How free is life in Vietnam today

Background current

July 2, 1976 is a historic day in the history of Vietnam. The 22-year division of the country ended with him. This was preceded by years of war between the north and the south. The USA also took part in the fighting. A communist regime has ruled Vietnam since reunification, with a 16-person Politburo governing politics. But the market has been liberalized.

Cheers about the agreement between North and South Vietnam on November 24th, 1975 in Saigon in front of the Independence Palace. After decades of war, reunification was contractually sealed. On July 2nd, 1976, the formerly hostile parts of the country were formally reunited as the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. (& copy picture-alliance / dpa)

After 22 years of division, Vietnam was reunified 40 years ago on July 2, 1976. After years of bloody war with several million deaths, in which the United States on the side of South Vietnam was at times militarily involved, South Vietnam surrendered unconditionally in 1975. This cleared the way to end the division of the country, which had been decided in 1954.

The partition of Vietnam occurred after the battle of the Viet Minh against the French occupation forces. While China had supported the rebels with arms deliveries after 1949, the United States intervened on the French side. Nevertheless, the French troops were defeated by the Viet Minh at the Battle of Dien Bien Phu in March 1954. At the subsequent Geneva Indochina Conference, the country was divided into communist North Vietnam and western-oriented South Vietnam at the 17th parallel.

After the French withdrew, the USA took on the role of protecting power for South Vietnam. As a result, there were repeated military clashes with the National Liberation Front, supported by the north, which fought for reunification with North Vietnam. From 1964 the conflict widened. American troops bombed North Vietnam for the first time. In 1965 over half a million US soldiers were stationed in the south. From 1968 onwards, major military losses and increasingly negative public opinion in the USA forced the Americans to enter into negotiations with the North Vietnamese. Meanwhile, the American bombing of the north continued unabated.

It was not until the Paris Agreement of 1973 that the USA withdrew from the Vietnam War after almost ten years. In the document, she and the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam) declared the end of the war and the restoration of peace in Vietnam. The two Vietnamese countries should come closer step by step. The time of reunification should be decided jointly by South and North Vietnam.

Reunification after the defeat of the south

But despite the US withdrawal, the fighting between North and South Vietnam continued. It was not until the north Vietnamese soldiers took Saigon in the spring of 1975 that the south gave up. The country was united under communist rule. On July 2, 1976, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam was founded. The entire Vietnamese government was faced with the challenge of integrating two different social systems politically and economically.

In order to bring political opponents on the communist line, several hundred thousand South Vietnamese - mainly employees of the former South Vietnamese government and members of the army - were sent to re-education camps. The capitalist-oriented south had to adapt to the planned economy of the north. In addition, the country was badly devastated. Infrastructure and industry were destroyed. In the north in particular, the American bombing raids severely damaged numerous industrial cities.

Many Vietnamese were wounded, mutilated, sick, orphaned and deprived of their livelihoods. The country had to be rebuilt, the post-war era in Vietnam was marked by a blatant economic crisis. The precarious economic situation and the government’s tough crackdown on the South Vietnamese population prompted many Vietnamese to flee across the South China Sea to neighboring countries. It is estimated that over a million of the so-called boat people were saved. Numerous people drowned.

From the planned economy to the socialist market economy

To get the country's economy going again, the Communist Party of Vietnam initiated an economic reform course in 1986, called Doi Moi (Vietnamese for renewal). The first steps were to leave the planned economy behind and to liberalize the market towards a socialist market economy. For Vietnam this meant the economic awakening. From 1988 the rice harvest increased rapidly. Unemployment fell and wages were adjusted to the profitability of companies. The economy recovered and grew rapidly, especially in the 1990s.

This went hand in hand with the fact that relations with other countries improved. While Vietnam was largely isolated until the 1990s, it was gradually re-accepted into the international community. In 1994 the US government lifted its economic embargo against Vietnam, followed by the complete lifting of the arms embargo in May 2016. In 2007 the country joined the World Trade Organization. In 2008/09 it was appointed a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council for the first time.

While Vietnam's economy has been liberalized, a one-party system continues to prevail at the political and constitutional level. The Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV) determines the political line. It is true that it has implemented minor reforms in recent years. However, the KPV rejects a multi-party system. There is no organized opposition. All associations, organizations and the trade union are part of the system. The media, internet and television are also still subject to state control.

more on the subject