War, division, reunification, and future what Vietnam and Germany have in common

May 05, 2021 | 08:00
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On the occasion of Reunification Day, I would like to tell you a very personal story, my own story. After a military career, I worked as a banker for a total of 18 years and was then a management professor. You will rightly ask yourself what connects a German man of business with the history and culture of Vietnam. Doesn’t the here and now count more?
war division reunification and future what vietnam and germany have in common
By Prof. Dr. Andreas Stoffers Country director, Freidrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom

Yes, it does, but it is not so easy. In fact, it has proven helpful in business life to know what cultural imprint a country and its people have received over the past centuries and millennia. This makes it easier to understand the approaches and decision making of business partners.

However, before my career in business, I had written my doctoral thesis on the history of Southeast Asia. So I was already familiar with Vietnam’s colourful history when I stepped onto Vietnamese soil for the first time as a new member of the management board of Deutsche Bank Vietnam in Hanoi in 2009.

At that time, I was full of joy and excited to finally get to know the country of the descendants of Lac Long Quan and Au Co, to see what had become of the homeland of the Hung kings and how much of the tradition of the great personalities of Vietnamese history is still recognisable today, a history that I had previously only known from books.

I thought of Chinese colonial rule for a thousand years, the revolt of the Trung sisters, the victory of Ngo Quyen and Tran Hung Dao over the Mongols, the Tay Son revolution, the expansion of Vietnam to the south, and the country’s struggle for independence. For me, it was more than just a business episode at the time. I wanted to dive into the life and culture of Vietnam.

I am still proud of my own culture as a German. If you don’t honour your own ancestors, you can’t be open and understanding towards other cultures. My home country, Germany, and Vietnam are far apart. There were times in the past when people travelled for months by ship to get to Indochina. For German merchants, it was not easy to trade with Vietnam in the second half of the 19th century - unlike with Thailand - because the French had conquered and exploited the country.

Today, the distance between Vietnam and Germany is only a mouse click away. Live-streaming is possible, some Germans live in Vietnam, and even more Vietnamese have found their second home in Germany.

Despite the diversity of culture and history, many things connect countries, not only the excellent economic relations. Both countries were divided against their will in the second half of the 20th century. Germany also suffered from ethnic cleansing in the east after the end of the Second World War, which resulted in 12-15 million displaced Germans and annexation of large parts of our country by the victors. The two remaining parts of the country, East and West Germany, found themselves on opposite sides in the Cold War.

I was a soldier in the middle of the Cold War in 1985. We were prepared to fight against our compatriots and the other ideological bloc. I knew my unit’s combat positions near the border that I was supposed to move into with my engineer platoon in the event of war. Fortunately, it never came to that. I and Germany were spared the fate of the Vietnamese having to fight each other.

The Vietnamese were forcibly divided into North and South, but the will to reunite and the commitment to the common Vietnamese culture prevailed. Vietnam was reunified in 1975, and Germany followed in 1989.

I can still remember the moving scenes in Bavaria in autumn 1989, when we in the West greeted our compatriots enthusiastically as they finally crossed the open border. Separate families came together, and a journey across the whole of Germany was possible.

At that time I was still an officer in the West German armed forces, and welcomed our East German comrades of the National People’s Army with open arms. For the most part, they were good soldiers and patriots. I can therefore perfectly understand the great feeling of the Vietnamese to live in a reunified country.

Reunification Day should therefore be celebrated with joy. For the future, it will be important not to allow ourselves and our countries to be torn between two powers again. For Vietnam in particular, it is important not to take the side of a great power, but to have equidistance to both sides and to involve neutral third parties. This includes the EU, but above all the Germans. We Germans can best understand what it means to celebrate the anniversary of reunification.

By Prof. Dr. Andreas Stoffers

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