Vietnam Persecutes the Montagnards
With Father Giuseppe Hoang Minh Thang
21, 2004 (Zenit.org).- The Vietnamese government
launched a crackdown last Holy Week against demonstrators as part of its persecution
of Montagnards, primarily Christians. At least 400 people were reported killed
in the Daklak province.
The demonstrators, members of regional tribes, were asking for the return of
their lands confiscated by the government. They were also asking for religious
freedom, and for development of the region, one of the poorest in Vietnam.
To understand the situation better, ZENIT interviewed Father Giuseppe Hoang
Minh Thang, who works in the Vietnamese editorial office of Vatican Radio.
Q: Who are the Montagnards?
Father Hoang Minh Thang: The Montagnards, or "Degar," are one of the oldest
native peoples of Southeast Asia. They have inhabited the peninsula of Indochina
for more than 2,000 years.
Although the majority live in Vietnam, there are several hundred thousand Montagnards
also in Cambodia and some tens of thousands in Laos. During the French colonization,
which began in the 19th century, it is estimated that the Montagnard population
was over 3.5 million. Today the survivors number between 700,000 and 800,000.
When the United States intervened in Vietnam, the Montagnards were on their
side, in the hope that their requests for the political, social and cultural
autonomy of the whole native population would be recognized.
With the end of the war in Vietnam … the Hanoi regime nationalized the Montagnards'
lands without recognizing any of their rights on territories which they had
inhabited for thousands of years. Hundreds of villages were destroyed and moved
to infertile lands to make way for coffee plantations, property of the state.
The Montagnards represent a population of more than 30 different tribes, with
thousands of combatants. The two principal tribes are the Banar, with close
to 400,000 people, and the Jarrai, with 300,000. In large measure they are Christians.
The Communist government has never put up with them, first because they allied
themselves with the Americans, then because many of them are Christians, and
now because their only interest is to possess their lands. But the Montagnards
are a hard, fierce ethnic group, and so they rebel.
Q: Is the news about their persecution true?
Father Hoang Minh Thang: The Montagnards have always been very courageous. Back
in 2001 they held a demonstration of 20,000 people against the government.
According to some, it is possible that the government ordered their men to stir
these protests to be able to decimate all the Montagnard leaders, enticing them
to a snare -- a classical strategy used by all dictatorships worldwide.
On the eve of the 2004 Easter celebrations, the Montagnards organized a demonstration
starting from their widespread villages, across municipalities and reaching
provincial capitals in the central highlands of Vietnam, to come together and
pray publicly before the buildings of the Vietnamese Communist Party.
The motto was "Moak Hrue Yesus Kgu Hdip" -- Joyful Day, Christ Has Risen. According
to local sources, there were 130,000. Government forces used arms causing about
It is difficult to confirm what really happened because the Vietnamese government
impeded foreigners from going to the region. All foreign citizens had to get
off airplanes going to Buon Ma Thout; flying over the area was prohibited.
Personnel from the U.S. Embassy traveling by car to the region were blocked
for security reasons.
Q: How important is the Christian faith for the Montagnards?
Father Hoang Minh Thang: One hears from different quarters talk about persecution
against Christian Montagnards. Despite the persecution and the exodus of priests
and missionary pastors at the time the Communist regime was established, the
Montagnards have kept the faith.
In my diocese alone there are more than 180,000 Catholic Montagnards. We have
gathered several testimonies of Montagnards who have been able to keep the faith
and not forget the liturgical prayers by listening to Radio Veritas, which broadcasts
from Manila the program of the Vietnamese office of Vatican Radio.
The regime has threatened them, demanding that they abandon the Christian faith,
but they have refused to do so.
They have lost their jobs, they cannot send their children to the public school,
but they continue to defend their faith. They recently built six wooden churches
in six different villages.
Q: Vietnam needs to develop and to do so it will have to make democratic overtures.
What is your opinion in this respect?
Father Hoang Minh Thang: From the point of view of human rights and religious
freedom, the government is obliged to keep them in mind for commercial reasons.
But in general it tends to resist changes.
To tell the truth, no Communist believes any longer in Communist ideology, which
they themselves have betrayed, now following the capitalist system. The only
thing they believe in is money, a lot of money, and power.
This explains the plague of corruption never before seen in the history of Vietnam.
And to achieve this objective the government continues to use the specter of
communism and socialism to oppress and spread terror and fear to be able to
squeeze the people more effectively.
But this cannot last forever, because the seed bears in itself its own destruction.