Anth 514 13 a essay 1 phamvandung


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liberal multiculturalism, Asia, Laos

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Anth 514 13 a essay 1 phamvandung

  1. 1. Full name: Pham Van Dung ID number: 1165976 Paper code: ANTH 514-13A Due date at FIC: 29 April 2013 Topic: Is the liberal discourse of ethnic minority rights applicable in countries other than the Western Liberal Democracies? 1. The liberal discourse of ethnic minority rights Kymlicka, a leading author of multiculturalism, mentions five factors which embed preconditions for the Western model of liberal multiculturalism, and asks questions as to whether this model applies well in societies other than Western democracies. The first factor is demography. Indigenous minorities, as the fastest-growing segment in the West, are no longer threatened by disappearance (Kymlicka, 2005, p. 31). Besides an increased number of immigrants offers a trend of nondominant groups in a democratic society (ibid, p. 32). The second factor is rights-consciousness, which resulted from the human rights revolution and struggles for human equality (ibid, p. 32). The third factor is democracy. Kymlicka asserts that the consolidation of democracy restricts the elites‟ capability to suppress political movements of the ethnic minority. It opens opportunities for a wide and multiple range of people to have a say and participate in the decision-making process (ibid, p. 33). The fourth factor is desecuritization. Western states are no longer fearful of collaboration between national minorities and neighboring enemies (ibid, p. 34). The relationship between state and minority groups becomes democratic politics instead of safety issues (ibid, p. 35). The fifth factor is liberal-democratic consensus. In the Western democracies, individual freedom and 1
  2. 2. human rights are accredited and respected by states, sub-state self-governance (if any), and their members (ibid, p. 35). For a relevant analysis and conceivable conclusion, I will apply Kymlicka‟s mentioned aspects to analyse the case of the Lao Peoples‟ Democratic Republic and suggest possible applications of the Western model to related minority rights. 2. Brief introduction of Laos The first inhabitants of Laos may be the ascendants of Lao Theung, or Kha, who have been living in mountainsides (Bowman, 2000, p. 452). Since the first century, the lowland group of „Tai‟ or Lao Loum, under pressure from the Chinese empire, migrated southwest from southern Kwangsi of China (Evans, 2002, p. 2). They conquered the indigenous groups, and called them kha, i.e. „slave‟. The conquered peoples were made subordinated and assimilated into the culture of the Tai (ibid, p. 3). The Lao Loum have since been dominating the country of the recent Lao territory for most of the time. During the mid-fourteenth century, a descendant of the chiefdom of northern Lao and Khmer royal line, Fa Ngum established the Lane Xang Kingdom and located central power in Luang Prabang (Mason, 2005, p. 187). The Isan in north-east Thailand today used to belong to Lane Xang and was influenced by Laotian in terms of language and culture. Pre-modern Lao experienced such ethnic groups as Hmong (Meo) and Yao (Iu Mien) among others migrated into Laos from China (Evans, 2002, p. 136). The monarchs of the lowland Lao (Tai speakers) paid slight attention to peripheral highland minorities before the French colonization in the 1890s. Then the French rule applied strict control over national territory. Subsequently, minorities were taken into account, and they were subjected to a new national formation (Michaud, 2009, p. 29). 2
  3. 3. After French colonial time and a domestic war, the monarchy was overthrown and the Lao People‟s Democratic Republic was established under the communist rule in 1975 (ibid, p. 288). Today Laos is a developing country in Southeast Asia. Survey results released in 1995 showed that almost three-quarters of households were in poverty, with nearly half being very poor (Mason, 2005, p. 288-9). 3. Factors affecting ethnic minority rights in Laos 3.1. Demography A relatively larger increase of minority groups and a changing identification of ethnic minorities in Laos makes it different from the West. Also, an invalid number of ethnic peoples reflects a disregard on the attitude of the contemporary government towards the minority self-naming and self-determination. Under the French administration 5 censuses were conducted from 1911 to 1942, in which 9 ethnic groups (7 groups in the 1942 Census) were listed (Pholsena, 2002, p. 176). In the 1950s, the Royal Lao Government defined three main ethnic groups based on their living locations: “Lao Lum” (valley Lao), “Lao Theung” (Lao of the mountain slopes), and “Lao Sung” (Lao of the mountaintops) (Pholsena, 2002, p. 180; Pholsena, 2006, p. 154). Under the communist regime, the 2005 Census recognized 49 ethnic groups, of which almost 55% were Lao, 11% Khmu and 8% Hmong and the rest were small groups (Tagwerker, 2009, p. 15). However, the official national listings were far from the ethnic peoples‟ self-naming and scientific application because of the political reasons for security, control and revenue system (Michaud, 2009, p. 36). Marxist–Leninist influence (Pholsena, 2002, pp. 182-3) and „Kaysone‟s Theory of Nationhood‟ (ibid, pp. 190-3) made a Census practice (ibid, pp. 185-9) and its generated number of identified ethnic groups in Laos 3
  4. 4. and elsewhere remain uncertain (ibid, p. 185). This top-down identification “greatly hampers the applicability of a liberal model of minority rights” (Pholsena, 2005, p. 91). Contrary to increasing numbers of immigrants in Western countries, Laos has experienced emigration, especially ethnic minority emigrants. Emigration in modern Lao is marked by the fleeing of the Vietnamese and a Lao-isation of the cities in 1940s. Together with revolutionaries, numerous upland Tai and various minorities settled in towns and made changes to the urban composition after 1975 (Evans, 2002, p. 177). The communist harsh policies and worsened economic conditions caused an exodus of approximately 10% of the Lao population (Tagwerker, 2009, p. 19). The evacuation of merchants and the middle class and the execution of the old elite simplified Lao‟s social arrangement (Evans, 2002, p. 202). 3.2. Rights-consciousness Ethnic minority peoples in Laos and in many Asian countries as well face harsh conditions for their equal opportunity to participate in the national politics though the idea of human equality is apparent, at least officially nowadays (Kymlicka, 2005, p. 32). Despite the formal recognition of the “multiethnic Lao culture”, it is doubtful of the stereotypical representation introduced by the majority culture, which judges “good” ethnic Lao people in terms of savoir-vive (the way to behave in a society) and savoir-etre (how to define oneself) (Pholsena, 2006, p. 61). Reality is different from the official rhetoric of „politics of ethnicity‟ due to the fact which is that the top dominating leaders in Laos come from lowland or the Lao majority (Evans, 2002, p. 212). In Lao political culture, the phu nyai, or the „big man‟, and his unstable supporters have existed for a long time (Evans, 2002, p. 105). Since the party leader Kaysone‟s death in 1992, the polity has kept „the Kaysone cult‟ and the totalitarian 4
  5. 5. domain (Evans, 2002, p. 206-8), while opposition political parties or substantial representative bodies of ethnic minorities are not accepted (Mason, 2005, p. 289). To cope with new threats, in the 1990s the governmental cultural agencies worked on xenophobic statements for the defence and protection of „traditional and beautiful Lao culture‟ (Evans, 2002, p. 205). The promotion of Lao–Tai identity has been forcefully made to be the national cultural norm over multiple ethnicities in Laos. The government imposed the national language on the basis of Lao scripts while ignoring that of the non-Lao minorities (Michaud, 2009, p. 33). Therefore, in this context, expression and promotion of the values of the groups other than the majority Lao would be discouraged, or at least disregarded. For the sake of the current rulers, the state-centric view represents a distortion of earlier periods (Scott, 2010, p. 32), while disregarding an important role and an inherent allotment of the minorities (Evans, 2002, p. 134). Recent school texbook and publications amplify the “Ai-Lao ancestors” with the myth of a several thousand-year-old kingdom and civilization (Pholsena, 2006, p. 81). On the other hand, education officials blame the impossibility of teaching in minority languages and dialects on the weakness of minorities (Tagwerker, 2009, p. 36). This ethnic view endorses the legitimacy of the existing social order by overemphasizing the dominant group with their „technologies of power‟ and a presumed natural order (Pholsena, 2002 p. 175; Pholsena, 2006, p. 95). 3.3. Democracy In contrast to the democratic principles, totalitarian states enforce illegalization of all civil society entities, i.e. political foundations, research and publication institutes who appeal for any autonomy from the state (Evans, 2002, p. 179). A story of “Heroic Village” (Pholsena, 5
  6. 6. 2006, pp. 121-138) illustrates a factual misrepresentation and a poor participation given to ethnic minorities under the post-war revolutionary government. Without proper representation, ethnic minority people would hardly voice up and participate in decision making process. Governments often impose resettlement as a strategy to uproot minority groups and to gain more control over them while consensus is ignored. Michaud (2009) challenges the notion of indigenous peoples in Southeast Asian Massif that it is not utterly appropriate because several highland groups are recently migrants to their current settlement (p. 37). Moreover, for the sake of economic growth and national security, about one million people, or one-fifth of the total Lao population had been relocated by the year 2000 (ibid, p. 41). Ill-managed dam building, military logging and mandatory resettlement often cause problems to highland ethnic groups, and those cases are revealed and objected to by international NGOs (Evans, 2002, p. 216). Government officials do not acknowldege and encourage local traditional land tenure and customary land rights which affect the practical management of the soil (Michaud, 2009, p. 43). Shortage of consent, poor preparation and lack of proper support often cause the lives of the resettled minorities to worsen, and even to become impoverished (Evans, 2002, p. 213). 3. 4. Desecuritization While relatively more developed and stable ethnic policies exist in the Western countries, the Lao communist government failed to introduce explicit and helpful national policies for the mid- and upland ethnic minorities and let them be exposed to additional pressures and dangers (Michaud, 2009, p. 29). Endogenous clan enmities and problematic relationships between ethnic groups made highland politics more complicated and insecure (Evans, 2002, 6
  7. 7. p. 138). In this situation, the rulers cannot be sure about an attainable trust and loyalty from ethnic minorities. Resentment may lead the relations between the state and minorities to become a security concern rather than democratic politics. The communist military crusade against the Hmong became worse at times and even cruelty was commited in „ethnic cleansing‟. In an ethnic resistance, many people were killed and mistreated in 1978 (Evans, 2002, p. 187). There was further conflict beyond the land disputes and resettlement problems between the Hmong and the Lao in early 2003 (ibid, p. 222). Therefore there is still silent resentment and sporadic combats against the government still occur. Less noticeable but relatively major minorities such as the Khamu are discreetly keeping their discontent as well (Evans, 2002, p. 213). 3.5. Liberal-democratic consensus In contrast to the Western society, Laos, as well as several countries in Asia entail the idea of „civilizing the margins‟ which originated from the linkage between precolonial hierarchies and post colonial dogmas. The government places the civilized groups at the center to practice paternalistic control over disadvantaged minorities and exclude efforts of the marginal people‟s self-government (He & Kymlicka, p. 8-9). Southeast Asian examples provided by Miller (2011) reveals that mono-ethnic character and nation-building projects are promoted at the expense of minority marginalization (p. 755-7). The characteristic traits of a minority culture should be preserved according to proclaimed policy, however, a mainstream concept of „mass culture‟ has practically pervaded in Laos (Tagwerker, 2009, p. 21). Freedom of religion remains a questionable issue in Laos. Buddhism has been rooted in Laos for a long time and has gained great influence in the society. The recovery of Buddhism may broaden the gap between the dominant Tai-Lao and the ethnic minorities who are mostly non7
  8. 8. Buddhist (Pholsena, 2005, p. 97). The party officials assert that traditional animist rituals are “backward practices” and have negative impact on the national and multiethnic solidarity, productivity and life (Pholsena, 2006, p. 71-2). This formal attitude obviously obstructs people‟s choices of belief, values and identity. 4. Conclusion Similar to many countries outside the Western democracies, Laos is distinct in terms of her different history and socio-political context in comparison to that of the West. The western preconditions for a liberal application of ethnic rights have not been obtainable in Laos. However, improvements and changes are possible as long as Laos integrates more and more profoundly into the interdependent world and is challenged by the universal values of cultural diversity and minority rights. To redress shortcomings of ethnic recognition in Laos, Michaud (2009) calls for a genuine ethnic subdivision and suitable ethnonyms so as to meet the demand for ethnic concensus (p. 43). Miller (2011a) from his analysis of the „East West citizenship dichotomies‟ (p. 803) and differentiation of the civic from the ethnic citizenship (pp. 803-7), suggests a constructive and fair application of civic solidarity and nation building to accommodate ethnic minority rights (ibid, p. 809). 8
  9. 9. References Bowman, John S., 2000. Columbia Chronologies of Asian History and Culture. New York: Columbia University Press. Evans, Grant, 2002. A short history of Laos: The land in between. Crows Nest NSW: Allen&Unwin. He, Baogang and W. Kymlicka, 2005. “Introduction”, in Kymlicka, W. and Baogang He, Multiculturalism in Asia, Oxford, Oxford University Press. Kymlicka, W. 2005. “Liberal Multiculturalism: Western Models, Global Trends, and Asian Debates”, in Kymlicka, W. and Baogang He (eds): Multiculturalism in Asia, Oxford: Oxford University Press. Mason C., 2005. A short history of Asia, New York NY: Palgrave Macmillan. Michaud, Jean, 2009. Handling mountain minorities in China, Vietnam and Laos: from history to current concerns, Asian Ethnicity, 10:1, 25-49 Miller, Michelle Ann, 2011. Introduction – Ethnic minorities in Asia: inclusion or exclusion?, Ethnic and Racial Studies, 34:5, 751-761. Miller, Michelle Ann, 2011a. Why scholars of minority rights in Asia should recognize the limits of Western models, Ethnic and Racial Studies, 34:5, 799-813 Pholsena, Vatthana, 2002. Nation/Representation: Ethnic Classification and Mapping Nationhood in Contemporary Laos, Asian Ethnicity, 3:2, 175-197. Pholsena, Vatthana, 2005. “A liberal model of minority rights for an illiberal multiethnic state? The case of the Lao PDR”, in Kymlicka, W. and Baogang He (eds): Multiculturalism in Asia, Oxford: Oxford University Press. Pholsena, Vatthana, 2006. Post-war Laos: The politics of culture, history and identity. New York: Cornell Univertisy Press. Scott, James C., 2010. The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia. New Haven: Yale University Press. Tagwerker, Edeltraud, 2009. Siho and Naga: Lao Textiles: Reflecting a People's Tradition and Change. Frankfurt: Peter Lang AG. 9