National Assembly Chairwoman Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan, on January 14, told the artists at the 10th Congress of the Vietnam Union of Literature and Art Associations for the 2020-2025 term, that these associations need to continue customary fully and deeply follow the Party’s line and guidelines, especially the Resolution of the 13th Congress of the Party and the resolutions of the Politburo.
At the same time, Ms. Ngan also affirmed that the Party and State are always ready to create the best conditions for literary and artistic creation.
Tightening the freedom of writing artists
Literary critic, translator Pham Xuan Nguyen, former chairman of the Hanoi Writers Association, said that Kim Ngan’s speech was nothing short of strange. Adherence to the cultural and artistic lines of the Communist Party is a mandatory requirement for each artist. It is this requirement that causes many difficulties for the artists:
“The first is that in Vietnam, the Vietnamese government is led by the Communist Party and they have the Party’s cultural and artistic lines, which are thoroughly grasped in all cultural and artistic activities.
It is also a challenging requirement for the artists and writers standing between the creative freedom of the artist, the personality of the artist, and the request of a Party organization. But I think that as good artists, they will find ways to overcome so they can have good works, the artist’s own creativity.”
Writer Vo Thi Hao, who announced her resignation from the Vietnam Writers Association in 2015, told Free Asia station from Berlin, Germany, that she was quite surprised that Kim Ngan who is the chairwoman of the National Assembly representing voters’ interests of oversight over the judiciary and executive system but went to the congress to address as if on behalf of the General Secretary or Head of the Central Commission for Propaganda and Education, directing those deep understanding policies and resolutions of the Party. According to Ms. Hao, this shows that the state is trying to tighten the freedom of writing artists:
“As we can also see that the resolutions and policies of the Party up to now have nothing but to limit the freedom of composition and speech of the artists, as well as the Vietnamese people.
The direction has been rough so far, but especially this time, the Chairwoman of the National Assembly is too enthusiastic about praising the Party’s merit to the artists and writers, as well as directing to follow the resolution, this is a symptom that is perhaps a period of more intense tightening than the limited freedom of writing by artists.”
According to statistics, the number of artists belonging to the Vietnam Union of Literary and Art Associations is more than 40,000 people. Writer Vo Thi Hao said that Vietnamese writers or writers are too slavery and selfish, and few people dare to speak up for the injustices and problems of society:
“Through the statistics that this congress gave, currently in Vietnam there are more than 40,000 artists in all field, it is too sad. Why are up to 40,000 writers and artists, but the number of people who dare to speak up honestly about corruption, repression, injustice, and injustice in Vietnam is so small.
On the occasion of the writers’ congress, there were many opinions expressing disregard for Vietnamese artists, and I think they despise it as justified.
A prerequisite of an artist-writer is to have the spirit of enlightenment, self-esteem, integrity, care for the community and the country. Those things, the Vietnamese artists and artists are too few.”
Strongly suppressing independent writers and artists
A few independent writers and artists dare to speak up about problems of social injustice, most of them face repression and harassment on many levels from the authorities.
Typical is the harassment against the members of the Committee for Mobilization of the Independent Confederation of Writers, established in 2014. One of the three main missions of this organization is to “protect all legitimate and spiritual material and spiritual interests of the membership, especially the freedom to compose and publish works, as well as the freedom of everyone to access literary works.”
Writer Vo Thi Hao is also a member of the advocacy committee of the group, said that since its establishment, the government has taken many actions to pressure, prevent and sabotage many activities of the group.
“The members of the Committee for Mobilization of the Independent Confederation of Writers always face danger, but still brave enough to keep it independent. It must be said that there are the wisdom and experience of writer Nguyen Ngoc, who has a lot of experience to fight for relative independence to survive with the strangulation of Vietnamese creative freedom. Their meetings are always under police guard, and that is also a tacit threat.
I also greatly admire the brothers and sisters who dared to be brave for Van Viet (the website of the Committee for Mobilization of the Independent Confederation of Writers) for a long time.
In March 2018, the Central Commission for Propaganda and Education issued a written request to the Ministry of Education and Training to withdraw all works of the authors participating in the Committee for Mobilization of the Independent Confederation of Writers from the new literature textbook program, on the grounds that “The construction of a new general education program must follow the Party’s orientation.”
Freelance writer and retired journalist Pham Thanh, owner of the blog “Bà Đầm Xoè,” was arrested in May 2019. Six months later, he was transferred from Hoa Lo detention center to the Central Mental Forensic Institute for medical examination.
In 2019, Mr. Pham Thanh self-published a book criticizing the General Secretary and President of Vietnam, titled “Nguyễn Phú Trọng: Thế thiên hành đạo hay Đại nghịch bất đạo” (Nguyen Phu Trong: Holder of Mandate of Heaven or Great Immoral Traitor).
Recently, on January 8, the People’s Daily, the Party’s mouthpiece, published an article titled “Shading to spread knowledge to incite and destroy the country” with content criticizing the artist Dua Leo for seeking to incite and divide the great national unity bloc, in order to influence the people’s confidence in the Party and the State to distract from the dark purposes of hostile forces.” The article also threatened the artist.
The stand-up comedian Dưa Leo regularly makes and posts videos on YouTube with the aim of providing cultural, social, and historical knowledge to young Vietnamese. He himself also asserted that he did not make clips with political content.
Wasting propaganda budget for the Party
Each year, the state allocates VND85 billion ($3.7 million) from the state budget to the Vietnam Union of Art and Literature Associations for its operations. In addition, there are also the literary and artistic associations of provinces and centrally-run cities that are funded with operating funds from the local budget.
According to writer Vo Thi Hao, the sum of VND85 billion is mainly to maintain a cumbersome administrative apparatus of the Literature and Arts associations. It is a wasteful expenditure. Instead, Vietnam should learn from other democratic and developed countries in the world so that the artistic associations can sell their own works, or raise private funds for their operations:
“I think that the state should not subsidize the Literature and Arts associations, but learn how developed countries, democratic countries, such as Germany or America.
But if the state is authoritarian, one-party, the state continues to a subsidy for those associations because they are just an extended arm of the party’s Propaganda, the Party uses them to restrain the freedom of writing and artists.
Mr. Tran Khanh Chuong, chairman of the Vietnam Fine Arts Association also said that if the State removes subsidies for literary and artistic associations, no one will be able to compose topics for political services.
Literary critic Pham Xuan Nguyen also disagrees that the state continues to subsidize such organizations. According to him, Vietnam should have a law to form associations so that private groups can be formed and operated on their own without the need for a state budget:
“In Vietnam, there are no private associations, but every association that wants to be formed must be licensed by the state. The state that allows it to operate will also have to finance it. So, recently there are many opinions that it is necessary to have a law on the association. Currently, there is no law to establish an association.
And when there is a law to form associations, individuals can form associations and operate according to the law, and of course, the state does not have to subsidize money for them, so they must create their own costs legally. We must let the associations find ways to raise funds for their operations, the state should not provide money.”
The Law on Association Establishment was drafted by the Government over 10 years ago, but the Government has repeatedly requested to delay submission to the National Assembly for approval.
In June 2017, the draft Law on Associations was expected to be passed by vote but was once again withdrawn from the working agenda of the National Assembly. According to the government, this is a “complicated, poor preparation” project, so it should be postponed. Since then, the National Assembly has not seen this issue discussed again.