They represented the non-governmental organization Centrale Sanitaire Suisse (today medico international schweiz), the Swiss Party of Labor, the Swiss Peace Movement as well as the Swiss – Vietnam Association. They were impressed to meet a man who, with great modesty and warmth, spoke of the necessity of being committed to worldwide peace, humanity and democracy.
“Our fight was a fight for freedom,” General Giap emphasised. And he said: “It is not the size of a country that counts; it is the common will of a whole nation and the determination of the people that will eventually lead to liberation.” General Giap knew what he was talking about. Never in all the years of the first and second struggle for independence did he, for the logic of the military, neglect the political dimension, disregard the will of the people or waste his intelligence in internal power struggles.
This year, Switzerland and Vietnam celebrate 40 years of diplomatic relations (1971-2011). In September, Hoang Trung Hai, Vietnam’s Deputy Prime Minister, will pay an official visit to Switzerland. Vietnam will also be a guest country at ZüSPA (the Zurich Special Exhibition for SMEs) and introduce aspects of its rich culture, traditional crafts as well as some culinary delights.
Over the years, the non-governmental organizations, whose representatives had the pleasure to meet General Giap in 1986 in Zurich, have maintained their ties of solidarity and friendship with the Vietnamese people. They continue assisting and supporting various charitable activities, for the benefit of elderly people in Hue, for instance, through collaboration with the Center for Ageing Support and Community Development (CASCD), or for the benefit of hospital patients through the collaboration with health services in Ca Mau Town and U Minh District.
Since its establishment in 1982, the Swiss – Vietnam Association has had a special focus on the legacy of Agent Orange, the dioxin contaminated defoliants and herbicides used by the US armed forces during the war against Vietnam. The spraying of Agent Orange over South Vietnam began on August 10, 1961. “Operation Ranch Hand”, as it was called in military jargon, lasted for ten years, until it was finally halted on January 7, 1971.
The war ended 36 years ago, but the tragic consequences of the spraying of chemical toxins such as Agent Orange lingers on and affects children of the second, third and even fourth generations. To mark the 50 years of the beginning of the use of Agent Orange in Vietnam, the Vietnam Association for Victims of Agent Orange/dioxin organized its Second International Conference of Victims of Agent Orange, on August 8-9, 2011, in Hanoi. It brought together victims of Agent Orange from Vietnam, the US, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand; victims of industrial disasters from Seveso (Italy) and Bhopal (India); victims of other types of chemical warfare from the Kurdish Region in Iraq and from Iran; lawyers from France and India; scientists from Russia; as well as activists, from all in all more than 20 countries.
At the end of the conference, the participants signed an appeal calling for justice for the innocent victims, and for greater efforts in remediation. At the same time, the European friendship associations (from Belgium, Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Switzerland) disseminated a statement in which they declared 2011 “The Year of Agent Orange Victims.”
The fight for justice continues, and as General Vo Nguyen Giap said in Zurich in 1986, “we need to be committed to peace, humanity and democracy, and this worldwide.”
In this spirit, we, the Swiss friends of Vietnam, pay General Vo Nguyen Giap our highest respect and express our cordial congratulations on the occasion of his 100th Birthday.
By Margrit Schlosser
Margrit Schlosser is a founding member of the Swiss-Vietnam friendship association