Origins of the Issues
Why was Laos subject to so much bad luck and why did the Lao people caused themselves so much karma that kept coming back endlessly? I personally had ran into problems many times and believe that these issues stemmed from the lack of justice, slanted personal beliefs (caused by emotion and religion), lack of strong principles and legal foundations, shabby political regime, lack of education, lack of judgment, and too much willingness to execute foreigners’ plan to control Laos without much after-thought and internal debate as to whether the end results would be good or bad for Laos. Furthermore, Laos is a country that lacks internal and external links, does not have a good plan to create national unity, cooperative spirit, forgiveness, and sincerity. The Lao people tend to be rather selfish, and more inclined to meet personal goals than to reach out to their compatriots. Laos sits in the middle of more populous countries that at times are engaged in infiltration and interference to gain power, create dissensions in Laos, and make it difficult for the Lao people to control the situation and the security.
One of the reasons for our problems is the hatred maintained by people who got tortured, mistreated and accused for no real reasons other than to satisfy the interests of the leaders or their followers. That emotional dislike could also be caused by rivalry contest between individuals, political parties and regimes.
Hatred could make the Lao people easy victims of foreigners who interfere in our internal affairs and do all they can to promote deadly and prolonged armed conflicts. Very little time was left for the Lao people to develop their country and themselves. Instead, parts and parcels of the Lao territory kept being pulled away, making our country smaller and smaller. As long as the Lao people do not register any victory, hatred will never go away. The Lao communists had not only a chance to wash their hatred for the Vientiane rightists, but they also delivered our country on a silver plate to the Vietnamese communists. The Lao communists’ dealing with hatred can only be their road to karma; which surely would come back and haunt them. Only forgiveness could stop karma’s vicious circle. One of the Lao proverbs said, “In order to protect the country, getting rid of hatred should be a personal, not a collective, action. Building national cooperation and unity is the key to leading the country on the road to prosperity; it is also a good example for others to follow.”
Without mutual trust and mutual respect, our country can only be heading in an unstable and questionable direction, with ethnic groups running into differences in thinking, belief and social status. Social justice cannot exist without mutual trust and mutual respect.
Laos is a small country with a small population that practices many religions with different tenets. For example, one religion teaches the importance of karma, always do the good things, and abide by the law. However, another religion may rely on different, more Satanist precepts, associated with the promotion of rebellious attitudes and favoring bad deeds to reach success, acting like a bad guy to become the lead guy, killing people to go to heaven. These differences are indeed difficult to change.
Mutual respect is the most important feature of the Lao culture. The Lao society does not allow for infringement of the Lao culture and always calls for mutual respect in all areas involving custom, sex, social status, etc. and with particular reference to speech, hand-shaking, palm to palm pressing and bowing, walking past an elder or high-ranking civil servants, etc. Some of those practices may be out-of-date and it is up to individuals to make an adjustment. As the world evolves, custom and culture should also evolve to keep pace as appropriate. The one thing we need to change is alcoholic drinking in public places or entertainment areas, something that society despises because it does not reflect a good education level and the currently accepted standards. We need to change our attitudes and practices to be on a par with civilization, meet with the standards that most of the world is in favor of, and be able to coexist. We should not act over-pretentiously or dress up ostentatiously. The Lao culture calls for greeting guests in a positive mood, when asking our nieces and nephews to join in at Lamvong round-dancing, or offering them to share drinks in good spirit. We should, however, stay within acceptable social standards and not overdo it. A drunk can tarnish culture, which is what the proverb “Attitude is the sign of lineage” has been telling us all along.
Many languages are spoken in Laos, although Laotian is the national and official language. We also have many ethnic groups, each of which speaks their own language. One of the problems we face is language-related because our leadership has yet to institute a grass-root, nationwide education system. In some areas, local residents have to educate themselves. Not being able to understand each other could be erroneously interpreted as lack of interest, lead to the wrong, irresponsive responses, and generate a feeling of being ignored. People in that situation would be easy to be lured into supporting the wrong cause. In addition, linguistic nuances sometimes also lead to different meanings; and when you have to guess, chances are you may be guessing wrong. One of the Lao proverbs did state, “Language is the sign of nationality; education is the sign of success.”
3. Lack of justice
The country’s administration is not based on implementation of firm laws and regulations. Even if those existed, they were rarely applied or people did not know how to apply them. When justice really means equality, it creates unity and harmony. In Laos, justice is almost non-existent because of social classes, family relationships, status, and differences in education levels. This is an open door for the use of personal power. With the lack of justice, no rule of laws, no rigid application of rules and regulations, and no morality, social issues will arise because the inexistence of individual rights. The communist regime is a regime that does not recognize personal values and, therefore, cannot be fully trusted.
The three major regimes in effect are democracy, socialism (communism), and neutralism. The major characteristics of democratic and socialist regimes are as follows:
4.1 Democratic Regime
- The supreme executive power rests with the people
- Free elections are held, and voting is fair and equitable
- People’s freedom is guaranteed in the Constitution, and rights to freedom are implemented by the National Assembly and the courts of justice
- The government must work in the best interests of the nation as a whole –not for any particular individual or political party
- Even though the people have delegated executive duties to the government, they still have the right to express their pro and con opinions vis-à-vis the government’s policies
- When a conflict arises that may have an impact on the nation, the people should be part of resolution process using the majority rule as the deciding factor
- Before the government starts implementing its executive power, it must first announce its policies to the people and closely follow those policies. If it no longer retains the people’s support through a National Assembly’s vote of confidence, the government should resign
- All citizens have the right to elect a national representative through the popular voting process, using the majority rule to decide the election results. They have the right to express their opinions on any proposals to amend the Constitution. Absent a majority support, the proposal involved will be rejected.
- Human rights are universally recognized as rights granted equally to all the citizens, regardless of their ethnic origins, sex, age, social class, etc.
4.2 Socialism (Communism)
Socialism and democracy are two different ideologies. Because it relies on political regime and economics, socialism only allows for one political party to control power and exert influence around the world during the entire 1900-1990 period. Part of the world’s population has adopted communism as their favorite regime and seriously threatened the free world. The first politician who introduced communism was V. I. Lenin of Russia, and the philosopher/economist/sociologist who wrote the Communist Manifesto in 1948 was Karl Marx of Germany. Communism does not recognize religion and, hence, religion is not practiced in a communist country. It also limits human rights –private ownership is not allowed—and supports a “classless, egalitarian and stateless society”. For all those reasons, many citizens of communist countries have immigrated to the “free” countries of the world. [Those constraints have been relaxed quite a bit following the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1985].
5.Lack of Education
Laos has developed some form of education between the end of the Second World War and the beginning of the Vietnam War. In the security-safe zones, the US had provided some education funding. Because the country from north to south was involved in a long internal war, the Lao government did not have much capability to strengthen education. Many of the Lao kids did not get any education at all, cannot read or write, even in their own native languages. Therefore, they were not able to see for themselves whether the situation in their country was good or bad; they just could not do it. They only tend to run behind those who knew “how to speak nicely”.
Some of the Lao people were lured by the communists into serving in high-ranking civil service positions, under one condition –they had to convert their constituents into supporters of the communist doctrine. Those peoples were happy to be serving in high positions and encourage their family members and relatives to support the communists without ever worrying about the impacts of their actions. As a Lao proverb put it, “They were blindfolded by their ranks.” Ranks indeed make the uneducated folks ecstatic and crazy about their power, and push many of them to fight to in the battlefield, and pull the entire country down. This was the lessons the Lao people have learned times and times again.
6. Lack of roads and communication links
Laos is a poor country that is behind in all development areas, with high mountain ranges and mountain passes that are hard and take time to cross, usually by foot and on horse-back only. When the French took control over Laos, they tried to build several highways in the northern part of the country, e.g., Highways 1 through 7, Highway 13 from Louang Prabang to the south of the country. The middle and southern regions had also several highways, e.g., Highway 8 through 12. Drivable roads were generally limited to the flat areas. In most urban areas, the roads were very dusty, did not allow for high speed rides, and were full of potholes, especially during the rainy season. Finding a car to ride on was a challenge, except for high ranking individuals or foreigners. Gas was also hard to find and was fairly expensive because the Lao currency (kip) was of relatively little value on the international market as a result of the country’s weak economic bases that supported the national bank.
The war against the French fought by the Indochinese nationalists contributed to the deterioration of the road conditions and security. Many highways in the north, central and south of the country were left without maintenance for a long time. When the US got involved in the fight against the communists during 1960-1975, they did not use the highways very much. Most of their supply operations were by air, which was a lot safer. For this reason, many high-ranking Lao officers did not attach much importance to the roads that were more often used as secret attack paths by the communists. Nevertheless, roads were a critical part of an attack plan, when moving troops in and out of the target area, and getting prepared for the defensive operation. The more familiar you are with the terrain and the road lay-out, the better chance you have to fight with the enemy.
Signs of “Behind-the-Time” Development
Countries that are behind in their development usually share the following features: lack of progress in public confidence and public administration; lack of education improvements, means of communication, political research activities, and economic development. Those countries are behind time, not prosperous, do not or cannot put a high priority to their national development plans, are not unified, are low spirited and full of self-serving egos, and lack long-range vision. Unfortunately, Laos is one of those countries that are the least developed nations in the world, struggling through several decades of internal fighting, and continuing to reshape its vision and its territorial borders. If the country can move in the right direction, the Lao people would certainly be happier and truly thankful to their leaders. But right now, things seem to be in turmoil. The more changes are taking place, the poorer the nation becomes and the more debt it owes. There is a staggering amount of money the country’s leaders have borrowed from abroad for their own or their political party’s benefits –not for the country’s development.
Conducting exploratory research and motivating the people are most critical for the country. This is why we need to have leaders that are educated and experienced, have a long-range vision on the needs of the country, and know how to reach out to the people and get their support and cooperation. They need to generate new ideas, and secure investment capitals and adequate labor force. Even when we had good leaders, if the population was uneducated, unsupportive and uninterested, not much progress would be achieved. By the same token, an educated grass-root associated with bad leaders would also lead to the same dead-end situation. A successful family is one where the parents provide good examples to their children. A nation that is led by orderly leaders stands a good chance of becoming an orderly state. By the same token, a nation that consists of unruly, unlawful, and selfish people is likely to be insecure, impolite, unsociable, and unappealing to potential economic and social donor countries.
Furthermore, Laos is a country without direct access to the sea, a small territory surrounded by a lot bigger and more populous countries. It is full of high mountain ranges, including Phou Phathi, Phou Loei, Phou Bia, and Phou Paksong (Boleven Plateau). This is a country drained by the majestic Mekong River that runs from north to south, and many other smaller but still beautiful rivers like Nam Ou, Nam Seuang, Nam Khane, Nam Lik, and Nam Ngum in the northern Laos; Name Sane, Nam Kading, and Nam Theune in central Laos; and Nam Sebangfai, Nam Sechamphone, Nam Sebanghieng, Nam Sedone, and Nam Sekong in southern Laos. These streams all lead to the picturesque and attractive Khone Pha Pheng (Lee-Phee) Falls.
Laos has many very peaceful and relaxing areas in the northern and southern part of the country. The Paksong mountain range in particular is blessed with clean air and two seasons –a dry season (sometimes marked by forest fires) and a rainy season. The cold season is practically non-existent, except in the area between northern Xieng Khouang Province and Houaphan Province. The dry season begins in November and ends in June. The rainy season begins in June and continues until the end of October. The best and most enjoyable weather occurs between November and March, when flowers bloom, temperature is cool, air is clean, and many popular festivals are organized, including the Lao New Year and the Hmong New Year. Fruits are rather scarce during this cool period, except for oranges, pomelos, and peaches. You have to wait until the end of the raining season for the most common Lao fruits to appear. During the hot season, Asian people celebrate many entertaining activities nights and days; young women use this season to dress up very nicely.
Laos enjoys a warm and decent culture. If you understand the language, no matter where you are, you will always be greeted nicely. You do not have to look for a hotel, especially in rural areas. Sanitary conditions may not be good as expected, especially with regards to mosquitoes, drinking water, flies, and food. Living conditions in rural areas are usually not as modernized as what most foreign tourists would expect to see.
Countries with good religious practices and efficient political regime are normally prosperous and secured, regardless of their sizes. Good examples are Switzerland, Japan, South-Korea and Germany. Even if they sometimes faced armed conflicts, they still have found ways to improve themselves. By contrast, Laos is a beautiful country, enriched with tons of natural resources that, so far, seemed to have been ignored. What we tend to see is a remote country, not important enough to warrant serious attention until a wider regional war broke out. When the US started the Indochina War, it felt this was the right time for them to teach a lesson to an expanding enemy. This was a decision that translated into unprecedented and extremely heavy losses for the Lao people.