The politics of ritual and remembrance: Laos since 1975 by Grant Evans (published by University of Hawai╩╗i Press in 1998) remains a lively and highly readable account of Lao politics and society. It offers a thorough meditation on the implications of the revolution of 1975 for the people and government of Laos.
For this New Mandala series on the moments that matter most for the study of mainland Southeast Asia it is clear that Evans’ contribution is still one of the crucial texts.
In one section, on page 6, Evans argues that:
New regimes, like the LPDR [Lao Peoples’ Democratic Replublic] at the end of 1975, set out to reconstruct the past through repression and reinterpretation, in order to create a different present. Yet, despite the massive means of coercion at the disposal of modern states, this project is an extremely difficult one to accomplish. In Laos we saw the spectacle of books and memorabilia from the old regime being burned by soldiers. Anticipating trouble, others burned books or old photographs, depleting the sources of stored memory in a country with a preciously small historical archive anyway (fortunately, many people hid them away in the bottom of draws or cupboards). Some with surnames belonging to “leading reactionaries” changed them or ceased to use them — in a historically perverse reversal to an earlier time when Lao did not use surnames.
As a starting point for our understanding of modern Laos, 1975 requires constant attention. I have no doubt that even since Evans’ work in the 1990s the conceptualisation of the revolution and its pivotal year has changed significantly. There is still much to say about 1975 and all that.
So far in this series we have touched on Burma in 1962 and Thailand in 1932. I am the first to acknowledge that all of these starting points have been reasonably predictable. Next up is Vietnam in 1986.