conference was held at the University of Social Studies and Human Sciences in Hanoi on the theme of “Religious Culture in the context of Globalization”, which was open to Catholic priests and scholars who were able to present Catholic viewpoints on many issues relevant for Vietnamese society.
However, there is still a long way to go before the party holds its congress and we may yet see other occasions where contradictory attitudes will be at play.