Vo Van Kiet and Political Reconciliation

Dec 18, 2022News

Zlatko Lagumdzija, former Prime Minister of Bosnia and Herzegovina

Harvard University Loeb House, November 23, 2022


It was really an honor and privilege to be part of this gathering and I think it’s a great plan that we spoke about yesterday about the future.

We talked about Manifesto, AIWS, actions to create an Age of Global Enlightenment and today it’s a great opportunity to remind ourselves about great people whose legacy is a very good lighthouse for our future.

Let me go to the few points that I wanted to share with you, especially in the context of reconciliation.  I’m coming from the part of the world where the word reconciliation is a very important one. But first of all just to say a few facts that I learned about Vo Van Kiet. Few lessons that I learned from the legacy that I think may be relevant for the future. Especially if we want to really enter into age, which we call Age of Global Enlightenment. I mean about the fact that he was really leading the Vietnam economic reforms from the 90s as well as reopening to the outside world after decades of wars and isolation. That’s something which itself is a great issue.

He was well regarded Vietnamese, revolutionary and political leader, revolutionary veteran fighting in the long war against French colonialism and then South Vietnamese and American forces in South Vietnam during the Vietnam war. We know about him as someone who was in difficult years following the war and was one of the most prominent political leaders that led the reform and innovation policy in Vietnam.

Can you imagine that at that time someone who was coming from hardcore commons country was leading the country to join ASEAN, normalized relations with USA just 20 years after that war. I think that when we talk about his economy and about what he did in the economic sense, we have to understand that he inherited, and he tried to change not some old-fashioned system, but he tried to change harsh Stalinist politics and efficiency.

Can you imagine that he was trying to show that it’s possible to do it from a central government perspective, and in that ideological context, that post war situation where Stalin was still alive regardless of the fact that it was happening 30 years after his death? He was the reformer who was really trying to crash that model and open the world.

Can you imagine that we have people like him today together with the people like Vint Cerf and his people centered economics. Can you imagine that we could combine those people who lived in different times. Put together leadership combining skills and people like Kiet, Abe and Cerf. I mean, can you imagine that today we have a critical number of leaders like them who are really running the country and are able and capable of reforming the real world in toughest situations.

When you say that he brought in foreign investment law it looks like piece of cake having in mind what is foreign investment law from today’s perspective? But when you put it in that context, it was like heresy. What Vo Van Kiet was doing was not just like having Martin Luther King but also like having Martin Luther reformer from the 16th century, back in medieval Europe when he was reforming the church at that time.

What I am trying to point out is that when we put him in that context, it is something which deserves an extraordinary award.

Now let me put it in my part of the world’s recent history, about 30 years ago. Three decades ago when the Dayton peace accord was brought, I was not happy about the way the piece was brought in. A lot of injustice was brought while making the peace accord. The system that was established three decades ago to us was complicated and unjust too.  So I was comforting myself by saying: wait a second, we got peace after the bloody war, three years of war where more than 100,000 people were killed, where ultimately international court for former Yugoslavia brought to justice the verdict that was a genocide in one part of the country.

And I mean, after that brutal war, in peaceful Europe at the end of 20th century – when we got peace –  I was comforting myself by quoting words that “peace is not everything but without peace nothing else  is possible”.   Then next steps can be made. The next step after the piece is economy, because the economy is not everything, but without an efficient economy, no progress is possible.

And ultimately, we come to the word reconciliation. Reconciliation is not everything, but without reconciliation that is based on truth, justice, tolerance and understanding there is no progress in any country.

I think that having in mind what we are witnessing in today’s turbulent and fast changing world, we have to remind ourselves about people like Vo Van Kiet, as one of the persons that should be a little bit more shown and known to the rest of the world.  In today’s divided world.

History does not recall so many persons who were great, who were so great by not forgetting, regardless of injustice done to them, like Kiet who was forgiving even to the guilty ones, and especially to the people that he holds responsible for atrocities and human suffering.

His forgiveness while not forgetting is the basic precondition for moving forward. The world should know much more about Vo Van Kiet and not only because of what he did for Vietnam and Vietnamese. Great respect goes for what he did for reconciliation in his country with the countries that he was actually in the war which took away his family, his wife and two children that have been killed.

We should learn and try to understand people like Mandela and Vo Van Kiet while putting them in the same context. In today’s changing, confronted and divisive world, we have growing struggles and challenges which we have to tackle with the legacy of people like we’re talking about today.

Our world today is divided in two worlds – the world of cooperation and reconciliation on one side and the world of confrontation and revenge on another. World of inclusive and exclusive societies. World between shared and segregated societies. World of respect and world radicalism, world of tolerance and dialogue versus the world of supremacy and fear, world of learning and understanding versus the world of ignorance and selfishness.

I think the legacy of the people like the ones that we are talking about today is extremely important for all of us. One of the most quoted Kiet sayings has relevance for Vietnam but for other countries as well – “The motherland belongs to us, the state belongs to us, Vietnam belongs to us, not to communist or any religious group or faction. When mentioning the war, a million people feel happy but another million feel miserable.”  This way of thinking is needed today more than ever in today’s world, because I think   that a lot of nations today need it – my nation, my country, is just one of them.

We need that not for Vietnam, but for my country and you can just replace the word Bosnia and Herzegovina or USA with the word Vietnam.

You can do this exercise for any other country to see how much it fits but I can clearly say how important it is for my country. My country does not belong to any parties or any ruling or opposition party or any religious group or any factions. We have to go in that direction.

Finally I will call our attention to one of the most guiding parts of this quote that is pointing out that  “million people feel happy, but another million feel miserable.”

When you mentioned our Bosnian war, or like he was actually in the Vietnam war, we can clearly see that when “million people feel happy another million feel miserable”.

We have to understand that all of us today, in confronted and divided nations of the world, have to keep in mind that ordinary people on the winning and losing side are usually seeing things differently regardless of the fact that all of them are ultimately bigger or smaller losers, even if they’re on the winning side.

Feeling of guilt and pride, victory and defeat have to be filtered through reconciliation, which is based on truth and justice, dialogue and respect, learning and understanding. In Vietnam, just like in any divided or united societies, in Boston like in the European Union today, we have to understand this regardless of where and who we are.

It is one of the most important lessons that I learned from studying about the legacy of great men like the ones that we are talking about at the Boston Global Forum today.

We were talking about the future yesterday, talking about the past today, and all together we’re actually reminding ourselves and talking about creating a better future based on vision and lessons learned from the past.