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“You were saved not in order to live”

HelpingHandsEla and I got in touch through a common friend in Poland, first to discuss Ela's short documentary film idea about three political prisoners of the Vietnam's Freelance Journalist Club. I have always wanted to create an information outlet in English to raise awareness about political prisoners in Vietnam. We talked on Skype, discovered our shared ideas, and created The 88 Project. Through this project, we would like to tell the stories of prisoners of conscience in Vietnam, from the personal perspective of those who were political prisoners or family members of political prisoners, or from the perspective of those who care about fundamental human freedoms such as freedom of expression and freedom of conscience, of those who believe in humanity and justice. Ela once said: "We shouldn't be afraid to talk about our experience." I have not always been used to talk about what I experienced. In the Asian culture, we tend to "bury our feelings deep inside," internalizing our pain (Wendy Duong). But there came one day when I decided that people should know about our story, and for people to understand the situation, there is no other choice than opening ourselves up. "You were saved not in order to live You have little time you must give testimony" (Zbigniew Herbert)

There came one day, then, when I knew I have to open myself up, even though I have always thought of what we have been doing as normal. The abnormal thing is not the life we chose to live, but the consequences of choosing to live up to one’s belief, in a country like Vietnam, where the state deems a foreign ideology more important than citizens’ pursuit of freedom and happiness, where the minority in power seeks to control its citizens hearts and minds by dogmatic education, by restricting information, by coercive measures such as prison.

Trung entitled his first public article expressing his opinion on political education in Vietnam “An open letter from a normal student in an abnormal country.” It was in 2006. This title now continues to describe our struggle: the struggle of normal citizens in an abnormal political regime for the right to live a normal life.

Huong Nguyen

Bloomington November 30, 2012


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