Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Lao History: Don't Look Back

Grant Evans had a blog over at Australia's New Mandala a while back entitled Lao History: Don't Look Back. It raised some interesting points of discussion about how we talk about the convoluted Lao history. One interesting point he brings up comes the closing chapter of the revised edition his book Short History of Laos: The Land Inbetween:

When the first edition of this book was written 10 years ago the collapse of global communism in the early 1990s was still fresh in my mind and it was not clear how the remaining socialist states, including Laos, would fare. In 2011 it is clear that they have fared very well, and they are likely to be with us for the next two or three decades. But one must quickly add, they are no longer recognizably socialist, while the one party state has become an instrument for the development of capitalism. People like me who were intellectually formed during the hey-day of the Cold War and at the end of almost a century of competition between revolutionary socialism and liberal democracies were unprepared for the transformation of Marxist-Leninist states into something more mainstream; merely another variant of the many paths that countries globally have taken into the modern world – for better or worse. Countries like Laos still carry baggage from the attempt to build socialism, but bit by bit it is being thrown overboard. The majority of the world’s and Laos’s population born since 1990 do not feel part of some global ideological struggle, but are simply swept along by an imperfect everyday reality. The hegemonic global mantra is ‘development,’ an often vague term promising a better future, and almost anything can be justified just by invoking it. It is a kind of modern magic, and it trumps any other card in the deck, including preservation of ‘a beautiful, ancient Lao culture,’ in the precious phrasing of the Lao Ministry of Information and Culture. Lao hope they can have their cake and eat it too; that they can have rapid all-round development that leaves their culture intact. This, however, is impossible. Lao culture and society is about to change much faster than anyone has anticipated, but just how much will remain of the culture that Lao now find so comforting and foreigners so charming, only time will tell.

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