Although being named the recipient of the seventh Van Viet Prize in the field of literary criticism, the author did not dare to accept it because of pressure from Vietnam’s authorities.
On April 5, Van Viet – a forum of the Advocacy Committee for Establishment of the Independent Literature Association – published a letter titled “How much longer is suffering?” by literary critic Nguyen Thi Tinh Thy, who was awarded for her book titled “Dare to look back.”
At the beginning of the letter, author Tinh Thy wrote, “I don’t know if in this world, in the ancient East-West literature, there was anyone who had to write this speech like me. Because this is a statement Please Keep the Award.”
According to this literary critic, although very honored, she could not accept the award given by Van Viet because of the pressure caused by Vietnam’s security forces.
Specifically, she said she was approached by security officers who asked her not to accept the award for the reason “to avoid affecting the general security situation.”
This incident happened two months after poet Thai Hao was assaulted by plainclothes security agents to prevent him from accepting the award also of the Advocacy Committee for Establishment of the Independent Literature Association, an organization organized by famous writers including prominent dissident Nguyen Ngoc created to protect the freedom of creation.
A reporter for Radio Free Asia contacted literary critic Nguyen Thi Tinh Thy to request an interview, but she said she had said it all through a letter posted on the Van Viet forum, and declined to say more.
Talking to us, Associate Professor-Dr. Hoang Dung, a member of the Van Viet Award Committee, said that the incident with author Tinh Thy was the continuation of a series of acts of harassment by Vietnam’s government on Van Viet.
“The thing about pressuring one person to draw, the other to draw, then withdraw the prize, and then preventing even beating is not new.”
“Tinh Thy’s story is part of a series of the government acts in which the state deals with Van Viet in particular and in general literature outside the mainstream. People are always afraid.”
Associate Professor Hoang Dung explained that the reason the government is afraid is because of the weakness of the political regime, which leads to panic and negative reactions to activities beyond the control of the regime. “Everywhere they look, they see the enemy,” he said.
He also believes that literary control is a long-term and ongoing policy of the Communist Party of Vietnam, not a temporary or partial one. To prove this, Associate Professor Hoang Dung asked if the Communist Party has ever allowed literature to be free since the party came to power, and he himself gave the answer “never.”
Despite the constant repression and obstacles from the government, Prof. Dung affirmed that Van Viet would continue its activities. When asked about the meaning of writers continuing to write in the current harsh environment, he said:
“First of all, it shows everyone, shows the compatriots that there are still intellectuals with a conscience, who have the courage to endure such things. And I wish the country would one day be more open to ideological issues. It is really a gathering of the wisdom of the whole people to build the country.
The important thing is to show people that this is their country, and then give their voice to make the country better and better.”
The literary critic Nguyen Thi Tinh Thy, asked the question at the end of her letter, “How much longer will Vietnamese writers suffer?”