Vietnamese society has undergone a profound transition in the past decade, even if the politics hasn't come along for the ride. Communism, the mantra for a generation, has tak en a back seat to capitalism and the rush to embrace the market. Following the Chinese road to riches espoused by Deng Xiaoping, the Vietnamese have taken the brakes off the economy while keeping a firm hand on the steering wheel. The result is a contradictory blend ofultraliberal economics and ultraconservative politics that has left many Vietnamese con­fused about the country in which they live. They have the freedom to make money but not the basic freedom to voice a political opinion. And the more the average Vietnamese person engages with the outside world - through business, tourism, the internet - the harder this paradox is to swallow.
For now, the economy keeps the communist circus on the road. It's one of the new generation of Asian tigers, growing at more than 8% a year, one of th e few countries capable of keeping the Chinese juggernaut in their sights. Political power may be held by a small elite, but economic power is firmly in the hands of the middle classes. The government is buying the popularity it hasn't t ested at the ballot box by embarking on a building spree of immense proportions. Roads, bridges, tunnels, civic buildings - the scale is enormous, but it has to be, otherwise questions could be asked.
It is not only the government that is spending, not to mention making money like there is no tomorrow. International investors can't get enough of the place and joint ventures are springing up all over the country. The Socialist Republic of Vietnam (Vietnam's official name) was welcomed back to the world stage in 2006. The country played host to the APEC summit in November and became a fully fledged member of the World Trade Organisation (WTO). It 's a world away from collectivisation and Communist International.
The minorities are revolting, or that is what the central government seems to think. Vietnamisation is in full swing in the central highlands and the northwest; when the central highlanders said enough is enough, their protests provoked a repressive reaction. Engaging the minority people on equal terms is something the party has yet to grapple with. As a growing population seeks pastures new, there is a chance some of these cultures will be swamped , quite literally, as the power-hungry Vietnamese are damming the rivers like eager beavers.
Marx and Lenin may have been laid to rest in their homeland, but they are alive and well in Vietnam. Just how tenable this is as Vietnam engages with its neighbours and plugs into the world economy is anyone's guess. Whatever the Vietnamese may make of communism in private . Ho Chi Minh remains a man for all seasons. Politics aside, he was a nationalist and patriot who delivered Vietnam its independence. Come what may to the party, Ho’s place in history as a hero is assured.