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Quang Tri – The Origins of Dutch and Vietnamese Companionship


By Ms. Ngô Thị Hòa, former Ambassador  of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam to the Netherlands.

2022 marks the 50th anniversary of the liberation of Quang Tri province in 1972. In honor of this milestone, various events were organized in the provincial capital Dong Ha on July 25th. These include the seminar and the exhibition titled Quang Tri – Destination of Memories. The record of this province has been documented in the photos and accounts of those who lived through the horrors of war, echoing an incredible sense of strong will. As this was a major battleground during the war in Vietnam, it suffered the most from heavy bombings and high casualties. However, this painful past is the reason for an ever-present desire for peace in Quang Tri today. 

As guests were transported back in time through countless stories and media, they were particularly touched to learn of the solidarity and support dedicated to Quang Tri by peace lovers of the Netherlands.

While it may be impossible to name every single person who offered a helping hand, one cannot fail to mention the contributions of the Medical Committee Netherlands-Vietnam (MCNV) and the famous Dutch filmmaker Joris Ivens

Dutch filmmaker Joris Ivens, Vietnam display at the exhibition.

In 1968, the world witnessed the expansion of the global anti-war movement in response to the devastating war in Vietnam. As supporters of this movement, three medical specialists, Professor Jaak de Haas, Dr. Nick van Rija, and Dr. Fred Groening founded MCNV to offer large-scale medical help to the Vietnamese people. They focused on the worst-hit areas of the country, usually the targets of bombing campaigns, for their medicine, medical supplies, and food donations. MCNV soon became the bridge connecting the people of the Netherlands and Vietnam, establishing a path for the former to support the latter. Through this organization, many forms of support arose from the Dutch population; their inventive solidarity campaigns include Musicians for Vietnam, Knitting for Vietnam, Bikers for Vietnam, and more. 

Quang Tri, a piece of land lying just below the 17th parallel that divided Vietnam at the time, was given a hospital as a donation by MCNV. Plans for creating this hospital began in 1973, with 1 million guilders (equivalent to 1 million euros) designated for the operation. With the support of Dutch Donors, the Minister for Developing Countries Jan Pronk, and all the Dutch universities, the idea became a reality. Construction started in 1974 based on a design by TU Delft and the hospital officially opened three years later.  

This hospital in Dong Ha was named Holland Hospital by the locals as a token of appreciation to the Dutch people. The first twins born in this hospital were even named Ha Lan and Lan Ha, derived from the Vietnamese word for the Netherlands (Ha Lan). Ha Lan’s ties to the Netherlands go beyond her name, as she is currently representing the Dutch organization PUM in Quang Tri. The Holland Hospital is one of the most recognizable symbols of solidarity and camaraderie between the Dutch people and the people of Quang Tri, as well as Vietnam in general. After 20 years of activity, it became the Medical Community College of Quang Tri; however, a part of the building has been converted to the MCNV museum, showcasing the story behind this organization. 

To this day, MCNV continues operating in Quang Tri to help people recover from the long-lasting effects of war and renew development. In addition to the medical field, MCNV has expanded to help with people’s livelihood, social inclusion, response to climate change, and more. The Vietnamese government has awarded MCNV with the Order of Friendship four times for its efforts in facilitating friendly relations between Vietnam and the Netherlands. 

The well-known filmmaker Joris Ivens also has a special connection to Quang Tri. This was the location for one of his films, in which he documented the lives of Vietnamese people during wartime. After spending two months underground with the people of Vinh Linh, Ivens’ documentary 17th Parallel: Vietnam in War was born. It premiered in 1968 and left a significant impact on the anti-war movement in Europe, further fueling the passion of countless peace lovers on the continent. The people of Quang Tri have never once forgotten about Iven’s work; stories about him are told time and time again with much excitement and affection. These stories are shared by many, including Ms. Xuan Phuong, who was his interpreter, and Mr. Pham Cong Duc, who appeared in the film above at the age of 9. 

Quang Tri – Destination of Memories painted the milestones throughout the history of friendship and collaboration between the Dutch and Vietnamese people. MCNV and Ivens are some of the figures who set the early foundations for this companionship, allowing the Netherlands and Vietnam to officially establish diplomatic relations on April 26th, 1973.

Almost 50 years later, this relationship continues to grow and strengthen. A comprehensive partnership has been established and both sides are each other’s strategic partners in several key fields, such as water management, climate change risk management, high-tech agriculture, food security, etc. 

As we approach the 50th anniversary of establishing bilateral relations between Vietnam and the Netherlands, I hope both countries will continue to thrive for the peace and well-being of their peoples and to continue their spirit of cooperation.

Photography by Ms. Ngo Thi Hoa and by MCNV organization.

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