Friday, August 03, 2007

Degar of Vietnam

Just as the U.S. is trying to open relations with Vietnam, it’s good to remember that this isn’t an open and free, capitalistic and democratic society.  Far from it, and ever since we abandoned them after the Vietnam war, things haven’t been well for the average citizen of Southeast Asia. 

      In North Carolina I interviewed some of the Degar Montagnards who had participated in the 2001 demonstration and also others who witnessed the second mass demonstration by Degar Montagnards that occurred on Easter 2004. The 2004 demonstration however, was planned as a week long prayer vigil but this too was brutally crushed by Vietnam’s security forces. The 2004 Easter prayer vigil actually never commenced as security forces ambushed the Degar Montagnards on the first day, using knives, machetes, clubs and other weapons. Human Rights Watch reported 10 killed including a 80 year old blind woman who was dragged off a tractor and beaten to death. The US State Department reported killings in at least "double digit figures" and I personally spoke to survivors who escaped to the United States who saw hundreds, I repeat hundreds of Degar Montagnards lying unconscious or dead, bleeding on the ground. One witness old me explicitly he saw 35 to 40 dead bodies on one street alone in Buonmathuot.

Not that Christians in SE Asia are the average, but Christians are far from the only oppressed group.

The Degar are indigenous peoples of the central highlands of Vietnam.  The term Montagnard means “mountain people” in French, so saying “Degar Montagnards” is kind of redundant.  Starting in the early 20th century, missionaries worked hard to convert the Degar, and roughly three quarters of the present population are some denomination, protestant or Catholic.  The Degar are to the Vietnamese what the Aborigines are to Australians, although that’s not entirely true, as the Degar share ancestral lineage with the rest of the population, whereas most Australians are ethnically white-European).  But culturally it’s not a bad comparison.

The Vietnamese Communists never trusted the Degars, as their Christian beliefs made them much more likely to support the American troops in the war, and they were driven out after the Americans left.  Mostly they get driven out now in favor of government use of the fertile land for coffee plantations.  Sounds a bit like Darfur, if you ask me. 

(background on Degars mostly from Wikipedia).

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