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Edited by Anis Chowdhury and Iyanatul Islam
Chapter 14: Laos
Andrea K. Chareunsy1 A modern political history In the twentieth century, the Lao have gone along with a series of major ‘ﬂows’: the ﬂow of European domination, the ﬂow of communist-led national liberation, the opposing ﬂows of the cold war, and, ﬁnally, the global ﬂow of market liberalization. (Ivarsson et al. 1995: 12) Appreciating how the uniﬁed Lao territory was ‘created’ permits an understanding of why a people who were once powerful and cultured have deﬂated into a ‘superﬁcial’ nationhood. The Lao People’s Democratic Republic (Laos) has frequently been consigned labels denoting its lack of distinct national character: Laos is sometimes called a ‘colonial backwater’, a ‘buﬀer state’ or a ‘region rather than a nation’. This reﬂects the recognition that Laos, due in part to its historical dependence on the ‘ﬂows’ of neighbours and of global powers, continues to bear an ephemeral identity. The feature characterizing the early period of modern Lao history and that permeates present-day Lao consciousness is that the Lao were never perceived as having any claim to their own country. Decisions were made by the French and Siamese and later by the Vietnamese and Americans. The Lao political system was fashioned along Vietnamese lines, their cultural persona is closely bound to the Thai and their want for patronage looks to the French. What happened during the French colonial era marks the internal struggle that besets Laos to the present day: as Jerndal and Rigg stated, ‘[the Lao were] manipulated by and...
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