Mass mourning for Vo Nguyen Giap unlikely to be seen again in Vietnam

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 13 October, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 13 October, 2013, 5:52am


The death of wartime General Vo Nguyen Giap has triggered public mourning in Vietnam the likes of which have not been seen since Ho Chi Minh passed away more than four decades ago. And given the current leaders, it may not be witnessed again, according to many of the 150,000 people who lined up to pay respects to the so-called Red Napoleon.

The ruling Communist Party orchestrated the send-off for Giap, emphasising his leadership in the wars first against France and then the US. But it ignored his later years, when the general's popularity allowed him to air rare public criticism of the ruling elite.

Still, the death of the country's last old guard revolutionary inevitably stirred reflection by some of the country's current leaders, only one of whom fought against the Americans. Giap's passing comes as the government is struggling against public dissatisfaction over corruption and a faltering economy.

"I'm not sure we will have a third leader like Giap and Uncle Ho," said Tran Thi Thien, who rose at 3am to pay tribute outside the Giap family home in Hanoi this past week. "I hope the current leadership will look at how people love and respect Giap to improve themselves and better lead the country."

Yesterday, Giap's body was laid in state in Hanoi. The country's top leaders, along with veterans and diplomats, paid their final respects ahead of Giap's funeral today in his home province. Afterwards, members of the public were allowed to pay their respects, with tens of thousands of people waiting in a line that stretched about three kilometres.

The national flag was flown at half-mast, and unrelated public events were cancelled. The country's cable television provider blocked access to international sports and entertainment channels from Friday until today.

Among the crowds watching coverage of ceremony on a big screen in a park close to the funeral home was an Italian Communist, who had travelled to Hanoi to join the mourners.

"In the '60s and '70s, we were shouting 'Giap, Giap, Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam will win'," said Polo Giovanni. "And Vietnam won, and this represented hope for my generation and for humanity."

The mourning period has gone smoothly in a country where very little happens in public without the blessing of the ruling party. State media coverage projects a united nation, bolstering a government whose legitimacy still rests in part on its history of expelling foreign invaders.

"He was an outstanding general, but he was a very simple man and very down to earth," said Nguyen Chan, a 78-year-old who fought in Dien Bien Phu in 1954. "For us, he was a commander in chief, a teacher and also a father."