Asian society: Changes from within

from a full-page article in the Financial Times..

June 13, 2013, By David Pilling

Technology has helped civil activists but some query their success rate.

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Last month in Ly Thai To park in central Hanoi, a group of about 1,000 young people wearing rainbow bandanas and carrying rainbow flags erupted into a carefully rehearsed song-and-dance routine. The “flash mob”, which sparked similar events in Ho Chi Minh City, Da Nang, and Can Tho in the Mekong Delta, was intended to promote awareness about gay and lesbian rights.


“The way we are working is in collaboration with the government. We don’t confront the government,” says Mr Binh, a new breed of Vietnamese activist finding room to operate in one of Asia’s most authoritarian countries. “I believe in freedom. People should be able to participate in the political process,” he says. “We are creating space for people. So the flash mob looks like entertainment, but it’s about emboldening each other.”


Much has been written about the growth of civil society in China, where protests over issues such as the environment and land seizures have become common. Less noted, however, has been the stirring of civil society across other parts of Asia, whether in Bangladesh, where female garment workers have taken to the streets to press for better working conditions, or in Malaysia where a broad coalition has been pushing for more open elections.

“There is a general weariness and frustration across the region with all the formal channels of politics,” says Eddin Khoo, a Malaysian author who has campaigned for cultural rights in his own country. “Civil society groups are spearheading calls for public participation and the opening of democratic space.”


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Mr Binh is convinced that his work and that of others is gradually changing public attitudes for the better and creating space for dialogue with the state. As a result, he says, the Vietnamese government’s “tolerance” on issues has increased: “We are pushing the envelope a little bit and waiting to see how they react. Then we push a little bit more.”

Link to the entire article: 


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