On April 8, 2008, 118 Vietnamese dissidents signed a document titled “The Manifesto on Freedom and Democracy in Vietnam”. This can be considered the unifying foundation for Vietnam’s current democracy movement by activists after their individual struggle during the 80’s and 90’s. After the initial 118 activists, almost 2000 more added their signature to the Manifesto, creating a turning point for Vietnamese democracy movement:
First, abandoning their individual struggle, Vietnamese dissidents and democracy activists have now courageously and publicly expressed their position and plan through this Manifesto, and have presented a most unifying front so far.
Second, Group 8406 is considered a democratic force that can no longer be suppressed like a few years ago, though it must still organize in secret and is often attacked.
Third, the appearance of Bloc 8406, led by Father Nguyen Van Ly, Mr Do Nam Hai, Mr Tran Kim Anh, professor Nguyen Chinh Ket, etc., has opened the door for a slew of opposition forces in Vietnam, namely Vietnam Progression Party, Vietnam Populist Party, People’s Democratic Party, Association of Former Political Prisoners, The Alliance for Democracy and Human Rights in Vietnam, Vietnam Worker & Farmer Union.
Since its public appearance, Bloc 8406 has been constantly harassed and oppressed by the Vietnamese authorities: a 7-year jail sentence for Father Nguyen Van Ly, isolation of Father Phan Van Loi , psychological harassment of Do Nam Hai … but they cannot stop the group’s influence from spreading. In the past 2 years, Bloc 8406 has created a strong fighting spirit among many constituents, especially among people demanding land compensation and among college students, young people and many intellectuals. Thanks to this, the struggle in Vietnam has taken two significant steps since 2007.
The first step is to raise the spirit of people demanding land compensation in the North as well as in the South. The most fervent among them are all signatories of the Manifesto on Democracy and Human Rights in Vietnam. A 27-day demonstration since June 2007 by more than 1000 people in front of the National Assembly building in Saigon has unnerved Hanoi. This struggle has encouraged more people to continue to demand justice in other places besides Hanoi and Saigon. People in Can Tho denounced the corruption of many officials resulting in the firing last November of 6 officials including the local assistant secretary-general and the province chief. Recent demonstrations in Tien Giang also forced the local government to admit to mistakes and to pledge to consider the people’s demands. No one can yet believe in communist official promises but their admission is a victory that will encourage people to press further in the future.
The 2nd step is the anti-China movement among students, intellectuals and artists regarding the occupation of Paracel & Spratly islands. Like people demanding justice in land compensation, the most fervent activists in the anti-China movement and in the human rights movement surrounding APEC in Hanoi and Vietnam admission to WTO in November 2006, are all members of Bloc 8406. Thanks to this alliance, many intellectuals, young people and students can continue the struggle started by Bloc 8406 founders. Of special significance are the bloggers among these activists who broke through the information firewall imposed by Hanoi, allowing news of the struggle to quickly spread among the country activists and to the Vietnamese overseas communities.
Two years is indeed a long time for a people yearning for freedom and democracy; but for an opposition movement it is but a short period of consolidation. Considering the influence of the Bloc 8406 on Vietnamese activists and its high publicity on the international scene – similar to the Czech Charter 77 – its appearance is a timely answer for the movement. The Czech Charter 77 were continuously attacked for 5 years after its birth in 1977, but became the main opposition to the Czech communist party since 1985 when the political situation in Eastern Europe started to change. The leaders of Bloc 8406 such as Mr Do Nam Hai, Father Nguyen Van Ly, father Phan Van Loi … have been severely oppressed by the Vietnamese Communist Party the last 2 years, but unlike the Czech Charter 77, Bloc 8406 can still exercise influence on the Vietnamese political scene, thanks to the enduring demonstrations of their members inside labor, intellectual and student groups. This indeed is the Bloc 8406 most important strengths.
On Bloc 8406’s 2nd anniversary (08/04/2006 – 08/04/2008), I want to express my admiration for the courageous group leaders and founders. They have moved the fight for democracy from many individual efforts into a unified movement for a free and democratic Vietnam.
April 4 2008