from the shadows
The pace of change
For us, and for visitors returning to the country after
a period of absence, Vietnam is changing at breakneck speed.
The potential bottled up by the war and the restrictions
that followed as the painful process of reunification and
reconciliation proceeded, is now being unleashed.
In the cities, practically
every street has a building site, slum dwellings are being
demolished and replaced by modern high and low-rise dwellings,
and new districts are being created in the suburbs to house
the swelling urban population.
Country areas are being provided
with a clean water supply, electricity and new services
and facilities. Reservoirs are being built to ease water
shortages and new coal and gas fuelled power stations are
Transport and communications
are improving daily. Entertainment facilities are expanding,
supermarkets are appearing, and tourism infrastructure is
opening up new areas and locations to visitors.
No aspect of Vietnam’s daily
life escapes attention, and no-one is unaffected by the
changes that are taking place.
The social aspect
Change is never neutral – it always creates winners and
losers. Our government treads a narrow path in balancing
the benefits of change with the social disruption that it
causes. Fortunately, the overwhelming majority of our people
understand the problems and support the measures introduced
to deal with them.
Our nation has a long tradition of communalism. In the 21st
century, communalism is manifested in ‘mass movements’ –
national campaigns to overcome social problems such as poverty,
drug abuse, pollution, health issues and so on. Involvement
comes in many forms, attending meetings, donating money
and goods and so on, but the main form is volunteering time
to assist. The Ho Chi Minh Youth Union, the Women’s Union
and other large national organisations can mobilise millions
of people to assist in building bridges, working with handicapped
people, cleaning up dirty beaches and a host of other activities.
Challenges and successes
Vietnam’s problems are shared by all developing counties.
Each has its own approach, and each has its success and
failures. No approach, system or model fits all – each country
has a different context, so each has to find its own way.
By trial and error, and with help from our neighbours and
the international community, we are learning lessons and
working out solutions in ways that fit our national culture
We are now beginning to see the fruits of our labour. Poverty
is falling, the economy is sound, industry is modernising
and tourism is expanding, for example. Vietnam has had several
notable achievements in the health field – it led the world
in containing SARS, is attracting international attention
by treating tuberculosis successfully, and is well on the
way to controlling malaria.
Despite our progress so far, we are only at the beginning
of the road that leads to our eventual goal of ‘Independence,
Freedom and Happiness’ – a vision laid out by Ho Chi Minh
in his Declaration of Independence in 1954. We have yet
to come to terms with the major issues of wealth distribution,
universal free health care, full employment and all the
other conditions necessary for his dream to become our reality.
Every so often, the views and
attitudes of Asian people in relation to their quality of
life are surveyed. Overall, Vietnam is usually ranked somewhere
in the middle (an achievement in itself considering the
country’s starting point). However, in one category Vietnam
is always at or near the top – optimism about the future.
We know the going will be tough, but we’re determined to