(Remarks at the Gala diner of the Forum 2000, 9 october 2017 by Nguyen Quang A )
His Excellency Minister Daniel Herman, thank you for your kind introduction
Ladies and gentlemen,
It is great privilege for me tonight to talk to you on some legacies of two great men, who contributed significantly to the process of democratization in Vietnam. One is the greatest reformist thinker of Vietnam and the other is late President Vaclav Havel, the founder of this Forum 2000.
Maybe you have never heard of Phan Châu Trinh. He was born on 9th September 1872, and passed away on 24th March 1926. From 1905 to 1907 he developed his ideas of non-violent struggle for democracy and popular rights (now human rights) in Vietnam to which I’ll return later on. The tax-protest riots erupted in central of Vietnam in 1908. In spite of the fact that Phan Chau Trinh insisted on non-violent methods, he was accused of inciting the public to join in the revolt and he was arrested and condemned to death. Due to the intervention of the Ligue des Droits de l’Homme the death sentence was changed to life imprisonment and later on to house arrest in a village, then he was released in 1910 and deported to France. From April 1911 he spent fourteen years in exile. He returned to Saigon in 1925 and died on 24 March 1926.
Phan Chau Trinh’s ideas to fight for democracy and human rights can be summarized concisely in his 5 policies (slogans) which we, the Civil Society Forum (CSF), adopted as ours:
- Building Democracy (means the followings):
- Exercise the People’s Rights
- Invigorate the People’s Spirit
- Broaden the People’s Mind
- Enrich the People’s Well-being
Phan Chau Trinh was an astonishing modern thinker of modernization. Let’s start with his fourth and fifth policies from the bottom: Enrich the People’s Well-being and Broaden the People’s Mind. They were not only his thoughts, he started a program to put them into the practice. By establishing schools, associations, enterprises and encouraging other people to do so, he himself made an example to the others to create the so called “action resources” described in detail by Chistian Welzel in his book Freedom Rising published in 2013: material resource (equipment, tools, and income), intellectual resource (knowledge, skills, and information) and connective resource (networks of exchange and contact interface) in the basic, fundamental level [Ch. Welzel, p. 46].
In a recent essay early this year, I mapped ideas of Phan Chau Trinh more than a century ago with new theories of modernization of Donald Inglehart and Christian Welzel. I have shown that those notions correspond to one-to-one manners (the fourth and fifth policies to action resources) and that the values generated by the third policy of Phan, “Invigorate the People’s Spirit”, corresponds to the Welzel’s emancipative values in the next, motivational level, these values promote and encourage the social movement activities (in an upper level of action, expressed by the second policy). And these social movement activities (correspond to the second policy “Exercise the People’s Rights), which give rise to the constant pressure on the authorities to provide legal guarantees for freedoms and ensure that those freedoms are respected in the daily life, that is, those freedoms are entitlements or citizen’s rights at the top level (that empowerment process is the essence of democratization which can be done partially even in the middle of a dictatorial regime and have to be done even in the mature democracies since the number of those human rights that can become entitlements are infinite). This thick and vibrant civil society is crucial to maintain the democracy, and that has been recognized well by Vaclav Havel when he served as the President.
Phan Chau Trinh was a firm and consistent non-violent fighter for democracy and human rights. He adopted the nonviolent methods as early as 1905, at the same time as Mahatma Gandhi (1906); Phan was 3 years younger than Gandhi. This coincidence may not be a surprise, I think, because both of them have been heavily influenced by non-violent ideas of Indian thoughts expressed few thousands years ago, for example, in the Buddha’s teachings which are disseminated by Dalai Lama and zen-master Thich Nhat Hanh in our time.
Non-violence is one of the principles guiding our activities in Vietnam civil society in general, and in CSF in particular.
We follow 9 principles (or core values) in the struggle to transform peacefully the post-totalitarian regime in Vietnam into a true democracy. These are:
- Legality: CSF and its members act legally, respect the laws, do not oppose the state, any one or any organization. The legality here is understood as the conformity with the international treaties Vietnam has joined, with the constitution, laws and other state regulations not contradicting the higher ones (in the following strict order specified by Vietnam Constitution and laws: the international treaties, the constitution, laws, decrees by government, circulars by line-ministries). In other words, legality includes disobedience of state regulations which are in contradiction with the international treaties, constitution, laws, …
- Autonomy: all members of CSF have equal rights and obligations in the operation of CSF, no one can ask a member to do what that member does not want. Each member (or group of members) acts autonomously with its creativity, its initiative in its own way in order to achieve the objective of CSF but must accept the core values and principle of CSF and this does not exclude joint-activities.
- True name: all members of CSF use true names in CSF’s activities; pen-name is acceptable if it can identify clearly the pen-name holder. No pseudo name or false name is accepted in CSF’s activities. Keeping integrity is paramount requirement.
- Openness: CSF is open and acts publicly. Nothing needs to be hidden. This also applies to each member in CSF’s activities.
- Non-violence: CSF and its members strictly adhere to non-violence. Non-violence has two aspects. First, CSF and its members do not use any violent means to achieve its goal. Second, CSF and its members use all non-violent and legal measures in their activities and jointly with other people or organizations to convince those advocating violence to abandon their violent policy in order to prevent violent activities of any one or any organization. Violence also includes bad, hate speeches, other forms of inciting violence, … and have to be avoided.
- Tolerance: the principle to accept and respect different opinions, those of the minorities in particular, has to be observed strictly.
- Truthful: All information needs to be crosschecked to ensure that it is as precise as possible. Distortion, falsification, counterfeit, lies are not acceptable.
- Trust: To trust each other is an important principle. It does not encourage any procedure or measure causing doubtfulness. CSF does not fear infiltration of any forces (including the security forces). Their membership is even welcome if they accept the objectives, values and principles of CSF as any other member.
- Solidarity: the spirit of solidarity is maintained in actions of groups as well as CSF as a whole; solidarity with other groups or organizations, specially when a member of those groups or anyone has been harassed or maltreated.
CSF is not a hierarchical organization, it is a network, a self-organizing network sharing common values, principles and goals. It encourages overlapping, i.e. one person can be a member of several groups.
Needless to say that in the above mentioned goals, values, and principles you can find so many features of several civil society organizations of former communist countries in central and eastern Europe, specially those of Poland and the Czechoslovakia such as KOR, Charter 77. In fact, in formulating the objectives, values and principles of CSF we first have learned a lot from the great thinkers of this region such as Vaclav Havel, Adam Michnik, Jacek Kuron and only later on found our own largely forgotten treasures in thoughts of Phan Chu Trinh. That is a shameful confession from my part, but it is a reality, and it shows that the ideas of Phan Chau Trinh, Vaclav Havel, Adam Michik, Jacek Kuron and other thinkers are universal and their legacies are worth to preserve.
Thank you for your attention.