BANGKOK, Thailand -- Vietnam erased online news by the British Broadcasting Corp. (BBC) and other media about protesters toppling a Vladimir Lenin statue in Ukraine, because it "struck a nerve" among Vietnam's communist regime amid possible concerns about statues of Ho Chi Minh, the BBC said.

Meanwhile, Lenin statues and busts in Seattle, Antarctica, London, Italy and elsewhere in Ukraine survive unmolested.

During Lenin's life from 1870-1924, he led the 1917 Russian Revolution and used Marxist ideology to create a Bolshevik system after ousting Russia's last emperor, Czar Nicholas II.

Lenin became the first prime minister of the Soviet Union and was revered by many communists around the world.

On Sunday (Dec. 8), protesters destroyed the Lenin statue in Ukraine's capital, Kiev, during an anti-government demonstration about a free trade deal with the European Union (EU).

"As Lenin's statue was toppled in Kiev, the authorities in Vietnam developed cold feet," the BBC's website reported on Tuesday (Dec. 10).

Up to that moment, the protest in Ukraine was a big story in Vietnam's media and a hot topic online among social media sites in the Southeast Asian country.

When Ukraine's protesters brought down and smashed the Lenin statue, the story went viral in Vietnam.

"On the BBC Vietnamese website, it went straight to the most-read spot, proving even more popular than coverage of the death of Mandela and protests in Thailand," the BBC said.

"But within 24 hours, all that changed in Vietnam -- there was soon no trace to be found of articles mentioning the toppling of Lenin. State media coverage of Ukraine's continuing unrest was subdued.

"The most plausible explanation -- say many analysts -- is that the toppling of the statue of the revolutionary struck a nerve in Vietnam's Communist government," the BBC said.

The official Vietnam News Agency initially reported that the Ukrainians who obliterated the statue were "extremists."

Local and international news stories describing the statue's destruction could also be read on websites available in Vietnam.

"Then the state media machine kicked in.

"After all, statues of Vietnam's own communist revolutionary leader Ho Chi Minh are also to be found in cities around the country," the BBC said.

Suddenly, websites no longer were able to display news and photographs in Vietnam about the Kiev statue.

Some Internet users in Vietnam who searched online with Google could see headlines about the statue's demise, but the full text of the story no longer appeared -- except in some "cache" locations.

"The BBC was told that [Vietnamese] editors at some newspapers received 'instruction on telephones' from the Ideological Department of the Communist Party, which enforces media censorship and control in Vietnam," the BBC said.

Soon, Vietnam's lively social media sites began discussing Hanoi's censorship of the statue story, and complaints about a lack of press freedom appeared on the BBC Vietnamese Facebook page and elsewhere online.

Countless statues and busts of Vietnam's independence leader, the late Ho Chi Minh, appear throughout the country.

Vietnam also has its own Lenin statue.

The 18-foot (5.2-meter) tall bronze statue in central Hanoi's Lenin Park portrays the Russian confidentially striding atop an 8-foot (2.7-meter) high marble pedestal.

The Soviet Union gifted the statue to Vietnam in 1982 when Vietnamese troops were occupying neighboring Cambodia and fighting against Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge guerrillas who were receiving indirect support from the U.S., Thailand and other countries which wanted to end Vietnam's presence there.

Today, the statue is Hanoi tourist attraction and Lenin's birthday is a national holiday in Vietnam.

Around the world, at least five other Lenin statues can be seen outside of Russia.

In the U.S. state of Washington, the Seattle suburb of Fremont has a Lenin statue which was saved from being destroyed in Poprad, Slovakia.

Lewis Carpenter, an English teacher, reportedly mortgaged his home to bring it to Fremont where it now stands near fast food restaurants, and is sometimes adorned with electric lights or women's clothing just for fun.

In Antarctica, a plastic Lenin bust sticks up from the snow where Soviet scientists installed it in 1958 to honor their now-defunct research station at the Antarctic's most remote spot, known as the Pole of Inaccessibility.

The Brits have a Lenin bust in London's Islington Museum, dating back to World War Two and marking Britain's alliance with the Soviet Union against Nazi Germany.

Ukraine still has a Lenin bust in Tarhankut, Crimea, in an underwater Alley of the Leaders museum.

Italy's Lenin bust in Cavriago appeared in 1920 when he became an "honorary first citizen," and is kept as a historical reminder of the area's tumultuous feuds among socialists and fascists.


Richard S. Ehrlich is a Bangkok-based journalist from San Francisco, California, reporting news from Asia since 1978, and recipient of Columbia University's Foreign Correspondent's Award. He is a co-author of three non-fiction books about Thailand, including "Hello My Big Big Honey!" Love Letters to Bangkok Bar Girls and Their Revealing Interviews; 60 Stories of Royal Lineage; and Chronicle of Thailand: Headline News Since 1946. Mr. Ehrlich also contributed to the final chapter, Ceremonies and Regalia, in a new book titled King Bhumibol Adulyadej, A Life's Work: Thailand's Monarchy in Perspective.

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(Copyright 2013 Richard S Ehrlich)