Monday, 23 August 2010

Hammer and sickle floating in Vientiane

Thirty-five years ago today the communist movement Pathet Lao seized power from the royal government of King Savang Vatthana and declared the Lao capital Vientiane "officially liberated". The King formally abdicated on 2nd December and the Lao People's Democratic Republic was proclaimed, with the Lao People's Revolutionary Party as the only legal political party. This put an official end to decades of civil war, even if Hmong tribes continued fighting the new regime for years to come. Actually the victory of the Pathet Lao owed much to the intervention of foreign actors in Lao affairs, namely North Vietnam and the US, rather than to its own fighting capacity or popular support. Indeed, although the Lao civil conflict had its own roots, the country became engulfed in the Vietnam War as North Vietnamese troops channeled aid to the Vietcongs through Laos and supported the Lao communist rebellion, while US planes dropped illegally an estimated 260 million bombs, making Laos the most heavily bombed country in the world. Following the fall of Saigon in April 1975 and the withdrawal of the US from the Indochina peninsula, it became clear Cambodia and Laos would be the next dominoes to fall, to use Eisenhower's expression.

Nowadays Laos remains a communist regime. Even if from 1986 onward it moved towards a free market economy, economic liberalisation was not accompanied by political reforms. Therefore Laos is one of the few countries in the world where one can still see myriads of communist flags not only on public buildings but also on the windows and balconies of people's dwellings as this picture taken near the corner of Thanon Setthathirat and Thanon Khoun Boulom illustrates.


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