« | Home | »

Burma’s Neighbour

Tags: |

Vang Vieng, popular with backpackers

Vang Vieng, where backpackers go for banana pancakes and opium

Laos is run by a regime every bit as repressive as the Burmese junta, but it somehow gets a free pass from outsiders. At least Burma has political parties – Laos has none apart from the ruling Communists. On the few occasions when Lao activists have tried to hold rallies, they have been quickly arrested and disappeared.

This week, Thailand began forcibly repatriating 4000 ethnic Hmong who had fled Laos during and immediately after the Vietnam War. The Hmong are likely to face harassment or arrest on their return, both because of their role during the Vietnam War – many of them fought alongside US forces against the Vietnamese and Lao Communists – and because of longstanding racism. The Thai government admits that it fears for the safety of some of the Hmong it is deporting.

The Lao opposition, such as it is, has no high-profile spokesperson like Aung San Suu Kyi, and the faceless Lao government often seems more inept than frightening, although it employs a thorough security service. The US condemned Thailand’s actions, but don’t expect it to put any real pressure on the Thais – even though it has far more influence with Thailand, one of its allies, than with the Burmese junta.

Unlike Burma, which is off-limits to ‘ethical’ travellers, Laos attracts crowds of European backpackers, who go to places like Vang Vieng, a riverside town, to eat banana pancakes and smoke opium. Unlike Burma, Laos gets no high-profile hearings in Congress, policy reviews or presidential statements. Without any external pressure, without a credible opposition party, with a population largely isolated from the outside world and with no obvious splits in the ruling regime, Laos could wind up as the world’s last Communist country, outlasting Cuba, Vietnam, North Korea and even China.

Comment on this post

Log in or register to post a comment.

  • Recent Posts

    RSS – posts

  • Contributors

  • Recent Comments

    • name on Who is the enemy?: Simply stating it is correct doesn't make it so, I just wish you would apply the same epistemic vigilance to "Muslim crimes" as you do to their Hebrew...
    • Glen Newey on Unwinnable War: The legal issue admits of far less clarity than the simple terms in which you – I imagine quite sincerely – frame them. For the benefit of readers...
    • Geoff Roberts on The New Normal: The causes go back a long way into the colonial past, but the more immediate causes stem from the activities of the US forces in the name of freedom a...
    • sol_adelman on The New Normal: There's also the fact that the French state denied the mass drownings of '61 even happened for forty-odd years. No episode in post-war W European hist...
    • funky gibbon on At Wembley: If England get France in the quarter finals of Euro 16 I expect that a good deal of the fraternity will go out the window

    RSS – comments

  • Contact

  • Blog Archive

  • From the LRB Archive

    Edward Said: The Iraq War
    17 April 2003

    ‘This is the most reckless war in modern times. It is all about imperial arrogance unschooled in worldliness, unfettered either by competence or experience, undeterred by history or human complexity, unrepentant in its violence and the cruelty of its technology.’

    David Runciman:
    The Politics of Good Intentions
    8 May 2003

    ‘One of the things that unites all critics of Blair’s war in Iraq, whether from the Left or the Right, is that they are sick of the sound of Blair trumpeting the purity of his purpose, when what matters is the consequences of his actions.’

    Simon Wren-Lewis: The Austerity Con
    19 February 2015

    ‘How did a policy that makes so little sense to economists come to be seen by so many people as inevitable?’

    Hugh Roberts: The Hijackers
    16 July 2015

    ‘American intelligence saw Islamic State coming and was not only relaxed about the prospect but, it appears, positively interested in it.’

Advertisement Advertisement