Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Communism for the Modern Bourgeois Capitalist

In Graham Greene’s novel, The Quiet American, the British journalist warns Alden Pyle, the naïve American diplomat/CIA spy, about his shallow comprehension of the situation in Viet Nam, as if to suggest that history, not ideology, is at the heart of Hanoi’s fight. Thirty years later, I think that many scholars and researchers of the region would agree. Ho’s ambitions were much more rooted in nationalism and land reform than in a desire to emulate the Soviet industrial complex. Economically speaking, since the so-called Dark Years preceding the mid-1980s, Hanoi has opened its markets, replacing Karl Marx with Adam Smith. The south, however, has had a much easier time adapting to these changes than the north. The writer and journalist David Lamb describes Saigon as having the “soul of a hustler” or an entrepreneur, while Hanoi seems to be content with its poets and thinkers. I’ll save my reflections on Viet Nam’s version of Communism for later, but its inconsistencies and ambivalent relationship with its political system remind me of my confusion with Tashkent’s version of “democracy”. Which leads me to the subject of this week’s missive—Islam Karimov, the president of Uzbekistan, and his jacked-up system of government.

The central Asian states were not exactly eager at the prospect of full independence from Moscow when the Soviet Union broke up. Contrary to the eastern bloc and the European/Caucasian states, the central Asian republics seemed more or less content with their status, as long as ethnic Russians didn’t run the secretariats and parties at the republic-level. Following independence, all of the presidents of the new states were—surprise—former Communist Party bosses, with the exception of the Kyrgyz leader, and we all know where he is now. Er, we know where he is not. The point is that the same men who had grown up studying Marxist economics and Informatics were now calling themselves democrats and trying to get into the World Trade Organization and the Paris Club. Still, intentions and memberships don’t mean much if you only allow Coca-Cola and Nestle into the country, while adhering to a non-convertible currency policy. Complete lack of transparency, rampant corruption and regionalism are no substitute for a command economy. While Karimov claims that the latest violence in the Ferghana Valley, our old neighborhood, is the work of radical Islamists, those of us who study the region know it’s much more complicated than that (unless you’re Fred Starr). A combination of severe political repression, religious restrictions and lack of genuine economic opportunities comprise the factors that have contributed to the riots and demonstrations in Andijan and on the Kyrgyz border. Unfortunately, Karimov, unlike Akaev, the former president of Kyrgyzstan, is most likely not going to leave quietly. While Tashkent’s reactions to anti-government protests may not reach the scale of Tiennamen Square or the Soviet crackdown on Budapest students in 1956, they will continue to fuel resentment unless the government engages in more open and serious dialogue. Without turning this into a boring lecture, I will simply say that the U.S. has major leverage in the region, even with and because of the army and air force bases there. The U.S. should not allow an authoritarian thug like Karimov to legitimize his actions based on terrorism. Along with the UN or the OSCE, the U.S. needs to insist on conducting an independent investigation of what happened in the Ferghana Valley and get serious about withholding foreign investment and aid in the country. Until such actors do more than slap Karimov’s wrist every once in awhile, the Uzbek president’s ideological pursuit of state repression will take far greater precedence over his claims to reconcile history.

To end on a light note, I leave you with what should have been a Tony Award-winning song, America, FY! The “FY” stands for “f&*k yeah,” with which I have simply replaced the abbreviation. It reminds me of why leaving the U.S. wasn’t so tough to do. Oh, and the song is from Team America: World Police soundtrack, by the autodidact Trey Parker. The first line contains the original lyrics of the song, while the second contains my comments. Thanks, Clint, for inspiring me to include this.

McDonalds, FY!

Well, we have Chicken Town, KFC, AND avian bird flu.

Wal-Mart, FY!

Dear God, that is why I left the US.

The Gap, FY!

Yes, having clothes made cheaply by tailors and suited to your tastes is so overrated compared to buying what everybody else is wearing.

Baseball, FY!

You obviously haven’t seen the badminton players here juiced up on ‘roids, have you?


Again, that is why I left the US

Rock and roll, FY!

No, no, no, no, no, American Idol alone cancels that out.

The Internet, FY!

Oh yeah? Well, our “broadband” here takes three times as long and is monitored, so take that.

Starbucks, FY!

Again, I refer you to last week’s piece about Vietnamese coffee beans processed through weasel excrement. And might I add that the weasel is closely related to the civet, to which scientists trace the origin of SARS.

Disney world, FY!

Oh, yes, because Cinderella and Country Bears far outshine UNESCO world heritage sites, don’t they?

Valium, FY!

Please….you don’t even need a prescription for that here.

Reeboks, FY!

Intellectual property rights are so yesterday.

Taco Bell, FY!

Try fitty cent pho on the street, makes you just as sick as Taco Bell does.

Rodeos, FY!

Midgets vs. lions, wait, that was Cambodia, wait, that was a hoax.

Bed bath and beyond, FY!

Where do you think all that stuff comes from?

Liberty, FY!

Statues of a thin man with a very cool looking beard.

The Alamo, FY!

Are you kidding? Angkor Watt is closer and has about 1000 years on the Alamo.

Band-aids, FY!

Again, Valium doesn’t even require a prescription here.

Las Vegas, FY!

Only non-Vietnamese, bourgeois capitalists can gamble here.

Christmas, FY!

The whole country shuts down for Tet for DAYS, and you don’t have to go to church.

Popeye, FY!

Viet Nam has Creepy Hugo, who looks like Super Mario in caveman gear and hangs out with what appears to be Toonces the Driving Cat.

Republicans, FY!

The Party, need I say more?

Now go tell everyone you meet about the great things the USA does! (Trey Parker’s words, not mine).


At 8:17 AM, Blogger His Eminence said...

Blogs FY!

Good work on the Blog thus far. I do remember seeing lots of poets in Hanoi... among those who begged.

They'd ask me for money, and I'd say no. Then they'd ask, "why not?". I was momentarily stunned when that happened. It's really unnerving to justify why you don't give money to panhandlers on the spot. In the US, you just say no and that's it.

Talk about having to measure your response... I explained that I was on a limited budget and just passing through and that I gave to charities, not individuals. That went over like a fart in church.

Anyway, I loved Hanoi and Ha Long Bay. Hopefully you'll get to stay at the hotel I did in Ha Long Bay where they has a full sized painting of a nekkid lady on the wall.

Quali Tah.

At 11:29 AM, Blogger Chin-hitter said...

I was going to go to Tashkent on my honeymoon (if I ever get married) but, based on your justified moral outrage and human rights-motivated exhortations, the hell with that. I'm going to Bratislava.


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