Opening of the exhibition entitled ‘50 Jahre Tet-Offensive 50 Jahre 1968’ (50 years Tet offensive – 50 years 1968)
Half a century ago people around the world – from East to West and North to South – jointly protested against the Vietnam War. While it’s hard to imagine from today’s perspective, such widespread resistance really took place. Rosa-Luxemburg-Stiftung’s exhibition entitled ‘50 years Tet offensive – 50 years 1968’ which opened on Wednesday (31 January 2018) highlights these events and will be open to the public in the foyer of the Rosa-Luxemburg-Stiftung in Berlin until the end of February.
The exhibition displays over 20 historical posters from 16 countries. These expressions of solidarity came for example from UK workers, the Three-Continent Mobilization Committee in Cuba or the American Students Action Committee. A particularly treasured object is a red flag hand sewn by Berlin railway workers, who, as stated on the flag, wanted to send their warmest greetings to the ‘heroic people’ of Vietnam.
During the opening, the director of Rosa-Luxemburg-Stiftung’s Centre for International Dialogue (CID), Boris Kanzleiter stated that the exhibition was motivated by the 50th anniversary of the Tet offensive by the People’s Army against the US and their South Vietnamese allies which began exactly 50 years ago on 31 January 1968. An estimated 80,000North Vietnamese soldiers participated in the military offensive, which, notwithstanding initial successes, was defeated, yet nonetheless is considered today to be the turning point of the war.
As Boris Kanzleiter explained, one of the underlying reasons for this was that the military operation provided new traction for international solidarity and protests. West Berlin’s TU University organised the well-known Vietnam conference on 17 and 18 February. Asthe director of the CID emphasised, the protests against the Vietnam War and the imperialist war by the United States as it was referred to at the time, even became a ‘unifying factor for the global students movement’.
Furthermore Kanzleiter pointed out that the war in Vietnam became an important issue in the GDR, too. In 1965, the GDR founded the so-called Vietnam Commission (Vietnam-Ausschuss). As Kanzleiter stressed, its work comprised of far more than simply ‘prescribed top-down solidarity’. Many, who were otherwise not politically active, became seriously interested in the Vietnam War and the events mobilised people in both East and West Germany. During the exhibition’s opening, Kanzleiter also asked what the exhibits meant for today’s conflicts, for example, if you consider the on-going conflict in Northern Syria. While clearly developing within a global political dynamic and in spite of the myriad of forms armed conflict can take, the left needs to question how it positions itself regarding such liberation movements.
The posters shown in the exhibition, of which all are originals, come from the National Museum of History of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. In 2015, the exhibits now on show in Berlin were part of the museum’s exhibition entitled ‘The world support for the Anti-American Resistance War of Vietnam’s people’.
As Liliane Danso-Dahmen, Head of the Southeast Asia Office of Rosa–Luxemburg-Stiftung in Hanoi, explained during the opening, she discovered this ‘wonderful collection’ during the celebrations to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the reunification of North and South Vietnam. The National Museum has not only collected pictures, posters and flags but also cups, pens and other objects that people from all over the world produced to express their solidarity with the Vietnamese people.
During the course of the war, these objects generally reached Vietnam in the form of gifts from visiting foreign delegations to Vietnamese organisations. They, in turn, later handed them to the Museum of the Vietnamese Revolution, as Danso-Dahmen explained, from where they were eventually passed on to the National Museum of History of Vietnam. Even the Museum of History does not have any more information than currently presented in the exhibition, because, as Danso-Dahmen clarified, war and later the rebuilding of the country meant that people had neither the time nor the opportunity for academic documentation.
Highlighting the value of the exhibits, Liliane Danso-Dahmen explained that, at the time, the people in Vietnam greatly appreciated the posters and other objects, as they showed that people all over the world were watching the suffering the war inflicted on Vietnam and organised themselves to express their solidarity. Partner organisations in Vietnam, she said, often mentioned that these symbolic objects had given the Vietnamese a great deal of strength to continue their fight against the imperialist enemy.