Ireland, Vietnam both had ‘struggle for independence’ - Higgins

President highlights ‘harmful experience of colonisation’ common to both nations

President Higgins laid a wreath at the Monument of National Heroes and Martyrs, which commemorates those who died in the Vietnam war. Video: Clifford Coonan

 

President Michael D Higgins has hailed the common experience of Ireland and Vietnam as small countries fighting the imperialist threat of large nations.

In a keynote speech in the Vietnamese capital Hanoi, Mr Higgins said the people of both countries had taken part in “an unyielding and irrepressible struggle” for independence.

“We both know, too, how difficult it can be to secure, vindicate and deliver on the promises of freedom, justice and equality that motivated the struggle for independence in the first place,” he said in his address at Vietnam National University.

During his eight-day state visit, Mr Higgins has spoken of speculation that there may have been contact between Michael Collins and Vietnam’s revolutionary leader Ho Chi Minh, when they lived in London in the 1920s.

“Whatever the truth of that legend, we know that the impact of colonialism and conflict on our two nations was acute,” he said.

This year, Ireland and Vietnam mark 20 years of diplomatic relations.

Earlier, the President laid a wreath at the Monument of National Heroes and Martyrs, which commemorates those who died in what is known in Vietnam as the “War Against the Americans to Save the Nation”.

The Vietnamese government says that around two million civilians and 1.1 million North Vietnamese Army and Viet Cong soldiers died in the conflict, with the total rising to 3.8 million once South Vietnamese victims are factored in.

During the course of a 72 minute speech, the President told of how both Ireland and Vietnam had cultures steeped in ancient civilisations that valued scholarship spiritual cultivation and the arts, but had then suffered terribly at the hands of external powers and had experienced dreadful famine.

“Both our peoples have endured the harmful experience of colonisation, and, in your case, the ambitions of four imperialisms,” he said.

He found a reference point between the heroics of Vietnam’s Trung sisters, the “two ladies Trung” who in 40 AD, successfully led the Vietnamese people’s struggle against the army of Chinese invader Ma Yuan, and that of the Gore-Booth sisters from the West of Ireland, who played a prominent role in Ireland’s revolution and the elder of whom, Constance Markievicz, was one of the military leaders of the 1916 Rising.

“Both of our nations have suffered, in cultural terms, from imperialist theories of culture which sought to justify the racial superiority of the coloniser over the colonised, and to rationalise the ruling of the world by a handful of imperial powers,” he said.

The lack of response received by Ho Chi Minh at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919, after the first World War, could be compared with the closed-door reaction to the Irish Republicans when the similarly went looking for independence.

“Both rejections were perceived by the Irish and Vietnamese leaders of the time as proof of the risks of placing trust in concessions from an imperial power,” he said.

The indifference proved how “difficult it can be to secure, vindicate and deliver on the promises of freedom, justice and equality that motivated the struggle for independence in the first place. The decades following the heady atmosphere of the days of declared independence are the most challenging.”

Asked by a student about Ireland’s economic resilience, the President said that what had happened in 2008 was an economic downturn but that the economy was robust during what was actually a banking crisis, and he attacked the lack of regulation of the financial markets.