Saturday, November 27, 2010
Let's hope Laos hangs on to its identity
Raising King Anouvong's statue in the Laotian capital Vientiane could either be seen as a direct challenge to Thailand's superior status or a strong message calling on its citizens to be brave and its ruling regime to stand firm in the face of dominance from all directions.
It is interesting that the Marxist-Leninist regime chose to use ancient kings instead of communist icons and contemporary heroes for its state-building endeavour. This could possibly be because the Laotians worship kingly spirits - they would never bow to a commoner.
Before King Anouvong, Laotian authorities put up King Fa Ngum's statue in January 2003 as a memorial to the great unifier of the Lan Xang Kingdom in the 14th century.
Statues of old kings are not new to Vientiane. There's already one of King Xetthathirat, who moved the capital city from Luang Prabang to Vientiane 450 years ago, and King Sisavang Vong, who played a part in the country gaining independence from the French.
The newest statue of King Anouvong, meanwhile, tells the story of a brave struggle against Siamese conquerors during his reign from 1805 to 1828.
King Anouvong took the throne when the Lan Xang kingdom was a part of the Siamese kingdom and he decided to shake off the yoke when, on a visit to Bangkok, he saw the harshness meted out to Lao prisoners. History has it that he personally was treated badly while attending King Rama II's funeral.
Though he lost the battle against Siam, King Anouvong became a national hero and legend for the Lao people, even though in the Thai point of view, he was a mere rebel. The Siamese army ransacked the Lao capital, causing the downfall of the Lan Xang kingdom.
The ruling Lao People's Revolutionary Party put up the statue as a memorial to the great king 182 years later and to mark the capital city's 450 years.
The 8-metre statue faces the west, gazing across the mekong River at Thailand. His left hand holds up a sword, as his right hand points forward.
The Laotian government explained that the statue is meant to look like the king is mobilising his troops, but the costume is that of peaceful times. The king's belt features the Naga, which is a Buddhist symbol of peace.
Government officials said the statue depicted King Anouvong as a brave king who never surrendered to Siamese dominance and is meant to remind the citizens that the country needs a leader like him.
Laos is a tiny country surrounded by big ones - Thailand is in the west, Vietnam in the east and the giant China in the north.
A balance of power among the major powerhouses is the only key for its survival.
These days, China is pouring a lot of resources into Laos in terms of grants, financial aid, soft loans and investment. It is difficult to resist an influx of Chinese people and cultural influence into Laos.
Meanwhile, Vietnam's influence over the ruling party is also difficult to resist because they share a common history of struggling for independence. As for Thailand, it is practically a blood brother and has influenced Laos economically, socially and culturally for a long time.
Let's hope that King Anouvong helps the brave Laotians protect their tiny nation from being taken over by others. Editorial, The Nation, Bangkok