Communist leaders invoked the spirits of Ho Chi Minh and a 1,000-year succession of national heroes Saturday to affirm the legitimacy of their rule 50 years after Vietnam declared independence.
Portraits of Ho smiled from thousands of placards and dozens of floats in the National Day parade at Ba Dinh Square in central Hanoi, where Ho declared independence from colonial France on Sept. 2, 1945.
A bearded actor made up to look like Ho moved his lips in time to a scratchy recording of Ho’s independence speech.
Vietnam’s Communists wrapped themselves in Ho’s mantle to justify their continued monopoly on power in a society undergoing rapid change. They agree that economic reform is necessary - and that opposition must be squelched.
The last floats in the parade depicted leaders of the eternal struggle against China, including Ngo Quyen, who lured a Chinese fleet to destruction on stakes in the Bach Dang River in 938 A.D.
The floats were followed by portrayals of the Battle of Dien Bien Phu, where the Communist-led Viet Minh finally defeated the French in 1954, and the “American War” that culminated in the Fall of Saigon in 1975.
Ordinary Vietnamese, who came by the hundreds of thousands to hear Ho in 1945, were nowhere to be seen because police had sealed off Ba Dinh Square to all but party elite and their invited guests. Hanoi residents instead watched the parade on television or saw it when it wound downtown.
Revelers later packed the shores of central Hoan Kiem lake to watch a dragon boat race and fireworks and snack on dried squid and popsicles.
When Ho declared independence, World War II had just ended and Vietnamese nationalists had captured Hanoi from a defeated Japanese occupation force. France, the colonial power, had yet to send troops to reassert its authority.
North Vietnam didn’t achieve independence until 1954, after a nine-year war against the French, and Ho’s successors finally unified Vietnam in 1975.
A decade of poverty and stagnation followed, but recently Vietnam has been on a roll. In the past two months, it has established diplomatic relations with the United States, joined the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, and signed a cooperation agreement with the European Union.
But the government has repressed any threat to its grip on power and has ignored Western criticism of its human rights record.
In 1945, Ho began his speech by quoting the U.S. Declaration of Independence - all men are created equal and endowed with inalienable rights such as life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
“In a broader sense this means all the peoples on the earth are equal from birth, all the people have a right to live and to be happy and free,” said Ho.