Doan Viet Hoat
Dr. Doan Viet Hoat, a professor, author, former prisoner of conscience, and chairman of the International Institute for Vietnam in Washington, D.C., spoke at Southdale Resource Library in Edina on May 22. His visit was in part to talk about his new book, "Road Map for Vietnam in the Global Era" ("Hanh Trinh Dan Toc Trong Thoi Dai Roan Cau Hoa"), which is in Vietnamese and an English translation is expected sometime next year.
Dr. Doan was an educator in South Vietnam, and in 1971 he received a Ph.D in Education and College Administration from Florida State University. He was the Assistant to the Chancellor of Van Hanh University in Saigon when the War ended in 1975. As with most western educated Vietnamese, Doan was held under suspect and ultimately sent to prison twice for a total of 20 years.
Upon his release Doan taught English at the University of Agriculture and Forestry in Ho Chi Minh City from 1988 to 1990. During this time, Doan and a small staff published Dien Dan Tu Do, a progressive newsletter, and he was sent to prison again from 1990 to 1998. Shortly after his release he came to live in the United States.
The event began with the national anthems of the United States and The Republic of Vietnam, sung by University of Minnesota Vietnamese Student Association members, Lilly Nguyen, Hanna Nguyen, Tran Huynh, Hung Huynh and Quan Le.
Phuoc Thi Minh Tran, a Hennepin County Librarian, introduced several speakers to precede Dr. Doan, including Tan Pham, director of the Vietnamese Radio program on KFAI and Mr. Steve Young, an attorney and longtime Vietnamese community advocate.
Dr. Doan said it is a painful task for ex-patriot Vietnamese, and singled out American Vietnamese specifically, to consider 21st century Vietnam as a new country, and not the country of the past 20 to 50 years. He said that without that basic understanding, the internal democratization of Vietnam, and its battle for democracy, prosperity, and progress.
His vision for a nonviolent roadmap to a democratic Vietnam includes several action plans, such as an internal and external national dialogue to find a peaceful process of democratization, and multiparty free elections.
Doan said Vietnam is changing. As people realize what their human rights mean and that they cannot have economic liberalization without political and religious freedoms. The difficult step that must be taken, said Doan, is to accept that the communist party must be allowed to remain, as long as competing political parties are legal and have access to power under a democratic process.
The abrupt end or fall of the regime from external or internal pressure is not the wise path and will more likely be followed in chaos than a stable, democratic system, says Doan. He prefers an incremental democratization of a society that is already showing signs of heading in that direction.
The role of the international community is to encourage this transformation, in part by befriending Vietnamese international students so that when they return to Vietnam they will speak highly of America and the American Vietnamese.
He said that many junior communist party leaders are frustrated and that as long as pressure prevents a rollback and does not create barriers or roadblocks, then progress will be forthcoming. He added that the media is growing more independent and powerful, with influence that was nonexistent in the recent past.
“People are less frightened than they were a few years ago,” said Doan.
"Today, with the pressure of globalization and social and economic problems within the country, the communists are forced to open up to the world. The Vietnamese overseas are presented with the opportunity to influence directly Vietnam through voluntary activities and organizations."
Dr. Doan now lives in Virginia and is a frequent speaker and advisor in Washington on Vietnamese affairs.
Doan had been very ill from his experience in the labor camps and said he now feels much healthier in the three years since his freedom.
The program was sponsored by the Friends of the Southdale Library in collaboration with the Hung Vuong Foundation and the Minnesota Friends of Doan Viet Hoat.