Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Vietnam youth look to future on war anniversary

HO CHI MINH CITY (AFP) — In the peaceful shade of a park across from Vietnam's Reunification Palace, young lovers enjoy a quiet time alone and students study.

They know only from history what happened at the palace 34 years ago this Thursday, when communist tank number 843 smashed through the wrought iron gates to end decades of war and reunify the country on April 30, 1975.

Two-thirds of Vietnam's population is younger than 35, with no memory of war, its threat of sudden death, and its hardships.

The young people who have grown up through years of peacetime economic growth say their focus is on the fast-developing country's progress.

"I am proud to be a Vietnamese, as we could defeat major powers like the French and the Americans. But I don't think many people now, especially the young ones, want to talk much about what happened in the past," says Tran Mi Lan, 22, selling clothes at a shopping centre in Vietnam's southern commercial capital, formerly known as Saigon.

"I want Vietnam in the next 20 years to become another Singapore," says Nguyen Cong Truong, 28, an investment consultant.

With a per capita income of just over 1,000 dollars, about 37 times lower than Singapore's, Vietnam has a long way to go.

Most people still work as farmers and in Ho Chi Minh City the motorcycle, not the car, rules the road.

But, occasionally, a Ferrari or a Porsche can be seen, and the city's tidy Dong Khoi street -- known as "Tu Do" during the war -- has started to look like a tiny piece of Singapore, with boutiques selling designer fashions and other luxury goods.

Banners bearing the communist hammer and sickle have gone up to mark the April 30 national holiday.

The battle against American forces and their surrogate regime in then South Vietnam began in the early 1960s, costing at least three million Vietnamese and 58,000 American lives before it ended on April 30, 1975 when that first North Vietnamese tank crashed through the gates of the south's presidential palace.

Earlier Vietnamese resistance against French colonisers began in 1946 and continued for eight years until France's defeat at Dien Bien Phu led to the country's division.

"My parents told me that in 1968 life was very difficult and many people had to live on cassava," said Truong, whose mother and father still work the land in southern Tay Ninh province, earning just over 100 dollars a month.

Truong says he makes up to six times that much.

"I was born in peacetime. I have the chance to perfect my abilities," says another young man, Le The Huan, 20, a law student sitting in the park with a portable computer in his lap and an iPod beside him.

Even his parents did not talk much about the war, he said, because they were only 12 and 13 years old when it ended.

"I think that my life now, of course, is much better than my parents', materially," said Tran Trong Nguyen, a post-graduate physics student working on his equations across from the palace, which is now a museum.

"We have more opportunity for study, health care, education, and life now is more stable compared with the past," said Nguyen, also the son of farmers.

Dang Thi Bich Nga, 21, left her home in central Vietnam to study economics in Ho Chi Minh City, which she says has opened "so many opportunities".

She wants the same for Vietnam.

"I hope that my country can develop as far as other countries," Nga says, with earrings dangling.

They may be focused on the present and the future, but young people are aware of the sacrifices made by previous generations, says Pham Thanh Cong, 52.

"The majority of them will never turn their backs on what happened in the past, as history is undeniable," Cong says.

He spent five years as a communist fighter and is now director of the My Lai museum honouring hundreds of villagers massacred by US troops in 1968.

"I am devoted to this museum because I want the young ones to know more about the war crimes," Cong says.

But one man, a 27-year-old information technology manager who refused to be named, said the blood of those who died for Vietnam's independence is worthless unless authorities become more "transparent, less corrupt and act more for the country".

Nguyen Hoang Quan, 28, agreed the country will have to change politically for it to prosper.

"I hope the leadership will be more open so that Vietnam will develop quicker," said Quan, a security guard who wants a better job "with more money".

Copyright © 2009 AFP. All rights reserved.

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