Having just completed its 10th Conference that sought to examine and move beyond dichotomies in knowledge production about and on Vietnam, Engaging With Vietnam is pleased to announce that the 11th Engaging With Vietnam conference will focus on one particular, and particularly complex, dichotomy/relation: Vietnam and Europe. This particular focus of EWV 11 intersects with ICAS 11’s theme “Asia and Europe. Asia in Europe.”
While the equation of “Europe” with “France” is a phenomenon that was prominent in Vietnam in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, over the past 70 years there have been numerous different “Vietnams” that have engaged with numerous different “Europes,” and vice versa. From students, immigrants and refugees from the Republic of Vietnam, to students, workers, immigrants and migrants from the Democratic Republic of Vietnam and the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, to the wide population of Vietnamese who travel by different means and routes to work, tour, build, invest, live and study in Europe today, there has been a constant flow of different Vietnamese to different Europes for decades now. Moving in the other direction has been a flow of people, ideas, technologies that have likewise brought different “Europes” to different “Vietnams.” The 11th Engaging With Vietnam conference will examine these issues under the theme of “Vietnam in Europe, Europe in Vietnam: Identity, Transnationality, and Mobility of People, Ideas and Practices Across Time and Space.”
There are many Vietnamese connections that EWV 11 would like to invite its participants to engage with. The French connection is an obvious one, given the multiplicity of human connections forged through history. While much has already been said about the historical connections between Vietnam and France, there are still many historical connections, such as intimate memories or reminiscences at the individual or familial levels, that remain “buried” beyond the traditional academic purview.
Then beyond the personal level are larger issues of collective ideas and memory. For instance, a theatre play released in 2017, entitled “Saigon”, by the French-Vietnamese playwright Caroline Guiela Nguyen had a surprisingly major impact in France’s public sphere. The play triggered intense discussions over the fact that the Vietnamese part of France’s collective memory continues to remain almost invisible as compared to that of Algeria or sub-Saharan Africa.
Similarly, when the documentary entitled “Công binh, đêm dài Đông Dương / Công binh, La longue nuit Indochinoise” by filmmaker Lam Le, was first screened in Vietnam in 2016, it unveiled many forgotten historical truths about the eventful lives of some 20,000 Vietnamese worker solders brought to Europe during World War II, bringing to light a complex historical connection that was largely absent from the public consciousness in Vietnam.
Meanwhile, beyond France there are so many other examples across Europe that one can think of: the presence of Vietnamese dishes in national or regional diets (e.g., north Vietnamese snacks in former East-Berlin), the forgotten cases of Europeans citizens who supported Vietnam during the American War, the multiple influences of Vietnam on European artistic creativity (and vice-versa), the active presence in Europe of many influential Vietnamese intellectual, religious, artistic and literary voices, the increasing number of Vietnamese students all over Europe, the phenomenon of so-called modern slavery regarding Vietnamese workers in the UK, the reported quasi industrial, illegal, Vietnamese-owned marijuana production plants in Belgium and France, and the diverse forms of convergence and divergence among the Vietnamese communities beyond the former socialist countries in Europe since the Soviet period.
The 11th Engaging With Vietnam conference is aimed at uncovering such different spaces of this Vietnamese presence and its connections with Europe – physical, mental and cultural, beyond what is often promoted in national and state narratives. These many incongruous connections and stories await interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary engagement that EWV 11 seeks to highlight.
At the same time, the mobilities of people, ideas and practices during the French colonial period and later the Soviet period have left long-lasting legacies at the foundations of many aspects of Vietnam’s modern development and identity. It is not an exaggeration to say that many of the individuals who influenced Vietnam’s recent developments and who continue to shape its contemporary destiny are those who received their education in the former Soviet Bloc countries.
Yet another way to consider connections between Vietnam and Europe is to look to the sphere of education. The past decade has witnessed the establishment of a British University in Vietnam, a Vietnamese-German University, and a Vietnam-France University. Hundreds of Vietnamese engineers and professional farmers are being trained in the Netherlands. There have been debates over the opportunity to introduce the Finnish education model into Vietnam, or heated debates over the lasting influences of French and Soviet/Russian education legacies on Vietnam’s higher education, or again, Vietnam’s recent adoption of the Common European Framework Reference (CEFR) for languages in its National Foreign Language Project 2020.
These many connections and stories are also what EWV 11 wishes to bring up, examine critically, and discuss. The conference acknowledges the need for these connections, and many others, to be recovered or uncovered in Europe and Vietnam, and that is precisely what we hope to do at EWV 11.