The three-striped yellow flag and symbols of the Republic of Vietnam (RVN) were still taboo in some parts of Vietnam, even though it was almost half a century after the war.
A coffee shop in Bien Hoa city, Dong Nai province has just been closed by authorities due to many images of a “puppet army.”
This event evokes smoldering conflicts within a country that has been considered unified for 46 years.
Musician Tuan Khanh in an exchange on April 28 with BBC News Vietnamese shared: “Symbols of an era, a community, a country, a generation always have timeless vitality. Being trampled, those who kept it would try to protect even more.”
“American puppet state” cafe
In early April, Army’s Coffee and Tea opened on Vo Thi Sau street, Bien Hoa city. The restaurant has a fairly large scale, but the thing that is striking here is not the spacious space or unique drinks.
True to the name, the shop is decorated with military character.
Outside, people see many sandbags with the word “Army” on top of each other. Many wartime items, authentic or fake, are decorated everywhere: the shelf simulating the barrel, the image of the tank, and the miniatures of armored vehicles and soldiers as if they are about to enter the war.
The staff of the restaurant is dressed in military-style.
When these images were posted online, they immediately made waves.
Facebook groups are said to be public opinion such as Information Detox, Anti-reaction, etc. vehemently criticized Army bar, by the way, condemned the RVN regime.
“There are only a few days left until the whole country celebrates the festival of unification, the shop owner arouses the ghost with the image of the waitress wearing the camouflage clothes of the old regime soldiers. photos of tanks, M113 armored vehicles, bunkers, models of strategic hamlets, military zones …, a person named Hao Do wrote in the Facebook group Sài Gòn 500 Brothers.
A Facebooker Quang Pham wrote on his page: “Suggest the authorities to strictly deal with this behavior.”
It can be easily recognized that most of these “people” are just “virtual” accounts and the content condemned are often similar, even copied from each other. This shows that there is a well-organized campaign, with the participation of public opinion shapers, to attack the coffee shop that they consider to “revive the ghost of the old regime.”
From “public frustration,” authorities have stepped in.
Vietnam Traveler Magazine (TravelMag) of the Vietnam Tourism Association on April 17 reported: “Before the wave of outrage from many people related to the decoration style, reminiscent of the puppet regime of the past, the authorities conducted an inspection of the Army cafe’s business activities … ”
“The inspection force asked the service staff not to wear the puppet uniforms and to suspend the shop’s business until the décor was completely changed,” the magazine wrote.
From Reunification Palace to prison sentences
Army cafe is just one example of the Vietnamese government’s obsession with RVN symbols.
At the Reunification Palace, formerly the Independence Palace, under the old canopies, one could see the image of a three-striped flag on the tail and the ARVN Air Force badge on the wing of a crossed-out F-5 fighter. The same goes for other artifacts here and elsewhere.
At the relic cluster on both sides of Hien Luong Bridge, where in recent years has been invested to reconstruct the scene of the divided Vietnam period, the past is only partially reconstructed. It is half of the red flag with a yellow star.
On the media, the three-striped flags and symbols of the RVN were even more taboo. A journalist who is a veteran newsroom secretary in Ho Chi Minh City shared with BBC News Vietnamese that his editorial had been reprimanded by the Ministry of Information and Communications for “letting in” the image of the yellow flag. “It was just a photo of overseas Vietnamese in America,” he said. “The content is not related to the RVN, but how unlucky in the crowd of people in the market someone was carrying a three-striped flag. A small flag, the editor did not detect it, but did not pass the managing agency’s eyes.”
He said the word “bloody experience,” the last US election is a tough test.
“We buy photos and videos from companies like Reuters and AP,” said the journalist. “The protests, riots in the US related to the election, the Vietnamese people participate a lot. In which, a lot of people carry yellow flags. Letting go is very troublesome.”
Not only being temporarily suspended like the Army cafe or being reprimanded, but using the symbols of the RVNAF also pushed many people into prison.
In January 2018, the People’s Court of An Giang province sentenced four people to imprisonment for “conducting anti-state propaganda,” including flying the flag of the RVN. That same year, this court sentenced another person to prison for the same conduct.
In April 2018, the People’s Court of Nghe An province sentenced Mr. Nguyen Viet Dung to 7 years in prison for the above accusation. Reporting the trial, Nghe An Police online newspaper described some of Mr. Dung’s acts:
“… Nguyen Viet Dung hung a ‘red three-striped yellow flag’ at his home, took pictures, posted it on the Internet. Local authorities seized the flags and requested him not to repeat the act.”
Musician Tuan Khanh told the BBC that the red three-striped yellow flag is a clear symbol of a period, it contains dreams, righteousness in it, so it has vitality.
And writer Khai Don shared: “There are two views on the image of the RVN that are common in everyday dialogue in Vietnam: it was a good, romantic, civilized, clean time or it was a good time or the era of betrayal, evil, and indecency needs to be eliminated.”
“These two depictions often make the interlocutors in Vietnam fall into a homogeneous state like when we read fairy tales, with good characters and wicked people standing shoulder to shoulder.”
Recently, the Vietnamese government has made certain changes in perception in the issue of the RVN, such as seldom mentioning words such as “puppet army” and “puppet government” but the national flag and central symbols of this polity have always been taboo.
Musician Tuan Khanh explained: “Until today, the Vietnamese government still struggles with legitimacy. Through the time of isolation after the war, the government always craves for legitimacy, looking for ways to prove its legitimacy.”
“But to do that, how do we deal with the RVN part?” he asked. “Therefore, the Vietnamese state always has two policies. In terms of foreign affairs, they always have a new language, when they imprison a person flying the yellow flag, they explain that that person violates the law. On the domestic side, on the one hand, they uphold their legitimacy, on the other hand, they annihilate the legitimacy of the RVN, for example, they go somewhere, cross out the yellow flag, to let people see that ‘ah, this is discarded’. They even formed armies of several tens of thousands of public opinion shapers, in times like March and April, flooded with insulting information about the RVN, a regime that had been abolished by the act of force in the North.”
“In order to maintain its righteousness in the war, the current Vietnamese government always puts the RVN in an irrational position. Accordingly, it is an illegal regime,” explained the above-mentioned journalist. Writer Khai Don explained further: “This prohibition is like the Army is forced to suspend its operations to censor the winners’ eyes. An ARVN officer cannot be handsome and polite. For a period of time, people in Saigon cannot wear the ao dai, with courtesy and style. It must be a time of betrayal, darkness, and evil.”
And according to the writer, “the more efforts to keep a one-sided story, the more curiosity is created by the authorities and the need to delve into the opposite extreme of the story. This is a common mentality in countries. the dictator controls information and culture, where people are only allowed to know a few things under strict censorship. This tension creates the illusion that the image of the RVN ‘is scary, the way in which is to clear the shop, censors, stops publishing books and performing.”
Musician Tuan Khanh said that he once asked the seller of used books in Saigon why banned books were old and torn but still wanted to buy, even expensive copies, he answered: “Just for one thing. Only it contains the truth.”
He also added: “The symbol of the RVN does not only have flags or images but it is also included in each song and book. At one time, these values were forbidden. When Mr. Loc Vang sang pre-war songs but not the RVN era, he was sentenced to 14 years in prison. Some others have it too, but now that ban is gone. The Vietnamese leadership is probably too tired, realizing that the struggle is unnecessary and they cannot win, so they have to let go. ”
To musician Tuan Khanh, if the values of the RVN were banned, the Vietnamese people would be the subject of loss: “And the person who created that loss was the one who was guilty of the country and the people of Vietnam.”
And the anonymous journalist from Saigon noted that Vietnam’s efforts to educate and propagandize a huge segment of young people, who were born long after the war ended, believe that what is involved regarding the RVN is evil, the ARVN military was cruel and indebted to the nation.
“People with those beliefs are ready to crush anyone who challenges their beliefs, before orders from agencies like the police or propaganda,” he said.
Closing his opinions, musician Tuan Khanh summed up: “After 46 years, fighting with those symbols is not really a problem. The core issue is that the Vietnamese state needs a new policy. It must really be a democratic state, with the spirit of national harmony and reconciliation, so that when they see that flag, they don’t feel guilty. And the free Vietnamese people see the red flag with the yellow star. No hatred. At that time, the Vietnamese found a new future.”
Mr. Tuan Khanh quoted writer Tran Trung Dao that “a democratic state, a truly free country, bringing human values to the Vietnamese people, it is the state that will act as a bridge. The greatest reconciliation for this people, thereby eliminating all stereotypes and prejudices against the values of both sides.”