Vietnam’s Civil Society Undergoing Vital Changes

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 A political vibrancy has developed that is potentially capable of navigating the repressive structural constraints and hegemonic power of the party-state.

After Doi Moi in the early 1990s, many of Vietnam’s political commentators were writing with euphoria about the prospect of a nascent civil society. They were surprised by the proliferation of non-governmental organisations and associations, the increasing freedom of the press and media due to the declining salience of state ideology, and the loosening of the state’s political control over society. The arrival of an international donors’ community with a neoliberal economic agenda to buttress the fledgling ‘civil society’ encouraged optimism about the prospect of substantive democratisation. Meanwhile, the challenge mounted by political dissidents and a number of pro-democracy activist organisations, both at home and in exile, assisted to further diversify the dimensions of civil society.

However, the hope of meaningful civil society development and democratisation was initially dismissed as liberal idealism. The elitism of — and structural ties between — civil society associations/NGOs and the party-state have contributed to the resilience of the party-state by generating a façade of state legitimacy. Additionally, liberal pro-democracy activists underestimated the repressive reaction of the party-state, both violent and non-violent, when dealing with direct political opposition. Most political opposition groups were heavily crushed and dissidents were given severe sentences. Read more here.