Vietnam leader promises new freedom for artists

Vietnamese Communist Party leader Nguyen Van Linh admits the party still has ``undemocratic, despotic and overbearing'' ways over literature and the arts. In early October, Mr. Linh gave an unusual speech to a group of about 100 writers and artists. ``I heard that what you dread most is something that usually hovers somewhere in the air, and that you fear it even more than censorship,'' Linh said.

``This is the fear that some public opinion may accuse you of failing to adhere to the correct stand in your writings, of opposing party lines and positions, and so forth,'' he said.

He promised a party Politburo resolution soon that would allow culture and arts ``to take on wings and fly into the blue yonder just like a liberated bird.''

Linh hinted at a deal: Writers and artists would be ``untied'' from state subsidies and allowed to survive on free-market sales of their work. ``God helps those who help themselves,'' he said.

During the wars against the French and Americans, he said, it was ``clear then who was to be commended and praised: heroic combatants, heroic people. Today, how one should go about praising or criticizing is a very difficult task.''

In creating a socialist state, he said, ``I have come to realize that it is quite difficult to be so sure about things. The dividing line between right and wrong often becomes blurred.''

Linh has tried to use culture and media to boost his economic reforms, and also admitted that he pens the nation's leading muckraking newspaper column, ``Things which must be done immediately,'' which began last spring. It comes as little surprise.

The column's pen name is N. V. L. - conveniently, his initials - but up to now Linh had said the letters stand for a Vietnamese phrase meaning ``speak and act.'' The column attacks specific party officials for corrupt or inefficient acts. This, Linh says, has caused other leaders to wonder why he ``blackens'' the regime, or if he wants to start a Chinese-style cultural revolution.

Vietnam's newspaper editors say the column helps boost circulation.

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