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Vietnamese Communist Party Spies Inside Religious Institutions

Graphic: Luat Khoa Magazine.

This article was first published in Luat Khoa Magazine on March 11, 2022. The translation was done by Lee Nguyen.


In a letter from Plum Village in 2008, Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh said that the Vietnamese government had more or less changed its views on religion, especially towards Party members who are religious followers themselves. [1]

He described the government's negative stance in the past as “[the State] not allowing young people to become Buddhist monks and using temples and pagodas as places to sun-dry paddy rice and raise pigs. [The State] considered religion as the opium of the people. Every time government officials went to temples or prayed in churches, they were considered 'idealistic' and were no longer trusted by the Party and State. As such, they had to forfeit their positions."

Thich Nhat Hanh then said that the situation changed in the 2000s.  He claimed that party members and government officials adopted a more generous attitude and that most of the populace who worshiped the Goddess of Mercy and those who visited pagodas to pray to the Buddha were no longer considered superstitious or distrustful.

However, are Party members really free in their spiritual activities? Vu Chien Thang, deputy minister of Home Affairs,  recently tried to provide an answer.

Religious Members of the Vietnamese Communist Party are Tasked with Understanding the Situation of Religions on the Ground

In January 2022, Vu Chien Thang, in his article, revealed one of the upcoming trends in the state’s management of religion: recruiting religious party members and assigning them to understand the religious situation on the ground and to influence the beliefs of the masses and believers. [2]

Thang, was also the head of the Government Committee for Religious Affairs, an agency under the Ministry of Home Affairs. Currently, Thang serves as an official in the state management of religions. Thus, his words reflect the Vietnamese government's religious policy.

Thang's statement is consistent with the "Red Seed" movement that started in 2004. This was also the year that Vietnam was included in the Countries of Particular Concern on Beliefs and Religions (CPC) list by the United States.

Deputy Minister of Home Affairs Vu Chien Thang. Photo: moha.gov.vn

In September 2004, the Vietnamese Politburo issued Regulation No. 123-QĐ/TW, which stipulated a number of points regarding the admission of religious individuals as Party members who participate in religious activities.

In April 2005, the Central Organization Commission issued Instruction No. 40-HD/BTCTW to guide Party organizations in the proper implementation of Regulation No. 123. In the same year, Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh returned to Vietnam for the first time in 40 years. [3]

In 2017, when Pham Minh Chinh was still head of the Central Organization Commission, he called on localities to increase the admission of religious individuals into the party. [4]

The movement to expand the admission of religious individuals as Party members have been maintained since then.

In recent years, localities such as Dien Bien [5], Vinh Phuc [6], Thai Binh [7], Nam Dinh [8], Lam Dong [9], Kon Tum [10], Gia Lai [11], and Dong Nai [12] have considered the recruitment of religious individuals as Party members as an essential task.

Blending Religion with Communism

Communist membership for religious individuals would be unremarkable if done unconditionally. However, the Vietnamese authorities deliberately recruited them into the Party and used them to control and monitor religions.

The reasons for their admission into the Party, as mentioned in the press, are to position them in villages and hamlets, which do not have a strong Communist presence, to act as a bridge between the Party and the faithful. [13]

However, in 2015, an article by Le Van Loi, the current deputy director of the Ho Chi Minh National Academy of Politics, revealed that the actual reason for this recruitment is to monitor and control the complicated religious situation in Vietnam, including activities of "strange religions" and individuals who "abuse religions to entice and incite religious compatriots to oppose the Party and State." [14]

In his article, Loi said that from the years 2004 to 2012, the Red River Delta region had 2,806 religious people who were admitted to the Party, including 2,081 religious followers and 5 religious dignitaries and sub dignitaries.

In a 2021 article, the Dien Bien Phu Newspaper referred to religious Party members as "the extended arm of the party." [15]

Dong Nai Newspaper reported that the province's Thong Nhat District, where more than 73 percent of residents are Catholics, had only 663 Party members in 2004 but that the number had increased to 2,640 by 2020. [16]

The Can Tho Newspaper notes that on average, Vinh Thanh Town has eight Catholics admitted to the Party every year. And by 2019, the entire town had 114 Catholics who accounted for 62.3 percent of the total number of Party members. [17]

While democratic countries try to separate religions from politics, Vietnam has chosen to closely intertwine the two by politicizing religion.

When a Monk Joins the Communist Party

Soc Trang Province has a large population of Khmer monks who joined the Party and who are either active participants in the People's Councils at all levels or have aspirations to become a member of the National Assembly. [18]

In 2021, Venerable Thich Minh Duc, a Theravada Buddhist monk in the Soc Trang Province, was re-elected as a member of the National Assembly for the 2021-2026 term. Minh Duc joined the Vietnamese Communist Party in 2014 and two years later became a member of the 14th National Assembly. [19]

In 2018, the public was surprised when a senior leader of the Vietnam Buddhist Sangha, Venerable Thich Thanh Sam, was revealed to have been in the Party for around 50 years before he passed away. [20]

The funeral of Venerable Thich Thanh Sam in 2018. Photo: phathocdoisong.com

Although the official number of dignitaries from the Vietnam Buddhist Sangha religion who are Party members has yet to be announced, being accepted into the Party has become a thing of pride for the Sangha monks.

The following is the story of one such individual.

In 2019, a correspondent of the Ninh Binh newspaper interviewed a monk who had just been admitted as a reserve Party member, Venerable Thich Thanh Su, who is the abbot of four pagodas in Soc Trang. [21]

“Venerable Sir, may I ask a question?” The reporter inquired. “Have you joined the Communist Party?”

“How about you, have you become a member of the Party yet?” the monk asked. “If you are, then we can call each other comrade because we are now in the same party. Right now, I am just a reserve Party member, but I also read a lot of revolutionary poetry. I remember a verse from our revolutionary poet To Huu:

'From that moment, a summer sun illuminates inside me / The sun of truth shines through my heart,’

This is what I am feeling at the moment right now.”

However, there are different opinions within the Buddhist clergy regarding ties between Buddhist organizations and political organizations.

In an interview with VOA in 2018, Venerable Thich Khong Tanh, the head monk of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam, said, “When you take refuge in the Buddha, you no longer participate in the world's political parties. If you participate, you violate a religious taboo." [22]

The Vietnam Buddhist Sangha is becoming severely politicized. In 1981, facing the call from the government for monks to join the Vietnamese Fatherland Front, a Party political organization, the monks in Vietnam split into two different Buddhist organizations.

Venerable Thich Tue Sy, the current head monk of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam, commented on the admissions of other monks to the Vietnamese Fatherland Front:

“I do not accept the fact that the Front includes the Sangha. As for the union of the Church and the Sangha, I would say that our position is this should never happen. The Vietnam Buddhist Sangha is a member of the Fatherland Front, which is a political organization; we are not politicians, so we should not be linked with any political organization.” [23]

Today, Party members hiding in pagodas and churches must carry out their Party’s assigned task of controlling religions. As such, they wear their traditional orange robes alongside their Communist Party badges and in a blatant show of cognitive dissonance, still, teach the faithful about the Buddhist doctrines of tolerance and freedom when their political party preaches violent revolutions.


Reference

1.  Làng Mai. (2008, February 4). Lá Thư Làng Mai số 31. http://langmai.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/LaThuLangMai31-2008.pdf

2.  Tạp chí Tổ chức Nhà nước. (2022b, January 6). Những định hướng đối với công tác quản lý nhà nước về tín ngưỡng, tôn giáo ở nước ta trong thời gian tới. Web Archive. https://web.archive.org/web/20220211031809/https://tcnn.vn/news/detail/53237/Nhung-dinh-huong-doi-voi-cong-tac-quan-ly-nha-nuoc-ve-tin-nguong-ton-giao-o-nuoc-ta-trong-thoi-gian-toi.html

3.  Lý luận Chính trị. (2015, August 24). Công tác phát triển đảng viên là người có đạo ở các tỉnh đồng bằng song Hồng. https://web.archive.org/web/20200720140449/http://www.lyluanchinhtri.vn/home/index.php/thuc-tien/item/1083-cong-tac-phat-trien-dang-vien-la-nguoi-co-dao-o-cac-tinh-dong-bang-song-hong.html

4.  Cổng thông tin điện tử đảng bộ tỉnh Hà Tĩnh. (2017, July 6). Phát triển đảng viên đối với người có đạo và xây dựng cốt cán trong tôn giáo. https://web.archive.org/web/20220311081500/https://hatinh.dcs.vn/to-chuc/news/phat-trien-dang-vien-doi-voi-nguoi-co-dao-va-xay-dung-cot-can-trong-ton-giao.html

5.  Báo Điện Biên Phủ. (2021, September 24). Quan tâm phát triển Đảng trong vùng đồng bào tôn giáo (bài 3). https://web.archive.org/web/20220311081649/http://baodienbienphu.info.vn/tin-tuc/chinh-tri/190588/quan-tam-phat-trien-dang-trong-vung-dong-bao-ton-giao-bai-3

6.  Báo Vĩnh Phúc. (2020, August 18). Phát triển đảng viên trong đồng bào công giáo. https://web.archive.org/web/20220311082104/http://baovinhphuc.com.vn/xay-dung-dang/51731/phat-trien-dang-vien-trong-dong-bao-cong-giao.html

7.  Cổng thông tin điện tử tỉnh Thái Bình, huyện Vũ Thư. (2020, December 28). Gặp mặt cán bộ, đảng viên là người có đạo và chức sắc tôn giáo năm 2021. https://web.archive.org/web/20220311082311/https://vuthu.thaibinh.gov.vn/tin-tuc/chinh-tri/gap-mat-can-bo-dang-vien-la-nguoi-co-dao-va-chuc-sac-ton-gia.html

8.  Báo Nam Định. (2019, November 18). Đảng bộ Hải Hậu quan tâm phát triển đảng trong đồng bào có đạo. https://web.archive.org/web/20220311082431/http://baonamdinh.com.vn/channel/5084/201911/dang-bo-hai-hau-quan-tam-phat-trien-dang-trong-dong-bao-co-dao-2534168/

9.  Báo Lâm Đồng. (2020, April 24). Phát triển đảng trong vùng đồng bào có đạo. https://web.archive.org/web/20220311082523/http://baolamdong.vn/chinhtri/202004/phat-trien-dang-trong-vung-dong-bao-co-dao-3000415/

10.  Báo Kon Tum. (2021, October 24). Quan tâm phát triển đảng viên trong vùng đồng bào DTTS, vùng có đạo. https://web.archive.org/web/20220311082759/https://www.baokontum.com.vn/xay-dung-dang/quan-tam-phat-trien-dang-vien-trong-vung-dong-bao-dtts-vung-co-dao-21061.html

11.  Cổng thông tin điện tử tỉnh Gia Lai. (2022, February 10). Đak Đoa quan tâm phát triển đảng viên trong đồng bào tôn giáo. https://web.archive.org/web/20220311082752/https://gialai.gov.vn/tin-tuc/dak-doa-quan-tam-phat-trien-dang-vien-trong-dong-bao-ton-giao.71577.aspx

12.  Báo Đồng Nai. (2020, July 20). Quan tâm phát triển Đảng trong đồng bào tôn giáo. https://web.archive.org/web/20220311082819/http://baodongnai.com.vn/chinhtri/202007/quan-tam-phat-trien-dang-trong-dong-bao-ton-giao-3013484/

13.  Ibid [8]

14.  Ibid [3]

15.  Ibid [5]

16.  Ibid [12]

17.  Báo Cần Thơ. (2019, July 8). Quan tâm phát triển đảng viên là người có đạo Công giáo.

https://web.archive.org/web/20220311083230/https://baocantho.com.vn/quan-tam-phat-trien-dang-vien-la-nguoi-co-dao-cong-giao-a111018.html

18.  Báo Nhân dân. (2017, January 18). Quan tâm phát triển đảng viên là người có đạo. https://web.archive.org/web/20220311083255/https://nhandan.vn/dang-va-cuoc-song/quan-tam-phat-trien-dang-vien-la-nguoi-co-dao-283558/

19.  Luật Khoa. (2021, June 24). 4/5 chức sắc đắc cử đại biểu Quốc hội Khóa XV là của Phật giáo. https://www.luatkhoa.org/2021/06/4-5-chuc-sac-dac-cu-dai-bieu-quoc-hoi-khoa-xv-la-cua-phat-giao

20.  VOA. (2018, March 16). Việt Nam ‘lộ’ tin một hòa thượng có 50 năm tuổi Đảng. https://www.voatiengviet.com/a/viet-nam-lo-tin-mot-hoa-thuong-co-50-nam-tuoi-dang/4301884.html

21.  Báo Ninh Bình. (2019, September 23). Phát triển đảng viên là người có đạo ở Ninh Bình: Lời giải từ thực tiễn. https://web.archive.org/web/20220311083654/https://baoninhbinh.org.vn/phat-trien-dang-vien-la-nguoi-co-dao-o-ninh-binh-loi-giai-tu/d20190923075931149.htm

22.  Ibid [20]

23.  Thích Tuệ Sỹ. (2008). Định hướng tương lai với thế hệ tăng sĩ trẻ ngày nay. Thư Viện Hoa Sen. https://thuvienhoasen.org/a27487/dinh-huong-tuong-lai-voi-the-he-tang-si-tre-ngay-nay

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