The World Bank has marked its fiftieth anniversary of doing business in Laos with a typically slick press release, multi-media timeline and video. There is probably much that could be said about the World Bank’s work in Laos, as well its commemoration of this occasion – please feel free to leave your comments.
One interesting aspect for me is the increasing occurrence in recent years of official fifty-year anniversaries in Laos, which mark events that took place under the previous Royal Lao Government regime. To name a few, these include the SEA Games in Laos two years ago, and a number of diplomatic ties, including, off the top of my head, those with Thailand and China. In an article I’ve published on the SEA Games in Laos, I reflect on the official remembering, and forgetting, exhibited during the event:
The SEA Games even drew tentatively on the pre-revolutionary period of royalist government (1949-75), which official history usually condemns as ‘neo-colonial’. This remembering required strategic acts of forgetting. Before the Games, Somsavat [Lengsavad, president of the organizing committee] celebrated Laos as a ‘founding father’ of the SEA Games in 1959, but omitted the fact that ‘Laos’ had been the Kingdom of Laos, not the Lao People’s Democratic Republic. While such omissions are hardly surprising, it is unusual for the Royal Lao Government period to be acknowledged in positive terms.
The games seem to have heralded a more general change, however, as other parts of the “neo-colonial” past – the noncontroversial and superficially non-political ones – are also becoming more palatable.