Minorities and the construction of a nation in post-socialist Laos
In the Introduction [Chapter 1] I first introduce the concept of 'nation' by stressing its 'fuzziness', and by reviewing Western and non-western interpretations of its definition. I then briefly review some pertinent events in Laos' recent history. I next explain the reasons for my choice of a certain terminology. In a third section, I introduce and justify my methodology. In Chapter Two, I introduce and discuss the theoretical framework and studies on Lao nationalism. I first look at the theories of nationalism put forward by Gellner, Anderson and Smith, three of the most influential thinkers on the subject, and note the limits of their theories with respect to my study. I then extend my discussion to theories of nationalism and ethnicity, and I argue that these propose a framework that is too constrained to explain the complexity of my research. I therefore suggest some other conceptual notions that may encompass the multiple outcomes of my study. Finally, I discuss studies that have dealt with the concepts of nation, nationalism and ethnicity in modern Laos, and show how my work may contribute to the fostering of research in this field. In Chapter Three, I review the historical relationships between the non-ethnic Lao people and the political authorities from the pre-modern period up to the proclamation of the Lao PDR in 1975. I focus in particular on three historical periods: pre-modern Laos (until the French colonisation), French rule (1893-1954) and the French and American Wars (1945-1974). Each period corresponds with a specific pattern of relationships between the non-ethnic Lao people and the political authority. Above all, I insist that the French and American Wars changed the role of the non-ethnic Lao populations socially, politically and historically. From the periphery where they were symbolically and administratively confined, the participation of some of their members in the wars exposed these individuals to socialisation and politicisation processes. From that point onwards, the nationalist discourse would have to include multi-ethnicity in its rhetoric. In Chapter Four, I analyse ethnic classifications in contemporary Laos, with a brief review of previous policies. I first look at the ideologies that have influenced the Lao ethnic classification, namely, those of the former Soviet Union, China and Vietnam. Through an analysis of the construction of the latest official census (August 2000), I suggest a close relationship between ethnic categorisation and the nationalist discourse. I conclude with a study of Kaysone Phomvihane's guidelines on the concept of the nation in Laos. In Chapter Five, I question the Majority's ethnicity. I first argue that the constitution of a national identity in post-socialist Laos is being conducted through a dual process of exclusion and inclusion, involving a politics of Minority/Majority representation and a dichotomy between Tradition and Modernity. I extend my discussion to the nationalist discourse's search for particularism, through a politics of cultural discipline and a new approach to the narrative of the national history. At the same time, I suggest that the new form of nation, more centred on a spiritual principle, i.e. Buddhism, also originates in popular will, namely, the ethnic Lao population's. In Chapter Six, I reverse the perspective and disclose the voices of those being represented. I focus my analysis on a few members of ethnic minorities who hold, or have held, a position of authority. More precisely, I analyse their interpretations of the past through their narratives. I point out their pattern, logic and coherence, but also their discontinuities, omissions and exaggerations. All these characteristics are constitutive of these individuals' identity. Experience, however, is never monolithic. Experience structures narratives, which, in turn, structure experience, while all interpretations and expressions are historically, politically and institutionally situated. I therefore show that narratives also can change under new historical and political conditions. In Chapter Seven, I reflect on the issues of ethnicity and identity. I first study the ambiguities of the ethnicities of the individuals discussed in Chapter Six, caught in between the official categorisation, the Majority's ethnicity and their own perception of their ethnic identity. I then analyse what I call the crisis of identity induced by social, economic, political and institutional changes during the post-socialist era. The social and political identity of these educated members of ethnic minority groups is being challenged. Finally, I conclude with a specific case of instrumentalist ethnicity, which might prefigure the awakening of new identities in post-socialist Laos.