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It may seem surprising that the flag of Vietnam is an interesting, as well as a controversial issue. The Socialist Republic of Vietnam has a red flag with a yellow star in the middle. However, while entering „the flag of Vietnam” into the Google search, next to the red flag we can encounter another one – a yellow rectangle with three red stripes.

It appears that the flag is a very interesting issue, and a starting point for the discussions on the political dimension of the activity of Vietnamese migrants. One could say that it is a long-standing problem that causes the biggest arguments among the Vietnamese living abroad. Poland is no exception; Vietnamese community in Poland is also (politically) divided, and that division is very deep.

Some of the readers may not remember the history of Vietnam, but some Poles know that the country was united in 1975, when the USA abandoned their ally (South Vietnam), and it was easily conquered by the communist North Vietnam. Hence, the situation of Vietnam is different from the situation of Korea, where there are still two antagonistic states. People who are privy to the fact are aware of the division among the Vietnamese. Some accept the political system of the united communist country, but some do not. In particular, quite a big number of the Vietnamese living in the USA, namely a few millions of people, oppose the communist authorities. Currently, the Vietnamese start to speak openly about the ending of the Vietnam War as the fact of the conquering South Vietnam by the North, instead of referring to it as "the liberation of the South", the term which was frequently used in propaganda textbooks. Some do not remember that South Vietnam had the yellow flag with three red stripes in the middle. Although the country does not exist since 1975, so younger generations are not able to remember that flag, the Vietnamese who live in the USA and some Vietnamese in Europe insists that only that (former) flag is a symbol of freedom and it signifies the future of Vietnam.

What is the attitude towards the flag (and the political system) of the Vietnamese who live in Poland? It is a common knowledgle that most of them come from the North, i.e. the communist part of the country. The Vietnamese who live in Poland are familiar with the red flag, and, with the exception of just a few people, the yellow flag is not an object of their interest. Thanks to the "Solidarność" and the political transformation that took place in Poland, the majority of Vietnamese living here understand the meaning of democracy and freedom of speech. However, there are still some Vietnamese who miss their homeland in its current shape and perhaps dream of obtaining a position in the administration of the National Front for Liberation or other state institutions. Sometimes, they see their future, also in the context of their political acitivity, in the country of origin, i.e. Vietnam. Even though they have Polish citizenship and are no longer the citizens of Vietnam (it used to be necessary to resign from one's citizenship in order to obtain Polish one), they attempt to have it restituted (granted), but apparently no one has succeeded yet.

Hence, the Vietnamese should be made aware that if they live in Poland and declare it to be their second homeland, they should understand that communism is no longer tolerated here - and any acitivity propagating it is even forbidden by Polish Constitution.

In order to get the message across to the Vietnamese and to thoroughly explain to them what were the prodemocratic transformations in Poland, as well as to encourage them to integrate with the Poles, it is necessary to reach their leaders. The leaders of the Vietnamese community, people who know that group from the inside, are the best candidates to be the experts who will allow for getting to know each other and the mutual integration.

What are the features of the perfect expert?

Of course, it needs to be a person who speaks Vietnamese and knows not only the situation of the Vietnamese community in Poland but also the reality of contemporary Vietnam, as migrants who live in Poland are constantly in touch with their country of origin and they often think of returning to their homeland in the future. So it cannot be a person who left Vietnam when they were a child and do not travel there any more, because such a person may have very limited knowledge about contemporary Vietnam. Moreover, a good expert cannot be a person who has very limited contacts with the Vietnamese as he/she is not accepted by the majority of the community because of his/her sharp and controversial political views. In other words, it needs to be someone who is accepted by that community, in particular, someone who often talks with them, regardless of their political views or religious beliefs.

The Vietnamese are "allergic" to people who by all means look for the "class enemy," trying rather to gain popularity among Polish audiences (e.g. by their constant presence in Polish media) than to represent the interests of the Vietnamese migrants.

It ought to be stated that these Vietnamese who participated in the, so called, first wave of migrations and graduated from Polish universities within the helping programme for Vietnam should prove to be good candidates for the role of the experts. They have been residing in Poland for many years, and thanks to it, they managed to integrate with Polish society. Furthermore, thanks to the fact of being brought up in Vietnam, they speak Vietnamese fluently, and keeping in touch with their relatives and friends in the country of origin provides them with some knowledge about the situation in Vietnam. It should be noted that studies in Poland were available only for few chosen people - students from Vietnamese schools who got the best results in the entrance exams.

As far as Vietnamese students in Poland are concerned, it is worth remembering that not only did they have to be the best students in Vietnam but they also had to work very hard during their studies. The lack of progress in their studies could cause the deportation to Vietnam, and the situation od the expelled students in their country was very difficult.

Perhaps it is difficult for Poles to understand the fact that during the 5 years of studying (or 6 years, including a preparatory year to learn Polish), a Vietnamese student could visit their family only once - at their own expense. In addition, it was necessary to receive good marks in order to obtain a return visa to Vietnam (no, it is not a mistake - they needed entry visas!). What is more, when the transformations were beginning to take place in Poland, the Embassy of Vietnam confiscated students' passports. The students had only their student cards and certificates confirming that they were the citizens of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. Some Vietnamese, who after graduation decided to stay in Poland (e.g. to start a family), had to pay (pay back to the Embassy of Vietnam) a big amount of money - almost the whole sum of the scholarships they had been receiving during their studies - in order to get their passports back and to receive the certificates about their marital status, which were necessary for the procedure of solemnising marriage with Polish citizens and of obtaining the residence card.

When one takes a look into the biographies of the Vietnamese who graduated in Poland, one can easily notice that they went through a lot: they experienced not only the period of wars with the USA, but also the wars with Cambodia and China, and the martial law in Poland. It was a real school of life for them. It is high time they use their experience to cooperate towards the rapproachment between the Poles and Vietnamese. For instance, the experts should act as advisors while organising the cultural events for the Vietnamese community, to prevent such events as those held to honour the army, involving innocent Vietnamese children (born in the democratic Poland), dressed in uniforms and infantry's neckerchiefs, which are unambiguously associated with the communist system. The Vietnamese who live in Poland should realise that such parades and marches, referring openly to the communist model, are not approved in contemporary Poland. It should be noted that the majority of the participants of such events - not only children, but also their parents, involved in the subsequent waves of migrations - just want to take part in a cultural event gathering their compatriots, and do not realise that they are being used by the procommunist propaganda.

However, graduates from Polish universities who are still living in Poland are well aware of the character of such events and of the way they are received by Polish society. In other words, they know a lot, but some of them do not want to protest. Perhaps they are afraid of the potential lack of the possibility to visit their families in their old country.

Admittedly, if they are Polish citizens, in such a case they should receive help from their new homeland. But how does that look in practice?

Currently, Poland has achieved a strong position and good opinion in Europe and worldwide. Hence, it can help not only the Vietnamese community in Poland, but also the whole Vietnamese nation. By deliberate and wise actions, with the assistance of the experts coming from the group of the Vietnamese who have integrated with Poland, Poland has a chance to contribute to the positive change of the political situation in Vietnam.

By Ngo Hoang Minh

Translation: Alicja Kosim