The Alliance for Democracy in Laos is a worldwide network of activists and non-governmental organisations dedicated to bringing democracy to the one-party communist state. Its president, Bounthone Chanthalavong-Wiese, spoke to Southeast Asia Globe about her ongoing campaign for change
How did you first get involved with the cause for democracy in Laos?
I was a Lao student in Eastern Europe in 1990 when I made peaceful democratic demonstrations in front of the Laos embassy. But I can’t go back to Laos – I have been in exile here in Germany since then; here with all the Lao people exiled together who are part of the Alliance for Democracy in Laos.
What was it that brought you to Germany in the first place?
After the peaceful demonstration in front of the embassy in Czechoslovakia, where I studied medicine, the Lao government wanted to arrest me, to take me back to Laos. I had only one week to go into exile. The German government gave me a visa. Three days later I was living in exile in Germany. Since then I have worked with all Lao people – in Germany first, then later with Lao people living in other countries.
What was it in the first place that made it so important to you to protest against the Lao regime?
Since 1975, the Lao regime has been a one-party communist system. And they have never accepted human rights in Laos. We all have human rights – we have the right to free speech, to assembly, to demonstration, to political activity. The Lao people have no free ideas when it comes to politics in Laos, and there are maybe 18,000 Lao people who have been arrested and persecuted. Many people. We want to change from this dictatorial system to a democratic system.
Do you think that there is a lot of support for democratic change in Laos, on a local level?
Yes, we have many Lao people in our country who support us. There are many people in Laos, in our homeland, who are working for a change to democracy. In the government, or in the Communist party, they don’t have that same need for change. But the Lao people, and some smaller officials, they want things to change. But there’s a great deal of corruption in the political system.
And how do you think you can mobilise that support to effect real change?
Through the internet, through our television broadcasts in the US, we maintain direct contact with our people around the world and in Laos. The people in Laos give us direct information about human rights violations in the country. This contact – and our work in social media – is now very active, and we have had a great deal of support from the people of Laos, and from Laotians in exile across the whole world.
Living in Germany, has the reunification of the country following the fall of the Berlin Wall changed the way you look at the future of the communist regime in Laos?
Yes. We’ve seen that shift towards democracy in Eastern Europe, and it shows us that peaceful change in Laos is possible. But we need international support. In September this year US President Barack Obama will visit Laos for the Asean Summit. This is a big chance for Lao people, for our country. We need all Lao people to tell President Obama that we need change – not through war, but through peaceful change. And we need support from international media – Laos needs a free media now more than ever… We appeal for international organisations, every government and parliament of every democratic country in the world to help the Lao people and help our movement for democracy in Laos.