Nationalist Stirrings

Nationalist Stirrings

Although French rule in Laos was punctuated by rebellions among tribal peoples that had to be suppressed by force, the Laotians by and large accepted the French presence. The need to counter the pan-Thai irredentism propagated by the Pibul regime in Bangkok nevertheless led the Decoux administration to foster Laotian nationalism through the Lao Renovation Movement (Lao Nhay). The goals of this movement were to "provide Laos with its own personality with respect to its neighbors and to inculcate the sense of patrie." The first Lao language publications in the style of the modern press, for example, Lao Nhay (New Laos), and Tin Lao (News of Laos) both launched in 1941, resulted from this movement.

An activist group of teachers and students among the Lao nationalists, however, attempted to stage a coup d'état at the Collège Pavie in Vientiane in July 1940. When the coup failed, they fled across the river and founded a semisecret organization, Laos for the Lao (Lao Pen Lao). Founding members included the Pali teacher and historian Mahasila Viravong, Tham Sayasithena, Thongdy Sounthonvichit, and Oudone Sananikone and his half-brother Oun.

Beginning in December 1944, with the upswing of Allied fortunes in Europe and the Pacific, General Charles de Gaulle's provisional government in Paris began airdropping French agents into Indochina with the aim of recruiting and training guerrilla forces to harass the Japanese and maintain a French presence. These agents readily found supporters in Laos, and soon Franco-Laotian guerrilla groups were operating from jungle camps scattered from Louang Namtha Province in the north to Champasak Province in the south. On March 9, 1945, however, the Japanese carried out a coup de force that overturned the 1940 political agreement and ended French administrative control throughout Indochina. Having the Indochinese rulers renounce their treaties of protectorate with France formed an integral part of Japanese plans, but no steps were taken to prepare the Laotians or others for "independence."

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