On October 30th, 2013, an international dialogue under the title “The Role of Civil Society Organizations in the Process of Socio-Economic Development in two socialist countries: Vietnam and Cuba” which was jointly organized by Rosa-Luxemburg-Stiftung (RLS) and VNU-University of Social Sciences and Humanities, was held in Hanoi, Vietnam.
Participants who included various experts from universities, media and non-profit organizations from Vietnam, Cuba, Mexico, Germany and the U.S. discussed the possible roles of civil society organizations in the two socialist countries Vietnam and Cuba by comparing the countries’ differing approaches and attitudes set out in the preceding presentations. After having agreed upon the basic assumption that civil society is existent in Vietnam and Cuba, participants debated on the roles of the civil society. While in Cuba, a participatory model is on the rise and literature, art and media are increasingly becoming a platform for citizens to express concerns and criticism, a similar development in terms of voicing public criticism cannot be identified in Vietnam. Here, civil society fulfills two distinct tasks: On the one hand, there are civil society organizations which complement the state by providing humanitarian aid or facilitating education for example. On the other hand there are movements in civil society which go more towards advocating for the rights of citizens. While the first group is well recognized by the state for its contribution to the socio-economic development, the latter is newly developing and slowly widening its space for activities.
The fierce discussion showed that even though Vietnam and Cuba share the same political roots, developments within the two countries differ significantly. The example of Cuba showed that even though funding is provided by the state, independence can be maintained and critical voices raised amongst non-profit organizations. But also Cuban participants expressed their appreciation of the exchange of ideas and mindsets with Rafael Hernandez, editor of the Cuban magazine Temas, even inviting Vietnamese participants to contribute to his magazine.