Sunday, 18 March 2012

Communism is well and alive in Hanoi

Despite Vietnam marching to the drumbeat of Capitalism towards a free market economy, the cult of Communism and its ideology remains much alive. One cannot miss the ever-present posters and banners of its Communist origins wherever you go. The hammer and sickle are still omnipresent images (although they are now a thing of the past in Russia and Eastern bloc nations) on the streets, and the cult of Ho Chi Minh is well and kicking.

The centrepiece of the Uncle Ho cult is the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum in Hanoi's Ba Dinh Square, but a short distance away is the Ho Chi Minh Museum, an imposing edifice that celebrates the star of President Ho and the glories of Communism. Opened in 1990 (just after the Berlin Wall came down), this Czech and Russian-sponsored project is a monument to Socialism and Vietnam's nationship founded on its principles. Notice how the head of Bac Ho in the centrepiece statue is made to look so bulbous that he resembles an Oriental Lenin? This is surely no coincidence.

The exhibits in the well laid-out Ho Chi Minh Museum abounds with symbolism. The icons and symbols of Socialist Realism from Soviet Russia, and the armed struggle of the Communists against the French and American imperialism are main themes here.

Here's a statue of the real Lenin, standing proudly on a square named after him, along Dien Bien Phu boulevard. Are there anymore Lenin statues still standing in Moscow?

Not far away is the Museum of Vietnamese Military History, another showpiece of Vietnamese struggle against foreign invaders. The Chinese, the French and the Americans have all been routed and repelled by the Vietnamese, and this remains a very proud fixture in the nation's history. Standing in its courtyard is a monument composed entirely of enemy aircraft wreckage, with the insignia of the United States Air Force displayed prominently. Inside, another paean to Uncle Ho and glorious nationhood.

This is the Russian tank of the ARVN that stormed the gates of Saigon's Presidential Palace on 30 April 1975, heralding the end of the Vietnam War and the reunification of the North and South. More Communist propaganda posters and the humble guitar, an instrument that help boost the morale of ARVN soldiers during the armed struggle.

On 48 Hang Ngang Street in Hanoi's Old Quarter is the drab looking Museum of Independance, the shophouse where Uncle Ho drafted Vietnam's Declaration of Independance. I was the only visitor there one afternoon to view its assortment of posters and simple furniture. Again, Bac Ho is portrayed as a messianic and saint-like figure who had no vices, and whose actions were driven purely by independance, freedom and nationhood. The armchair on which he did his work and a simple folding bed are evidence of his humble and simple means. I'm not so sure about the pink lampshade though...

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