Friday, July 11, 2008

President Souphanouvong remembered

July 13 marks the 99 th anniversary of President Souphanouvong's birth.

His deeds for the country remains alive in the hearts of all Lao people as one of the key men who gave birth to the Lao PDR.

He will forever be remembered as a wise royal child who treated himself without pretence, an excellent student who spoke seven languages, a construction engineer who built several bridges in Indochinese countries and a royal politician who decided to forgo his comfortable place in society for a remote jungle, to join the revolutionary movement that liberated the nation in 1975.
For several decades, he stood as a symbol of Lao unity, his royal status and public charisma appealed to the hearts of Lao people. His citizens knew that the revolutionary movement was the only way to free Laos from the colonialist intentions of imperialists.

Born on July 13, 1909 in Luang Prabang, as the son of the Viceroy, he had two sisters and two brothers Princes Phetsarath and Souvannaphoumma, born from a different mother. All of these men influenced the movement to free Laos from France in the 1940s.

Although he was a royal child, he never considered himself a special person. He liked to go outside the palace to play with commoners. This allowed him to see the terrible living conditions of the Lao people who had to work under horrendous conditions to serve French officials.
After his primary graduation in 1920, President Souphanouvong travelled to Vietnam for his higher education. In secondary school he was a diligent student, excelling in many areas including languages, arts and literature. He also enjoyed playing sport and was a talented musician.

From Vietnam , he went to study in France where he obtained a degree in civil engineering. He took this opportunity to travel throughout Europe and Africa where he learned many languages and was able to communicate with the citizens of the countries he visited.
Upon returning to Asia in 1938, President Souphanouvong gained employment as a civil engineer in Vietnam . During his time in that country, he married Ms Viengkham, a Vietnamese woman. At that time, citizens of Indochinese countries of Laos , Cambodia and Vietnam were able to travel and work freely in these countries because they were under the control of French imperialists.

He took part in several construction projects in Indochinese countries, ranging from bridge building to irrigation and was highly respected by his colleagues due to his excellent knowledge and ability. It was during this period that he was confronted with the harsh reality of living under the occupation of foreigners. The Indochinese people had to work hard to serve the occupying French, whilst never having a chance to determine the fate of their own nations.
Although his royal status and education could have allowed him to spend the rest of his life in comfort, he was inspired by the Indochina Freedom Movement and travelled back to Laos to help fight for Lao independence. The Lao people are eternally grateful for the sacrifices he made and the risks he took in joining the movement to liberate the nation from the yoke of French colonialism.

After Lao independence, he was granted the position of Minister of Foreign Affairs in the Lao Freedom Government. This marked his first entry into political life and saw him change careers from engineering to politics.

Unfortunately the Lao Freedom government did not last very long. With the return of French imperialists he had to leave Laos for Thailand , where he established the Lao government in exile until 1949. When the leaders of the Lao Freedom Government surrendered to the imperialists, he decided to go to Vietnam to meet President Ho Chi Minh to discuss the future freedom of countries in Indochina .

In a battle against returning French forces, President Souphanouvong commanded a revolutionary troop in Thakhek, Khammuan province and was injured while aiding in the troop's escape to Thailand .

In 1950, he was one of the Lao revolutionaries, who arranged the first congress of Lao people representatives. This congress agreed to establish the Lao Freedom Front and a resistance government in the revolutionary stronghold of Huaphan to fight against the puppet government in Vientiane , which was controlled by imperialists.

At the congress, he was elected as Prime Minister of the resistance government. In 1953, he was accepted as a member of the Indochinese Communist Party. At this time, President Souphanouvong had shown himself to be a patriotic revolutionary who later played an important role in the independence movement.

For more than 40 years (1945 to 1975), President Souphanouvong played a significant role as a political symbol of the Lao revolution. He was considered a foundation of Lao solidarity, one who appealed to the hearts of Lao people to join the national liberation movement against the imperialist and puppet government of the Lao kingdom.

In 1954, the French imperialists signed an agreement in Geneva to restore peace in Indochina and recognise the independence of Laos , Cambodia and Vietnam . But sadly the peace did not last long before American imperialists replaced the French in Indochina .

Civil war broke out between the revolutionary troops and Vientiane troops who supported the American dominated government. The American-led troops launched a massive invasion against the revolutionary stronghold, but were defeated in 1957, resulting in peace negotiations and the establishment of the first national coalition government in the same year.

President Souphanouvong led Lao revolutionary troops to join the coalition and was named as a minister in the new government. But he was arrested by the government led by Phoui Sananikone. In 1960, President Souphanouvong and other revolutionary leaders successfully escaped from prison at Phonkheng in Vientiane to areas controlled by revolutionaries.

In 1960, Captain Konglae staged a coup d'etat to overthrow the Vientiane puppet government to restore the coalition government but in 1964 the coalition was overthrown again. The president who led the Lao revolutionaries in the government left to go to the revolutionary strongholds and secretly create a new strategy in the fight for national liberation.

The civil war in Laos was at its peak between 1964 and 1969, but with the clever leaders of the Lao People's Party, including President Souphanouvong, the revolutionary forces defeated the Vientiane puppet army in several battles and enabled the revolutionary troops to arrange a new coalition government in 1973.

In 1974, he joined his brother Prince Souvannaphoumma to travel to Luang Prabang to request King Sisavangvatthana to form a new national coalition government with Souvannaphouma as Prime Minister. It was proposed that a mixed national political council also be created with Souphanouvon as its president.

On December 2, 1975, the Lao people's representative congress was held to accept the abdication of King Sisavangvatthana and the establishment of the Lao PDR.

President Souphanouvong was the first president of Laos and held this role until 1989 when he became ill. He passed away in 1995 at the age of 86. Although he left us more than a decade ago, he is well remembered by Lao people as a man who sacrificed his personal comfort and safety for the cause of national liberation.

Historical information contained in this article was sourced from “An Outstanding National Hero and Brave Revolutionary Patriot” published by the Lao Propaganda Training Board.