Laos’ history begins with the creation of the kingdom of Lan Xang, “the land of millions of elephants,” in 1353, which is considered the first true Laotian kingdom. Later, the area was characterized by civil wars, and Laos has been sound during Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam. The first Europeans came in the 17th century, and Laos became part of French Indochina in 1893.
Laos became independent in 1954. In 1975, the Socialist People’s Republic of Laos was proclaimed and the king had to abdicate. In the 1980s and 1990s, state socialism in the country was gradually replaced by freer economic conditions. Market economy reforms were introduced in 1986, and the country got its first constitution in 1991. See abbreviationfinder for geography, history, society, politics, and economy of Laos.The country has gradually become more open, including with private property rights, but there are increasing differences between urban and rural populations; the latter is in part very poor.
The first history of the state
For centuries, the Tai people had gradually moved from South China to Southeast Asia before the first Taiwan kingdoms emerged in the northern parts of Myanmar, Thailand and Laos around the year 1300, on the outskirts of the delta-centered Burmese, Khmer and Mon empires.. The Lao prince Fa Ngum, who had grown up at the court in Angkor, established himself in Luang Prabang. He subordinated himself to the surrounding small states, invaded Vientiane in 1353 and founded Lan Xang, “the land of millions of elephants.”
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In 1478, Annamite forces moved into Lan Xang, and the entire 16th century was dominated by Myanmar’s expansive politics. Lan Xang was invaded several times, and finally the kingdom’s capital was moved to Vientiane and allied with the Thais.
The first Europeans came to Vientiane during King Souligna Vonga’s reign (1637–1694). After his death, conflict broke out between the potential heirs, and Laos was divided into three:
- Luang Prabang
The 18th century was dominated by mutual rivalry between the three kingdoms. In 1828, a Thai army captured Vientiane, looted the city and brought its inhabitants to Thailand.
In subpopulated Southeast Asia, war was waged more to increase the population than to win land. The strongest party always brought home as many prisoners of war as possible. These constant, forced movements have made Southeast Asia very complex and complicated both culturally, ethnographically and linguistically.
Around 1820, Annam increased the pressure on eastern Laos. From 1850 Thailand sought to strengthen its control over Laos, which at that time had become a Thai vassal.
Based on Annam’s claim to Laos as a vassal state, the French in 1893 forced Thailand to abandon all claims east of the Mekong, and Laos became the French protectorate. The French intervened relatively little in the internal government, but were firmly in charge of the administration of taxes, and made sure that slavery was abolished around the turn of the century. They often used Vietnamese for lower administrative positions and as workers.
Three revolts, all among minorities, were fought in 1907 in the south and in 1914 and 1919 (meo) in the north. Laos accounted for only one percent of total exports from French Indochina. Opium sales, which was a French monopoly, accounted for one-seventh of all of Indochina’s state revenue.
Laos’ history after the Second World War must be seen in the context of all of Indochina’s struggle for independence, first against the French colonial power (1946–1954), then against the increasing US dominance and military intervention. In April 1946, King Sisavang declared Vong Laos to be independent and a government was formed, Lao Issara (Free Laos).
In the spring of 1946, French forces occupied New Laos. King Sisavang was profane, but the Lao Issara government fled to Bangkok. Already in 1946, national resistance groups emerged that fought the French, without posing any real threat to the colonial power. In 1946, Laos became a member of the Indochinese federation, and the constitution of 1947 introduced parliamentary rule.
In 1947, Laos regained the territories along the Mekong that Thailand had occupied since 1941. Laos gained limited sovereignty within the French colonial empire in 1949, and Lao Issara was now definitively divided. Two half-brothers, Prince Souvanna Phouma and Prince Souphanouvong, nephews of King Sisavang, from this time stood out as leaders of the two main factions fighting for power in Laos.
Souvanna Phouma joined the Vientiane government as leader of the neutralist faction and became prime minister in 1951. Souphanouvong formed a resistance organization, Pathet Lao (Laotian Nation), and started guerrillas with the support of the Vietnamese Viet Minh. Pathet Lao built up an administration and base area in the northern provinces and established in 1956 the political party Neo Lao Haksat (Laos Patriotic Front). A political right-wing group headed by Prince Boun Oum had its support points in the cities of the south of the country.
In 1953, Laos gained full independence within the French Union. The 1954 Geneva Conference on Indochina recognized Laos’ independence, unity and neutrality. According to the Geneva Agreement, French and Vietnamese troops were to leave the country and Pathet Lao was to be integrated both politically and militarily. The United States increased its economic involvement in Laos from 1955, and in 1959 a secret US military mission was established.
Laos left the French Union in 1956. In the years after 1954, a number of failed national unity agreements were signed between the Vientiane regime and Pathet Lao, and several coups and counter-coups took place. At the same time, the confrontations between Pathet Lao and the royal army increased.
The Geneva Conference on Laos in 1961–1962 sought to create peace; the nation’s neutrality was again guaranteed by the 14 nations participating. In June 1962, a coalition government was formed under Souvanna Phouma, in which all three factions participated. The United States realized that the unilateral right wing support had failed, and from now on supported by neutralist Souvanna. The coalition government never really became capable and extensive fighting took place in 1963.
As Americans increased their involvement in the Vietnam War, they intensified their efforts to prevent communist domination in Laos. Another reason why Laos was drawn into the Vietnam War was the so-called Ho Chi Minh route through the Pathet Lao Zone. On this road system, supplies could be shipped from North Vietnam to FNL in South Vietnam.
In the mid-1960s, Laos was in fact divided into zones under the control of Pathet Lao or the neutralist regime, which received increasingly open support from the United States. Pathet Lao claimed to control 11 of 16 provinces. In October 1964, the United States began bombing the Pathet Lao zone. North Vietnam increased its military presence in Laos, especially to protect the Ho Chi Minh route, but also actively participated in the fighting on Pathet Lao’s side.
The US sent several military advisers, and the US CIA organized and funded a secret army, mainly from the Meo tribe. Under the leadership of the Meogen General Vang Pao, this army reached a strength of about 30,000 men in 1968. Thai mercenaries also participated. Neither the rental armies nor the US-backed royal army succeeded in stopping Pathet Lao and the North Vietnamese forces, despite heavy US air bombardment.
Pathet Lao Revolution
In 1970, Pathet Lao gained control of the Krukkesletta. A large-scale South Vietnamese invasion in 1971 to cut the Ho Chi Minh route failed. In February 1973, a ceasefire agreement was signed in Vientiane, in September a peace agreement. A unity government was formed with as many pro-communists as non-communists, and with the “neutral” Souvanna Phouma as prime minister. This balance of power was soon overturned; Pathet Lao gradually took over more power.
The communist takeover was completed on December 2, 1975, when a national congress abolished the monarchy. King Savang Vatthana abdicated. The monarch, together with leaders of the old regime, were placed in retraining camps. There he and Crown Prince Vong Savang died in May 1978, allegedly by starvation.
The Democratic People’s Republic of Laos was proclaimed. Prince Souphanouvong was President of the People’s Republic in 1975-1991. Kaysone Phomvihane was in his dual role as party leader and prime minister (in 1991-1992 also president) the strong man of the Laos revolution. After Kaysone’s death in 1992, Khamtay Siphadone, formerly the country’s army chief and defense minister, became a dominant leadership figure. After a term as prime minister (1991–1998) he was elected by the party to the country’s president in 1998 and re-elected in 2001.
In 1989, parliamentary elections were held for the first time since 1975; with only party members among the candidates. This practice persisted, but at the election in 2002, one of the 196 candidates was not a party member: Justice Minister Khamouan Bouppha.
New top management
In 2006, Laos gained new top leadership with General Choummaly Sayasone as party leader and president, a dual role that had belonged to Khamtai Siphandon since the early 1990s. Deputy Prime Minister Bouason Volachit was promoted to head of government. In the parliamentary elections that year, the Communist Party took 113 out of 115 seats. 29 women were elected to the new National Assembly.
The one-sided Communist Party has as its stated goal to maintain economic growth that has been around 5 percent annually since the turn of the millennium. Fighting corruption is defined as another main task. Corruption has become increasingly widespread and malignant and threatens our very existence, said incumbent top leader Choummaly at the 2006 party congress.
Resistance of the Hmong minority
Occasional guerrilla activity has taken place since the 1975 revolution, but without any real threat to the regime. During the celebration of the 25th anniversary of the revolution in December 2000, Vientiane was shaken by several bombings. A United States-based resistance group, the Lao Citizens Movement for Democracy, claimed in 2003 to have active guerrilla groups in 11 provinces, authorities denied.
However, occasional reports of guerrillas and sabotages in some parts of the country come against the communist regime. In May 2007, Western embassies in Vientiane issued warnings about fighting operations not far north of the capital. The loosely organized resistance movement consists almost exclusively of members of the minority people, hmong, and has hardly more than about a thousand men under arms, according to diplomatic sources. During the wars in Laos and Vietnam in the 1960s and 1970s, tens of thousands of Hmong soldiers were recruited to fight on the United States against North Vietnamese along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. In 2006, a 400-member hmong group surrendered after living as an outlaw in the jungle since the communists took power in 1975.
Since the 1975 revolution, over 100,000 Hmong refugees have settled in the United States. The Federal Police FBI announced in May 2007 that a plot was revealed among exiled laotere with the aim of overthrowing the present regime in Vientiane. The foremost hmong leader, Vang Pao, was arrested along with nine alleged conspirators. According to a preliminary charge shall Vang Pao group have tried to buy weapons for nearly 10 million USD, and had planned to enlist saboteurs to blow up government buildings in Vientiane. Vang Pao was the general and chief executive of a US-funded army that included forces of up to 30,000 men during the Vietnam War.