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Vietnamese artists are refusing to accept government awards and fighting amongst each other over nominations

Late author Son Nam was nominated for this year National Award but his family has withdrawn his name following a lot of controversy concerning the awards.

The family of late writer Son Nam just withdrew his name from the nominations for this year's National Award, which is given to authors of influential scientific, educational, art and literary works.

Upon making the request Thursday last week, Nam's daughter Dao Thuy Hang said her father had lived a simple life and the controversy surrounding the nominations this year would have made him sad, Tuoi Tre reported.

The daughter of the author, who was known for roaming southern Vietnam on foot and without shoes, told the newspaper later that she "just wanted him to rest in peace."

Nominations of this year's National Award and Ho Chi Minh Award, two of the government's highest honors, have suffered a barrage of criticism from the artistic community.

Authors and songwriters left off the nomination lists say the selection process is unfair while a group of filmmakers is fighting over the rights to an award going to their film series.

Author Son Tung has withdrawn himself from the National Award nomination process while author Nguyen Ngoc and poet Nguyen Khoa Diem have done the same from the Ho Chi Minh Award.

Ngoc, whose application was made by the Association of Authors, said in his withdrawal letter that "I do not care about this" while Tung and Diem said they had personal reasons.

Insiders said that requirements for the awards are arbitrary and out of date, such as "having 15 consecutive years serving in the art" or "having won two medals from arts festivals." They also said that easy requirements like "having a book published" have made the awards near meaningless.

They said many artists have withdrawn their names because the awards are not worth the criticism involved. Most of the controversy is about who does and does not deserve the awards.


Five songwriters from Hanoi including Doan Bong, Dinh Quang Hop, Ngoc Khue, The Song and Le Viet Hoa have sent complaints to the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism saying that the nomination list for the songwriters award was highly arbitrary, The Thao & Van Hoa said in a report Monday.

All five of the writers' applications for the awards were previously turned down by the awards' judges.

The group's complaint in January this year said the selection council did not listen to their music but only made "groundless assessments."

Meanwhile, songwriter Le Lan, who was once punished by the Ministry of National Defense for plagiarism, Thap Nhat, Vu Thanh, Le Tinh, Vinh Lai and Cat Van never wrote a famous song but all were nominated for the awards, according to the letter.

The five artists have asked to remove 11 songwriters including those from the nomination lists and called for a new, larger council to vote publicly on new nominations.

Their names have since been included in the nomination list, but the artists have continued their protest, the report said.

Since 1995, the National Award has been given every two years and the Ho Chi Minh every five years on Vietnam's Independence Day September 2.

Painter Luong Xuan Doan, deputy head of the Arts and Literature Department from the Central Propaganda and Education Commission, said that except for the award's first issuance, each group of nominations has been criticized by the public and the arts community.

But this year, the criticisms had become "noisier and harsher," Doan told Tuoi Tre.

A total of 890 nominations for the awards were submitted by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism to a national council this year.

It was the highest number ever and many of the nominated artists are not well-known while many national favorites such as Nguyen Huy Thiep in literature, or Thai Ba Van and Phan Cam Thuong in painting were not on the list, Doan was cited by Tuoi Tre as saying in a recent report.

He said that the awards work within the old "ask and give" system, in which the artists apply for the awards by sending in a list of their achievements in order to be chosen.

Doan was angry with this system.

"If the government really wants to honor the best artists, why force them to brag about themselves?" he said in an interview with Vietnam Television. "Why not just give the awards based on outstanding work."

Doan also said it was "humorous" that winners are still being selected for conditions such as "15 consecutive years serving in the art" or "having won two medals from arts festivals."

He referred to late songwriter Trinh Cong Son, whose songs are well known by all Vietnamese, as an iconic artist with a major influence who was never "qualified" for the awards.

Artists like Son "have slipped out of the rigid frames," Doan said.

Confusing regulations governing the awards also set off controversy for  filmmaker Nguyen Thuoc as two writers for the director's documentary film series Su nhoc nhan cua cat (The hardness of sand), Nhung cong dan @ (@ citizens) and Chat xam (Brain) complained that the award should be shared with them.

After scriptwriters Phan Huyen Thu and Phan Thanh Tu complained to the ministry, the government then asked Thuoc to get the co-authors' agreement in order to receive the award.

The ministry said in a statement on July 13 that the awards are given to artistic products, not the artists and thus they have to be agreed upon by all authors of the work.

That statement was totally different from another one in September 2010 which said that the awards are given to artists, Tuoi Tre said.

Also in 2007, three film directors received the Ho Chi Minh Award and 15 others the National Award without having to seek any agreement from any contributors.

Painter Doan said he was frustrated by the local artistic community for all these problems.

The nomination lists were made by associations of artists, who know who are the best in their particular fields, the painter said.

But he was "disappointed" that those artists had deliberately stuck to the established requirements and left many influential names off the nomination lists.

The public has been asking the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism about the nomination regulations. But Doan said that the ministry merely established councils to look more closely at suggestions by associations of artists.

"It is the inability to recognize talent, and even dishonesty, on the part of the arts community that has added problems to the nominations," the painter said.

He said sad the controversy this year is a chance for policymakers and management officials to fix the regulations and for some artists to look back at themselves.

However To Van Dong, office chief and spokesperson for the ministry, said the ministry has to use the old requirements for the awards as no concerned agency has suggested a better way.

Dong said complaints about the nominations happen every year and that people should be "careful" when making any judgment about the nomination lists.

Some artists in the assessment and selection units might be dishonest but "the whole unit cannot be," he said.

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