Post-War Laos: The Politics of Culture, History and Identity

Post-War Laos: The Politics of Culture, History and Identity

Post-War Laos: The Politics of Culture, History and Identity

Post-War Laos: The Politics of Culture, History and Identity

Synopsis

More than a quarter of century after the end of the war in 1975, the Lao leadership is still in search for a compelling nationalist narration. Its politics of culture and representation appear to be caught between the rhetoric of preservation and the desire for modernity. Meanwhile, originating from the periphery where ethnic minorities had hitherto been symbolically, politically and administratively confined, the participation of some of their members in the Indochina Wars (1945-75) exposed these individuals to socialization and politicization processes. This rigorously researched and cogently argued book is a fine-grained analysis of substantial ethnographic material, showing the politics of identity, the geographies of memory and the power of narratives of some members of ethnic minority groups who fought during the Vietnam War in the Lao People's Liberation Army and/or were educated within the revolutionary administration. No study has ever been conducted on the latter's views on the national(ist) project of the late socialist era. Their own perceptions of their membership of the nation have been overlooked. Post-War Laos is a set to be a landmark study, and an original contribution which refines established theories of nationalism, such as Anderson's 'imagined community', by addressing a common weakness: namely, their tendency to deny agency to individuals, who in fact interpret their relationship to, and place within, the nation in a variety of ways that may change according to time and circumstance.

Excerpt

I have no direct memories of my father's country. Like thousands of Lao, my parents left in the late 1970s after the Communists took power, and settled in France. For a long time, Laos remained a distant country for me. But it was there that I found myself drawn to the issues of ethnicity and nationalism; like many others, I was fascinated by the country's linguistic and cultural mosaic and its turbulent history. Two initial, broad research aims eventually unfolded: first, how might sentiments of national consciousness be created in a complex society (such as Laos)? And, second, which form of "nation" would develop in a non-Western, post-colonial and multi-ethnic country (such as Laos)? My interest was heightened by Laos' turbulent history, especially from the late nineteenth century onwards. Laos, like Vietnam and Cambodia, is a former French colony. the country was entangled in the turmoil of the Second World War and the Japanese occupation of the region, which irremediably damaged the "prestige" of French colonial power. Laos was first declared independent in September 1945 (after the surrender of the Japanese and before the return of the French), an arrangement to be replaced less than a year later, in May 1946, with the status of a unified constitutional monarchy within the French Union.

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