TIEN VE and Freedom of Thought & Expression for Contemporary Vietnamese Arts Essay

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TIEN VE and Freedom of Thought & Expression for
Contemporary Vietnamese Arts

Paper delivered by Hoang Ngoc-Tuan at the NAM BANG!’s international conference
“Echoes of a War”, Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre, 17/4/2009.

[A Vietnamese translation is available at this link]

Every tyrannical regime is afraid of resistance. Because of this fear, they make all efforts to suppress freedom of thought and expression. They do not accept any ideas, any voices, any ways of speaking that are different from or opposite to what they permit. They want all citizens to trust them absolutely, praise them, or at the very least, keep quiet and follow the path they have outlined. No one is allowed to have doubts. No one is allowed to have questions. With ambitions to maintain their existence permanently, tyrannical regimes not only want to remove all contemporary thoughts of resistance, but, more importantly, they also want themselves to be the exclusive author of history. For them, history is an eternal text that confirming that their regime is the most excellent one, and that what they have done, are doing and will do is the rightest and the most beautiful.
With such ambitions, they make all efforts to eliminate all the materials that may be used to write any alternative history. That is why tyrannical governments do not only censor daily news in the media, but they also attempt to censor, modify or destroy even fictional texts and artistic works, things that can last longer than any political regime.
The policies of “doi moi” (renovation) and “mo cua” (openness) in Vietnam began over 20 years ago, but until today, in the arts (including literature, music, visual and performing arts), such “renovation” and “openness” still do not really allow artists to enjoy freedom of thought and expression. Until today, not any individual in Vietnam is allowed to publish or display their works without permission from the government. In Vietnam, no private publishing house is permitted to be established. All artistic works, even a little poem or a miniature painting, must go through the censorship systems before being published or displayed. Even works that have permission to be published or displayed can still be revoked and prohibited at any time.
Some people say that artists in Vietnam today can “do whatever you like, but do not touch politics.” Speaking like that is too optimistic and not really accurate.
There have been many artistic works that are not given permission to be published or displayed, although their authors never wanted to touch politics. The danger is that everything may be interpreted as having political intentions. If your novel has too many paragraphs about negative social phenomena such as corruption, bribery, prostitution, etc., then you may not be allowed to publish it, because, under the eyes of censorship officials, your novel alludes to the mistakes and failure of the government. The Party and State only want to see artists doing

their best to illustrate a fake picture of a wonderful society of Vietnam, where people live in freedom, happiness and equity, where there is no oppression, no exploitation, no unfairness and no corruption!
This desire of the Party and State, of course, goes against the instinct for creativity and expression of artists. The Party and State want to completely control and direct the creative activities of artists, but artists always want more freedom. This conflict makes the Party and State constantly feel anxious, and it makes artists constantly feel frustrated. Before, when Vietnam has not yet opened their doors to the world, the Party and State could clench their pliers very easily. Now the situation is different: when Vietnam has to open up to economic exchanges and trade with the world so that the country can survive (and so that the leaders can make