Young Russians interested in Vietnam too, says Vietnophile

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Vietnamese children wave Vietnamese and Russian flags to welcome President Vladimir Putin during his visit to Hanoi earlier this month

Petr Tsvetov, a historian and Senior Advisor to the Office of International Affairs of the Federation Council (the upper house of the Russian parliament), laments that Vietnamese journalists seem to get all their information about Russia from the western media and so "the Pussy Riot hooligans are known more than Prilepin."

President Vladimir Putin's visit to Vietnam has resulted in the two countries elevating their relation to a "strategic partnership" and signing 17 agreements. What do you expect after this visit?

Originally a journalist for Pravda newspaper, Petr Tsvetov first came to Vietnam on a field trip in December 1977 after successfully defending his doctoral thesis on Vietnamese history, and has since spent about 10 years living and working in Vietnam. He was a director of the Russian Culture and Science Center in Ho Chi Minh City in the 1980s and 90s.

Petr Tsvetov: Vladimir Putin's third visit to Vietnam is first marked with new breakthroughs ["¦] in all our traditional cooperative fields energy, military technology, personnel training with important new agreements being signed.

I would particularly like to draw your attention to the fact that at the time of the visit to a prominent place, questions were asked of education, science and culture. The very presence of the presidents of the two countries at the opening ceremony of the Days of Russian Culture says a lot. Add to this the agreements for the joint establishment of universities to expand the training of specialists for Vietnam's economy and army and navy. A lot of cooperative documents were signed. The challenge is implementation.

I wonder about cooperation in the humanities. After [Russian] presidents' visits, Vietnam and Russia set up a fund to promote each other's literatures and opened representative offices of the Russian World Foundation in Vietnam. What do you think could be done to improve the cooperation?

I share your feelings about the fact that the development of our humanities cooperation is not so broad and varied as it was in the 1980s and 1990s, and even not as much as was agreed by our leaders. I think the fault here lies with the mid-level functionaries supervising deputy ministers, heads of departments, who must implement the agreement reached by our countries' top leaders. One example is the Russian Vietnamese Tropical Center. Its research is so significant it has been mentioned more than once by Russian leaders.

Vladimir Putin mentioned this center in his message to the Vietnamese media before his visit...

Correct. But the Russian side has, year after year, failed to provide enough funds for its work, thus not fulfilling its obligations. Russian financial authorities who manage the budget and the directors of research institutes to be involved with the Tropical Center are to blame.

Honestly I don't think we have fulfilled our potential for cultural cooperation. For example, what many Vietnamese can remember about Russia ["˜s culture] seemingly stops with [the 1956 song] "Moscow Night" and [the 1957 movie] "The Cranes Are Flying." It looks like we know so little about [contemporary writers] Prilepin or Dubova while we hear so much more about [punk band] Pussy Riot or [opposition politician Alexei] Navalny...

It is certainly a sad fact that in Vietnam the Pussy Riot hooligans are known more than Prilepin. But the media in the two countries is partly to blame. Russian news agencies are presented weakly in the Vietnamese information space. So the vast majority of news and commentaries about Russia that Vietnamese journalists can get are from western news feeds. And for the US and Western Europe, critics of the Russian government like Navalny and Pussy Riot are more interesting they are more scandalous than good clever Russian writers. After all, not everyone reads books.

But on the other hand, Vietnamese journalists who know Russian should read Russian websites and get a variety of information first-hand. I, for example, when writing about Vietnam, will certainly use Vietnamese language sources. This is one of the ways to improve understanding.

Russia is set to train Vietnam nuclear energy technicians. This is a rather new sphere of cooperation...

The atomic energy industry has developed in our country for over 60 years. Today, nuclear power plants produce 16 percent of all electricity in Russia. Our experts believe that nuclear power plants are more dangerous to humans than thermal and hydroelectric power plants. But they are playing an increasingly important role as a source of energy for industry and household needs, among others.

People's diplomacy plays an important role in inter-country relations. It is a great tragedy that the generation of Russians who love Vietnam like you is getting older but we cannot nurture such good feelings in the younger generations. Young Russians do not know much about Vietnam. Isn't it a shame?

I do not think people's diplomacy in our relations needs to be revived and developed a new: it is still there. The Society of Russian-Vietnamese Friendship works and the Russian public is aware of it; so are the president and the prime minister of Russia. The Vietnamese-Russian Friendship Society is in an even stronger position ["¦] The only thing I would like to wish is for both societies to recruit more young people. It feels sad when I see that our joint events are attended by people mostly older than me.

Thanks for your kind words about the people of my generation. But I do not agree that young Russians know less about Vietnam than in [the past]. Yes, it is true that there are less specialists with knowledge of the Vietnamese language in Russian universities today. Therefore, compared to those of my age, there are fewer young Russians who are familiar with the history and literature of Vietnam. But more and more young people from Russia are now in Vietnam as tourists. Indeed, among the 200,000 Russian tourists who visited Vietnam this year, 90 percent are younger than me. And personal impressions sometimes remain in the memory for longer than the wisdom of books. So today among the Russian youth are many who know Vietnam and love it.

I assume you are not being diplomatic here since both your sons are also "pro-east."

My sons both lived with me in Vietnam as children, and now they return to Vietnam as tourists every year. Because they love this country! ["¦] The younger one, Anton, majored in Vietnamese language and defended his master's thesis on the problems of the South China Sea (East Sea). He wants to work in Vietnam. Will he continue in my path? I do not know. It seems to me that he has a much wider range of interests.

By the way, related to the point made about [public diplomacy], it is necessary to use more ways to attract the younger crowd. For example, the friendship societies of the two countries can arrange exchanges of youth tour groups and sports events or organize teleconferences involving famous entertainers. Funds for these activities could be obtained from Russian-Vietnamese joint ventures.

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