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Farewell to Nguyen Chi Tien

the Solzhenytsin from Vietnam

Reconstruction of the "Hanoi Hilton", maximum security jail of Vietnam (picture by Dennis Jarvis)

Reconstruction of the "Hanoi Hilton", maximum security jail of Vietnam (picture by Dennis Jarvis)

The dissident poet who spoke truth to power in his verses from prison passed away at 73. For 27 years he was deprived of clothes, heating in his cell, food and medical care. The worst thing for a poet however was the deprivation from books, newspaper, pen and a scrap of paper. 

Nguyen Chi Tien nonetheless continued composing verses of love, protest and other genres, and wrote more than 700 poems with the sole aim of talking to prosperity, if one day his poetry could overcome the jail walls. 

Tien, a US citizen since 2004, had caught emphysema in jail and died of respiratory problems. His odyssey had started in 1960, as he had tried to correct a "revisionist" text of the communist regime during a lesson of History to his students. Since then he faced jail and labour camps and he was compared to the great Russian dissident Alexandr Solzhenytsin. 

His most famous work, which he dangerously managed to deliver in the West during a rare moment of freedom, is Flowers from hell. Here we publish one of his moving poems: 

My poetry’s not mere poetry, no,

but it’s the sound of sobbing from a life,

the din of doors in a dark jail,

the wheeze of two poor wasted lungs,

the thud of earth tossed to bury dreams,

the clash of teeth all chattering from cold,

the cry of hunger from a stomach wrenching wild,

the helpless voice before so many wrecks.

All sounds of life half lived,

of death half died — no poetry, no. 

9 October 2012

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the Soviet labour camps

GULag is the acronym, introduced in 1930, of Gosudarstvennyj Upravlenje Lagerej (General Direction of the lagers).
In 1918, with the beginning of civil war, the Soviet system created a broad network of concentration camps for the political opponents of the newly created Union of the Soviet Socialist Republics (the USSR). In 1919 the Soviets created the forced labour division. Forced labour was designed to socially redeem the detainees according to the very Soviet constitution. Besides the economic and punishment function, some lagers also worked in order to murder the deportees.

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