40th Anniversary of the Reunification of Vietnam
SURELY it was giving me the goose bumps. I was simply overwhelmed by the enormity of the occasion and the circumstances. We were right there; meeting hall of the Thong-Nhat Palace (which in Vietnamese would read) -the reunification palace. It was here that at 11.30 am on April 30, 1975, the Liberation Army of Vietnam commandeered by Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap entered the main gates of this building then known as the Independence Palace. The Liberation Army’s tank #390 of the 4th Company, 203rd Tank Brigade commanded by Vu Dong Tang was the first to pass through the main gate. And, here we were exactly 40 years later meeting the Nguen Xuan Phuc, deputy prime minister of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam and Polit Bureau member of the Communist Party of Vietnam to share with him the experience and the future of international solidarity with the Vietnamese people; the 100 or thereabout international friends from all across the world who have been individually or organisationally involved in solidarity, thick and thin with the Vietnamese people – all these years spanning across the days of the liberation struggle and the subsequent four decades since liberation of Saigon and reunification of the country. It was in course of the meeting that Vui Xuan Hong, chairman of the Vietnamese Union of Friendship Organisations (VUFO), announced ceremoniously while winding up the meeting that the meeting was being held one hour and 15 minutes after 40 years when Saigon was formally liberated in the very same venue.
My visit to Vietnam from April 27 to May 2, was in my capacity of an international friend representing the All India Peace and Solidarity Organisation (AIPSO). The visit was at the invitation of VUFO to discuss the history of solidarity struggles, as well as, the current phase of development in the country and the continued relevance of friendship of the world people in their efforts to transform a country and a people to rise Phoenix like on the ruins of a nation ravaged by monstrosity of Japanese fascists, French colonialists and ultimately the mighty American Empire.
The destruction that Vietnam and its people suffered cannot be fully estimated by cold statistics. However, even the quantitative data can bring out some magnitude of the harsh treatment.
During its war in Vietnam, the US Army dropped bombs which were four times that used by them during the Second World War. The destructive power of these was to the tune of 725 atomic bombs used in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In fact, Vietnam, in the real sense, was the laboratory of the US war machine in experimenting the development and deployment of chemical and biological weapons. Incidentally, it is precisely against such warfare that we find the US and its other western allies so vocal today. But while doing so, there is hardly any mention of what happened during the Vietnam War.
300 million Vietnamese people were killed in this apparently unequal war. 400 million were injured. 45 million litres of Agent Orange were spread across 6.6 million hectares of Vietnamese territory. 400 thousand of Vietnamese were killed by this deadly chemical of the 4.8 million who were exposed to it. True to the ancient ‘Scotch Earth’ policy of warfare, the US army had left large Vietnamese land mass embedded with land mines. Till to the very present day, the deadly impact of Agent Orange is maiming and deforming the newborns in neighbourhoods which were exposed to this deadly chemical. Similarly, accidental deaths from landmines inadvertently exploding is accounting for about 1000 deaths annually. No doubt, there is every need to showcase to the world at large the horrors of war against an unarmed people so as to avoid its recurrence by the machinations of imperialist powers elsewhere.
The outcome of the Vietnamese liberation struggle has been often likened with the mythological battle between David and Goliath. The US Empire appeared much like the invincible Goliath whom the little boy David felled. It is the unification of the people by the CPV, the Liberation Army under the inimitable leader Ho Chi Minh that this spectacular feat was achieved. And the Vietnamese themselves recognise the paramount contribution by international solidarity to make their struggle achieve the unprecedented success. With all humility, the leadership and the people assert that the inherent righteousness of their cause was the key element in welding together all these crucial elements in this glorious struggle.
The significance of the victory had international implications and physical transformation not only in Vietnam but across Indo-Chinese region. It ushered in liberation of the Lao and the Cambodian people; not to speak of the complete undermining of the legitimacy of the US Empire and its western allies.
After the liberation, apart from the ravages of war, Vietnam remained a backward agriculture based economy with 80 per cent of the population and 70 per cent of the workforce engaged in agriculture and allied economic activities. The infrastructure was extremely backward and in shambles. In its bid to transform this backward war-ravaged economy, the leadership opted for large-scale nationalisation of means of production. Even after the magnificent victory, the attempts to isolate and stifle the people continued unabated. Vietnamese people remained mired in abject poverty.
It is only in 1986 that the CPV and the government decided to go for reform and restructuring of the economy. The two sectors – State and cooperative – which were the principal levers of economic development without any recognition of market was sought to be replaced by what in Vietnamese was termed as ‘Doi Moi’. It sought to replace the centralised structure with a multisectoral initiative where both the market principle and public sector accountability were recognised.
This has obviously led to rapid strides in economy. There is 85 per cent growth in agriculture, fisheries and allied sectors during this period. Food production went up from 19.5 million tones in 1988 to 21.7 million tons in 1991 to 41.9 million tons by 2005. Industry grew annually at 15 per cent and services by 7.5 per cent. With industrialisation and modernisation being the principal focus, the share of agro and fisheries sector came down from 46.5 per cent in 1988 to 20.7 per cent in 2009 while industry and construction grew from 21.6 per cent to 42.3 per cent during the same period. Similarly, services grew from 33.3 per cent to 39.1 per cent during this interregnum. During the last five years, 7.5 million jobs have been created.
While visibly these developments have been taking place, but challenges remain – of poverty, of inequality. Therefore, there is a strong emphasis on translating this growth for development of human resources and social sectors. The achievement of Millennium Development Goals has progressed steadily with Human Development Index rising from 0.498 in 1990 to 0.678 in 2000 and further to 0.733 in 2007. The issues of aftermath of the war continue. Still 30,000 Vietnamese people remain missing apart from victims of Agent Orange victims and accidental embedded mine explosions.
But, overall the progress is spectacular.
Our visit was both to Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). The first two days consisted of series of meetings between our Vietnamese hosts and their affiliates covering different sections of the economy and the civil society. The themes spanned the experience of the war and the concrete solidarity and the present ongoing struggles to overcome the challenges.
In Ho Chi Minh City, the main event was the magnificent parade on the morning of April 30 in front of the Thong-Nhat Palace on the Le Duan Street. It was a spectacular site with different units of the Vietnamese armed forces, youth, different sectors of the economy and society, sports people and cultural tableaux displaying the colourful tapestry of the Vietnamese society and its resilient people. This was followed by our interaction with the Vietnamese deputy prime minister. In the evening, there was a grand cultural show which demonstrated the rich pluralism, diversity and ethnic multiplicity that continues to be nurtured by the Vietnamese government and the leadership.
On May 1, we visited a rehabilitation centre for Agent Orange victims, 17 kilometers from the Ho Chi Minh City. It was heartrending to see the young residents born years after the war but wearing the signs of its barbarity.
In the afternoon, I had a one-to-one meeting with the chairman of VUFO where resolve to reinforce our bonds of solidarity were expressed. We particularly underlined the need for continuing a global campaign to sensitise world public opinion on the continued impact of the war on the Vietnamese people and stressed the need for strengthening the mass character of the solidarity movement while also recognising and facilitating individual conclusions.
This narrative on the visit to Vietnam to celebrate and share with the people one of the most outstanding milestones in their struggle to build a new and just society will not be complete without referring to our own legacy and contribution. For some like us whose baptism in democratic student activism was through participation in the solidarity struggle with Vietnam, I still cannot forget that my first participation in a procession was in 1973 from my school which did not have any particular political atmosphere to the US Counsel’s office raising slogans against the US war crimes and, for the legitimate freedom of the Vietnamese people and I was not doing anything unique. As far back as January 1947, the Bengal Provincial Student Federation gave a call for a general strike against French colonialists. It was British India and the police who fired on the student demonstration right in the heart of Kolkata’s student hub, College Street. Two students were killed. Dhiraranjan Sen was martyred on the day of the strike on January 21, 1947 and Amalendu Ghosh in Mymensingh in East Bengal on the following day.
In British India, while the people were fighting its own struggle of independence, it did not flinch from raising its voice against French colonial rulers and in solidarity with the liberation struggle of Vietnam. Political forces across the spectrum were in solidarity with the Vietnamese peoples’ legitimate war of independence. Intellectuals, cultural activists added a special dimension and aroused the broadest sense of solidarity across the population right up to the time of liberation in 1975 which has been one of the glorious chapters in our progressive legacy.
Vietnam stands as a symbol of the deadly battle between forces of peace and war and justice and inhumanity. The guard must not come down against imperialism and in solidarity with the Vietnamese people and its government in their effort to rise from the ruins of war and backwardness.