Friday, May 4, 2012
Monarch Profile: King Savang Vatthana of Laos
École Libre des Sciences Politiques, also a prestigious institution where French diplomats were trained. He spent ten years in France learning about history, science, statecraft, diplomacy and so on. As he had left at such an early age, when he returned to Laos traditional royal tutors had to repeat some of the traditional Lao education he had received as a child. It is probably safe to say that Savang Vatthana would be the most well and diversely education monarch that Laos ever had. Not long after his return, on August 7, 1930 he married his future Queen Khamphoui, a girl from Luang Prabang, beginning what would be a devoted and fruitful marriage. In the following years the couple would have seven children. They were always a close-knit family, praying and playing together. Tennis was a very popular sport that had been introduced to the country and the Crown Princely family would play together whenever they had a chance as well as being always eager to take in tournaments when they happened to be traveling abroad.
HRH Savang Vatthana was also a very religious man. As King of Laos he would one day hold a sacred, even semi-divine position, and he took his religious duties very seriously. He poured over Buddhist scriptures, practiced intense self discipline and, of course, served in a monastery as a monk himself as was customary. In time he became an expert on the sangkha, even by the standards of the Buddhist clergy. The Crown Prince was determined that when he came to the throne and inherited the position of chief protector of the Buddhist faith in Laos that he would know it completely and be able to do so. Not just protecting it from attack but also from any who would attempt to subvert its true meaning. It is tragic that a man who was such a sincere and devout Buddhist would face such a horrific succession of conflicts, violence and hatred throughout his life. The first, but unfortunately not the last, was when World War II spread to southeast Asia.
Ultimately, the King was proven to be the more foresighted. In 1945 the Japanese were defeated and evacuated southeast Asia and in 1949 France granted full self-rule to Laos as part of the Union of Indochina. In 1951 the Crown Prince took office as Prime Minister under his father and in 1953 negotiated the treaty by which France recognized the full independence of the Kingdom of Laos as a neutral constitutional monarchy with a new prime minister taking office. In the summer of 1959 as the King become increasingly frail, Savang Vatthana assumed the position of regent. Fighting was still going on in Vietnam between the communist and non-communist factions and the kingdoms of Laos and Cambodia were in danger of being dragged into conflict as well. A smooth transition of leadership was essential and only a few months later the old king died and on October 29, 1959 Savang Vatthana became King of Laos. The new monarch, however, decided to delay the grand coronation rites due to the civil war that was raging in his country as a result of the communist insurgency.
However, try as he might, King Savang Vatthana simply could not stop the escalating conflict in Vietnam from spreading to his country. The North Vietnamese established routes through Laos for moving men and supplies into South Vietnam and the United States (clandestinely) employed forces to attack these routes. Finally, in 1961, the National Assembly reached a slim majority in favor of Prince Boun Oum of Champassack, leader of the anti-communist faction supported by the United States. King Savang Vatthana recognized the new government, which was crucial as he occupied the only position in national government that was beyond dispute. However, he hoped that the factions would form a coalition government to unite the country. Putting all of his political and moral authority behind this cause, the following year in 1962 the King managed to obtain this coalition with all sides claiming to want nothing more than a peaceful, neutral, independent Laos. However, the communists would never go along with any regime that they did not control and the coalition soon fell apart.
It was in that year the last U.S. troops left South Vietnam, pulling out the military and financial support the non-communist forces had come to depend on. Saigon fell to the North Vietnamese who were then able to increase their support for the communist insurgents in Laos. They quickly seized power and on December 2, 1975 forced King Savang Vatthana to abdicate. As in the other countries of Indochina, the communists first made a show of reconciliation by appointing the former King advisor to the President but this charade did not last long. The communists did not want to deal with him at all but the King refused to leave the country and abandon his people. Finally, in 1977 the King and Royal Family were arrested by the communists and sent to “Camp Number One” in northern Laos for political prisoners. None of his people would ever see him again. The King passed his 70th year in this prison but finally died, no one is sure even today exactly when or under what circumstances. The Lao Royal Family continues to survive in exile thanks to those who escaped the country and Laos remains little more than a client state of the communist regime in Vietnam. Thankfully, inspired by the example of King Savang Vatthana, the Lao exile community around the world remains defiant, staunchly royalist and determined to one day see the communist tyranny destroyed and the Kingdom of Laos restored to its former glory.