AND A REVOLUTION THAT NEVER CAME
The nostalgia that the Lao people have for the royal family and members of the aristocracy
remains strong as ever. Despite Khamsay Souphanouvong's ideological attachment and allegiance to the Communist party in Lao, many Lao expatriates seems to be willing welcome the new defector amongst its fold. Any defector from Vientiane now tends to expose the cruelty of the regime, while at the same time exposing the frailty of the ruling elite.
After his return from the Soviet Union, Khamsay climbed to the pinnacle of the political structure of communist Lao. He became a Member of the Central Committee of Lao People's Revolution Party (LPRP) and held a ministerial post that oversaw millions of dollars. In the mid 1980s, when Kaysone Phomvihane instituted the reform campaign known as "chintanakan mai" or new thinking, Khamsay fell out of favor among the oligarchs.
The case of Khamsay's loss of power and influence is nothing special in Lao politics.
After the death of Khaysone Phomvihane, his wife---Mrs. Thongvinh Phomvihane---was
immediately embroiled in lawsuits and allegations of trafficking narcotics between Lao and Vietnam. Thus, when Khamsay lost his post, it appeared to be more than a political reshuffling. Khamsay was found to be in the wrong side of the equation. Having been educated in the Soviet Union, he might have thought that by taking a pro-Russia stand would secure his political foundation among the communist cadres. After all, Russia was the superpower of the eastern block. By all account Khamsay's political thinking was sensible at the time. However, after the fall of the Soviet Union in the 1980s, Russia became increasingly less influential over the politics of Lao. Foreign aids were cut. Not having sufficient fund to keep its contingent of advisers in Lao, many Russian military advisers were recalled home. Foreign aids from Russia were dwindling while the Lao Communist Party increasingly turned to Hanoi for guidance and protection. Many Lao intellectuals who had been educated in Russia or the former Soiviet Unions appeared to be more moderate and forward looking in there thinking. Khamsay would not have been an exception. It would not be surprising if Khamsay had indeed foreseen the impending doom of the Soviet Unions while he was studying there, and thus aligned his political thinking accordingly upon his return to Vientiane. If that had been the case, it is more of an irony than fate that the oligarchs in Vientiane beat him to the race by seizing the opportunity of the day and quickly turn to Hanoi for support and guidance fearing that Vientiane will follow Moscow.
The Bangkok Post and The Nation wrote that Khamsay left Lao incognito probably because he could not take the embarrassment after having lost his influence and power in Vientiane. That may be true, but such reasoning does not tell us the whole picture of politics in Lao. Recall that Mrs. Thongvinh Phomvihane became immediately embroiled with lawsuits alleging that she stole millions of dollars from some government cooperative enterprises.
Moreover, there were also allegations of drug trafficking against her. In the case of Khamsay,
there is more to it that just having lost his job at the Central Committee of Party. This is a case of an ex officio who fled from failed reform efforts.
Politics in Lao very much depends on its allies. During the 19060s and 1970s, the leadership in Vientiane, so too in Sam Neu, closely watched every move made by the US. In particular, the secret negotiations between Le Duc Tho of North Vietnam and Henry Kissinger concerning the Vietnamization process and the eventual domino falling of Indochina. In the late 1990s, this domino mentality remains etched in the thinking of all Lao intellectuals. Khamsay would probably thought----and sensibly so---that the down fall of communism in Moscow would spell similar chapters in Vientiane and Hanoi. After all Lao s neighbor to the south, Cambodia, had changed almost overnight with the restoration of democracy---albeit tenuous, and the return of the monarchy. However, this time proxy politics of Indochina is no longer dominated by bipolar politics of the late 1970s. The fall of the Soviet Unions and other fraternal countries of the eastern Blocs did not deter the socialist commitment of the die hard revolutionaries of Indochina. It appears that China and Vietnam remain two influential countries holding Lao under its ideological spells. In this case of Khamsay, the day of student uprising and younger intellectuals, including those from the west and those in Lao and had been educated in the Eastern Bloc, never came. Lao students in Poland, Ukraine, Bulgaria, etc. who saw political dissidents unfolding the tricolors over a tank in front of the Russian Dumas had high hope that the three white headed elephant in red back ground would once again be flown in Vientiane. However, this hope was quickly dashed when the oligarchs in Vientiane tighten their reign. The day of the nouveau revolution in Vientiane never came. That that dream for a better for Lao shall never die. The cry for freedom must be heard. The call for liberty must be answered. Be it dissident by choice or defector by circumstances, the Lao people must work toward restoring democracy to Lao and its people.
Come, my Lao compatriots. Awake from your long nights of lumbering sleep and look at what is going on in your country today. Communists are fighting among themselves. Some of the diehard revolutionaries cannot even sleep in their own house and must seek shelter in far-flung quarters of the globe. The current situation in Lao must remind some of us of the old days of the 1960s 0r 1970s of communist China when chaos replaced order.
Listen. Can you hear it? Can you hear the humming cries of our people to bring those
who flee from justice to the bench and bar of law to be judged for their transgressions? You will almost hear it if you allow yourselves to listen for these cries are louder than the call of the million elephants of Lao.
Speak. Speak amongst yourselves about the destiny of your country and people. The
killing has long ended, but the raping and plundering are in earnest. We all hope that communism will fall in Lao and when it does, what will be left for us to see. Billions of dollars in foreign debts. Decayed physical infrastructure. Dilapidated institutional framework. More than 70% of our rain forest destroyed. These pressing issues deserving your utmost attention will go unnoticed and questions go unanswered unless you speak up and make known your love and concerns for your country and people.
Think. Yes, think about your future and the future of your country. Every Lao expatriates has his or her future inextricably tied to Lao. It is unthinkable to think that communism is a victimless crime against the Lao people. In the course of our history, we had made conscious decision of which path to take. Many had chosen to follow the path to Socialism. For them, to kill a thousand for the sake of saving the seat of a few is worth doing. There are also those among us who chose the road to democracy. As the night of tyranny began to hover over Lao, we fled to safety and had been since sheltered by the free world. Despite having lived in relative security of the free West, we must not forget those who we left behind. We must listen to their cry for freedom. We must speak for them when their ability to cry in protest has been muted by brute force. We must think of their plight because their destiny and ours are inseparable.