Poet Huu Loan:
A Sad Comparison
As a prelude to the Conference of French Speaking Countries in Hanoi later this year, the Vietnamese Program of Radio France International has held a writing contest on past and present relations between the two countries. Following is the submission of poet Nguyen Huu Loan, a pillar of the Giai Pham Magazine and one of the most unfortunate victims during the Vietnamese Communist Party's purges of intellectuals in the 50s and 60s in northern Vietnam. The Nhan Van Giai Pham affair, as it is known today, continues to haunt the Party Politburo and its credibility in the current calling for cooperation from intellectuals.
Forever speaking the truth without much attention to the pending punishments, Huu Loan, renowned in the 50s with his short story "Upside-down Waves" and poem "Those Flatterers Again," illustrated that in the independent Vietnam today, civil rights and human rights are not even on par with those in the colonial era. Again, the poet questioned the Party's claim of serving the Vietnamese people.
"A variety of freedoms did exist even under the colonial regime. Let me list a number of memorable points in the French-occupied Vietnam that still remain in the memory of this slave:
First, freedom of election. Most administrative offices were subject to popular vote. The provincial French officials simply played umpires. Other lesser [Vietnamese] officials dared not accept bribes. People can sue and even impeach officials from their positions. Corrupted officials were scorned by everyone. Corruption resulting in loss of lives was treated even worse. One such district official in Hue city was made known to the whole country.
Second, freedom of the press and expression. Private individuals were allowed to set up their own papers. They refused to accept government subsidy. Among these papers were the famous Nam Phong (Southern Wind) Magazine, Dan Ba (Women) Magazine, Phu Nu Thoi Dam (Women's Contemporary Discussion) Magazine, Tieng Dan (People's Voice) Newspaper, Phong Hoa Ngay Nay (Today's Custom) Newspaper, etc. Among the well-respected writers and reporters were Pham Quynh, Nguyen Van Vinh, Phan Khoi, Thuy An, Huynh Thuc Khang, etc.
Candidates to any position must take qualifying exams. Those with talents would pass. Workers' salaries were enough to pay for their livings and some for their savings. A teacher of two classes, preliminary and preparation, earned 12 piasters a month, equivalent to 2 "chi" of gold today.
Students did not have to pay tuition. Only higher education would cost them a few piasters a month. Good students were awarded scholarships, even scholarships to study in France.
Sick people were given medicine without pay at district dispensaries. Provincial hospitals had reserved areas for poor patients who received treatment and food for free. These hospitals were known as charity hospitals. Today, medical ethics has long disappeared. Hospitals everywhere take patients' money but make no effective treatments.
The French colonial regime was horrible indeed, but it is still a far dream for people under regimes that are thumping their chest bragging about independence [and turn around oppressing their own people]."
Thanh Hoa, Vietnam