As Russia marked the 94th anniversary of the October Revolution (November 7), Vice Chairman of the Vietnam Writers' Association Nguyen Quang Thieu says while the country seems confused by changes under westernization, but it will prove its once powerful culture in the future.
For you, as a poet, what is the meaning of Russia?
Landscapes and people, with a magnificent and sad beauty. I have recognized this in Russian literature, especially poetry. It is the reason why Russia still obsesses and remains mysterious to me. There is a Russian poet who I always consider as my master in my poetry poet Joseph Brodsky, who won the 1987 Nobel Prize in Literature. His poetry made me see Russia greater and deeper.
What similarities do you think made many Vietnamese people feel especially close to Russian people and culture?
The first similarity is patience, or industriousness. However, without the special relationship in terms of politics, perhaps Vietnamese wouldn't have known that much about Russia. The relationship allowed millions of Vietnamese to study, work and live in Russia for a long time. It made many Vietnamese people close to Russia, considering it as their second hometown, although it is far from them with many differences. And then Russian literature the literature that held a very special position in the Vietnamese heart because it is truly great literature. It is also because during the war, foreign books that were translated and introduced the most in Vietnam were Russian.
Also, Vietnam and Russia shared the same fate as they underwent the most disastrous wars in human history.
For most of Vietnamese people, Russia means the Soviet Union the country of the October Revolution, of communist ideals. How has this interpretation changed after the Soviet Union ended?
When the Soviet Union collapsed, many beautiful images and beliefs about the country broke down too. Some people even think Russia now is the country of new lords and people who follow fascism. For some people, a nice, beautiful and courageous Russia now only remains in books.
To some Vietnamese people, Russia now is nothing more than a market in which they can invest. Russia now is no longer the Russia that always stood by Vietnam in the face of difficulties like it used to. To be honest, I have to say that Russia now isn't the model for Vietnamese people anymore. Russia is no longer a place for young people with ambitions to come to study and observe as they previously did. Such country now only remains fully in the memories of people who loved it.
However, I still wait and believe that someday the Russia in their memories will return, with all of things that its people used to have before.
After recently returning to Russia on the occasion of Vietnam's Culture Days there, do you feel any difference about the country as compared to previous visits? Will a Russia that is stronger in the international playgrounds -- more stable in terms of politics and wealthier in terms of economy - be able to convince other people of following it, which was once done by the Soviet Union?
I still see Russia confused, and it seems it has yet to find a real path of its own. It reminds me of the poem, "Black Horse," by Joseph Brodsky, a Russian-American poet. There is a black horse that is sinewy, brave and strong, but sadly walks to people who are gathering around a fire at night. The horse is Russia, which has impressive history and culture, and is waiting for a knight to stand up and ride it. For me, the real knight of Russia in the new age has yet to appear.
Looking at Russia's current path, what do you think? Will there be a day when Russia is totally attached to the West? Or will it continue to remain as a unique entity with a different fate?
Many people think that Russia will be westernized. It will probably happen, in some aspect. But deep, down inside the Russian heart, it won't happen and will never happen. A great people with a great culture isn't easily westernized. We are only able to tell if a people has been assimilated by another people or not, depending on its culture's vitality. The world perhaps will have a shared market, but it's not the case for culture. With such culture and heart, Russia will go through crisis and confusion, and become a unique Russia like it used to be.
Russia's modernization, started from Peter the Great with the aim of placing Russia into the Western civilization, is never a smooth path. Which lessons can Vietnam learn from the ups and downs of Russia in the process of renovation and change from an underdeveloped country?
Professor Ho Ngoc Dai said the sole objective of learning is to become oneself. It's the same for a people. If we learn to become another, it means the "death" of a people's culture. This is the most important lesson for our people.
As an expert in exchanging culture with English-speaking countries, you must have thoughts about the destinies of these people. Do you have any explanation for the domination of American culture during the past more than 100 years?
In my opinion, the most important contribution for "the domination of American culture" as you named it is that American people know how to and dare to live with their true self (freedom) and pay the highest respect to the individuality (freedom) of others. With such American lifestyle, people always feel that they can live the most.
To some extent, the competition between the two powerful countries, the Soviet Union and the US, in the past century, was also the competition between the two cultures with America temporarily claiming victory in terms of politics and military. However, can humans put their "stake" in American culture? Some people say that it implies the risk of spiritual assimilation?
No culture, however glorious it is, will be able to assimilate the world spiritually. The assimilation can happen somewhere and is restricted within a certain community only. American culture has the most outstanding character that I mentioned - to reach freedom, where one becomes one's true self. The closer a person or a country gets to freedom, the more they become their true selves. People that become their true selves the most are people that are able to keep and create their culture's characters.
In Vietnam, we have just translated the book about Russia's culture and strategies in the 21st century by Russia's former deputy prime minister Abdulahtipov. Vietnam also plans to build an advanced culture full of national characters. Is it the expression of a people's efforts to stay independent spiritually in the narrowing world?
The generalness of culture can be understood simply as the consistency between beauty and humanism. But each culture has had and has to create its own path to beauty and humanism, and has had and has to have its own ways to make beauty and humanism ostensible. The reality has showed us that each people has formed, lived and developed on different geographies, histories, customs, languages, food and drink "¦ so, it is obvious that they will create different beauties and create their own cultures.