Linked with Duong Thu Huong – Viet Nam.
Following is the interview of writer dissident Duong Thu Huong, by the Radio Free Asia, on July 04, 2000.
Radio Free Asia: Why do you think so many writers growing up under Socialism now display such contempt, even outright insult toward all values when describing the daily life around them?
Duong Thu Huong: Despite some variety of individual expressions, common living environment does produce a certain common mentality. How much and from what angle that common mentality manifests itself depends on each individual’s character and talents. In my opinion, those bitter voices are the minimum display of discontent ones can do and remain alive. Most writers pen their thought that way nowadays – with either sad bitterness or extreme rawness. They strip life naked and leave it exposed without comments. Their personal commentary must stay concealed. They do it that way so (1) they still have enough safety to live on and (2) they can free themselves from certain unsolved misery.
RFA: You often observed that your generation was armed to the teeth with ideals. What do you think of the current generation?
DTH: It is rather sad that today’s generation would do anything to gain more “tickets” – that’s what they call the US $100 bills. They balk at nothing ! They denounce the Party one day and cajole it on the next for that same purpose. The rule of this system is in order for one to be nominated to a management position or for he himself to buy his way into a lucrative position, he must first be a member of the Party. Therefore, some men in their 50’s still raised their hands to swear “I love the Party very much”. The truth is even though they despise the Party, they still joined it to advance to the next rung and receive the attached benefit. They could raise their hands solemnly taking the oath of allegiance to the Party and right afterward swore at the nearby café telling others the real reasons of their affiliation. As for the younger generation, the most ethical ones could only think of learning foreign languages to work for foreign companies. Those are their highest ideal. As for the less ethical, the children of the high-ranking officials, they open their own companies to turn their parents’ political power into real money and themselves into big and small bosses. Such phenomenon is common. The rest of the lowly people also try to send their children to school in hope of future jobs that can bring them a few “tickets”. As a result, people of my generation are considered insane. Those of current generation want to live only for the present. They eat, sleep, dance, and so on to seek physical comfort first and foremost. That has become the rule with very few exceptions in our society today.
RFA: Would that view of current youth in Vietnam be too pessimistic ?
DTH: I am pessimistic and optimistic at the same time because I believe in the principle of the pendulum. It swings from the extremely idealist generations like mine to the extremely pragmatic ones of today. In the current swing, people discard all spiritual values to indulge themselves in physical satisfaction. At the risk of being over optimistic and wishful, I believe, however, after a while people will get bored of such physical indulgence, fall into a psychological impasse and become despaired in their own excess of money and physical pleasure. Human beings always have that internal conflict and that is the price we all have to pay. It probably will take one of two generations before we could regain equilibrium. And then many young people, who don’t know where they stand today, will find new ideals [to dedicate themselves to] because all human beings have their core of goodness.
RFA: Leaders of the Vietnamese Communist Party always say “to love the country is to love Socialism”, or the fatherland can only be “the Socialist fatherland”. What do you think of these views?
DTH: Fatherland represents the values we ourselves revere and cannot [be assigned] by one group of rulers or another. I consider [such imposition] garbage of history and they will be swept away by the river [of time]. What we consider our fatherland is very abstract. Its values are usually built in the first 30 years of our lives, including our childhood and the early education by our families.
RFA: For your outspoken criticism of the leaders of the Vietnamese Communist Party, you were imprisoned for almost a year. Since your release from prison, is your contact with the outside world be put under any control ?
DTH: My contact [with the world] is very intermittent. Some mail came and others didn’t. My phone line had been cut for I criticized [them] too much. After the German Cultural Center invited me to visit their country, the communist authorities here did not allow me to go but I am sure those international interventions made them reconnect my phone line. There is no rule of laws in Vietnam. Everything is in the state of flux. Books sent to me never came. Mail and other items sent to me meet the same accidental fate. Very accidental. Yesterday I received an invitation from the US embassy to their National Day exhibition. All the envelopes were cut open and re-glued very unscrupulously. There is no professional honor in our postal system. All [government functions] are under the control of the Public Security who can steal and take whatever they want. If this government could think any better they would have dropped those conducts that have brought them nothing but more contempt from the population. Ending the usage of such vulgar and obscene measures of control to display authorities would do the government’s face lots of good. As for me, I no longer care for I have known them so well.
RFA: Beside the disruption of your mail and phone communication, are you enduring any other forms of suppression ?
DTH: This government has resorted to all kind measures in dealing with me. They have arranged for accidents to happen to me in late 1988 and again in 1989 before the conference of writers of that year. They staged an accident to squash me to death with Public Security’s motor vehicles but God saved me. (Someone knew of the scheme and rescued me). That year, the entire Politburo was furious at my speech that the Party must learn to be grateful to the people instead of just teaching people to be grateful to itself. That speech was the deciding factor in the [Secretary General] Nguyen Van Linh’s decision to arrest me the following year. I have written all of these incidents in a memoir and will reveal them some day.
RFA: What is your view of the recent trip of Secretary General Le Kha Phieu to France ?
DTH: Really? I did not notice and have no reason to. Someone told me he went to France but I don’t know how and for what purpose. Such things do not concern me.
RFA: You had dedicated yourself to the Vietnamese Communist Party and later detached yourself from it. Have you found you own path today ?
DTH: My chosen path today is to struggle for a democratic society. I don’t have the quality of a political leader. I cannot form a party or fight in a political arena because I don’t know how to. But I will fight through my writing to convince others of the need of a democracy and people are entitled to live with their full rights as human beings. Only life like that is worth living.
RFA: What is your hope for the future ?
DTH: I hope my people will live better. Ordinary people will have a chance to expand their mind, to live better, to gradually be aware of their rights as human beings, and to fight for democracy. I am realistic enough to know that if people keep looking down to the ground and are concerned of nothing but food, they will never know the concepts of human rights, democracy, and others. They only rebel when they are hungry. And if so, our people will remain in the state of savageness forever. There is still a long way to go but I remain hopeful for without hope, it’s hard to live this life.