Vietnam Time

1/11/2018 8:19:27 AM

Swedish Ambassador: Vietnam is willing to listen to us and so are we

The Swedish Embassy has been spending a great deal of time providing a cultural bridge between the peoples of Sweden and Vietnam.

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Swedish St.Lucia celebration  (source: Embassy of Sweden in Vietnam)

A cold, dark winter night in Hanoi was suddenly brightened when ‘angels’ in white gowns appeared with candles and sang songs about the beauty of life and the possibilities of the future. Thanks to the St. Lucia celebrations organised by the Embassy of Sweden in Vietnam, invited guests spent a warm evening together and learned about the myth of Lucia, a bearer of light in the long, dark Swedish winters, and the celebration of one of the country’s foremost cultural traditions.

The hope was to create a traditional festival for Swedish expats far from home and introduce it to Vietnamese, according to Ambassador Pereric Högberg. ‘We want to share our tradition of forgetting about dark times and looking positively towards the future. It’s actually very much like the Vietnamese spirit I see every day,’ he said.

Promoting cultural exchanges between Sweden and Vietnam is one of the four important goals of the Swedish Government at the moment, Ambassador Högberg went on, along with maintaining the strong partnership, promoting and increasing economic ties, and understanding what’s happening in Vietnam economically and politically, as the country is a strong and important friend and partner of Sweden.

A number of Swedish musicians have been invited to Vietnam to perform, playing classical, jazz and pop,.

The embassy also cooperates with the embassies of other EU members and European Cultural Centres in Vietnam to present Swedish films. Every year there is at least one feature film and one documentary film shown at the European Film Festival.

Books from Swedish authors and by people who have won the Nobel Prize have recently been translated into Vietnamese in a cooperative effort between the embassy and Vietnamese publishers, such as ‘The One-Hundred-Year-Old Man who Climbed out the Window and Disappeared’, an extraordinary and hilarious book from Jonas Jonasson, ‘I Am Zlatan Ibrahimovic’, the story of one of the best Swedish football players ever, and ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’, the international bestselling psychological thriller from late Swedish author and journalist Stieg Larsson.

Introducing modern artworks to Vietnamese audiences is hoped to reveal modern Sweden. There have been lot of changes in the country since the two began relations in 1969 and they can be seen in music and films, according to Ambassador Högberg.

As for cuisine, Swedish ‘ingredients’ have been not only introduced but also mixed with specific Vietnamese ‘spices’ to bring a new ‘taste’.

Along with the St. Lucia celebrations, Mid-Summer, another important festival in Sweden, was held at the Hanoi Botanical Gardens. It became a big party, with music, games and fun for Swedish and Vietnamese who have worked and lived in Sweden.

Another typical Swedish cultural tradition, Fika, is also held monthly at the embassy in a special way: ‘Fika with the Ambassador’. More than just having a coffee, Fika is a great reason to set aside a moment of the day for quality time. After meeting with people from government and business, one of the things the ambassador likes the most is these more informal Fika meetings with young, ambitious and optimistic Vietnamese. All are invited to leave their name and email in the comments section on a post on the embassy’s Facebook page. Forty of the first to do so receive an invitation. ‘We talk about many interesting topics, like gender equality, education, environment, innovation and sustainability,’ Ambassador Högberg said. ‘I enjoy it a lot. I’ve learned the most about Vietnam from those Fika meetings. Hopefully I can inspire them with the successes, failures and challenges facing modern Sweden.’

The cultural exchanges have been expanded to include literature, art and life.

Recently, on the occasion of the Nobel Prize Ceremony in Stockholm, Ambassador Högberg hosted a dinner in the spirit of Nobel, inviting Vietnamese partners, key government agencies and Swedish businesses to celebrate the Swedish-Vietnamese partnership and pay tribute to innovation and creativity.

Sweden not only has the Nobel Prize but also another prestigious prize, Cikada, which was recently awarded to a Vietnamese poet, Mai Van Phan. The prize is for East Asian poets with verse expressing the inviolability of life. Phan became the second Vietnamese winner of the award, joining 2015’s winner Hoang Thi Y Nhi. Ylva Jansson, Chargé d’Affairs at the Swedish Embassy, said Phan proves that poetry can give us a greater understanding of the lives and cultures of others. A selection of his poems has been translated and published in Sweden, through the book ‘Höstens Hastighet’.

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Ambassador Högberg (2nd from left, 1st row) loves exploring Vietnamese culture (source: Embassy of Sweden in Vietnam)

The prize expresses an open policy of encouraging cultural diversity and helping all of us understand more about the beauty of poetry and the souls and lives of other peoples, according to Nguyen Phuong Hoa, Deputy Head of the International Cooperation Department at the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism. ‘The prize praises the values of humanity for peace and a better life and is an important bridge in the Vietnam-Sweden friendship,’ she told the awards ceremony.

A photo contest entitled ‘Vietnamese Equal Families’ was launched last year by the embassy in cooperation with the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism and the Vietnamese Women’s Museum.

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A Fika session, an sharing corner bringing the Swedish ambassador, the embassy's staff and the Swedish culture to Vietnamese people (source: Embassy of Sweden in Vietnam)

Sweden is known as a world leader in gender equality. Both women and men have equal rights in school, at work and at home. One of the clearest pieces of evidence of gender equality in Sweden is its parental leave policy, which allows fathers to be take time off from work to join their wives in looking after the new-born baby, Ambassador Högberg explained. He took his paternity leave to take care of his kids, and understood that a mother’s life is never easy. ‘It’s one of the hardest things to do. I think it’s easier to be an ambassador,’ he said.

Through the contest, Sweden wanted to share its experience with Vietnam in emphasising the importance of shared responsibility in family life, to promote gender equality in Vietnamese society as well as learn more about the issue in the country through images captured by Vietnamese photographers. A similar contest was organised in 2016, with the theme ‘Vietnamese Dads’, a spin-off of the photo exhibition ‘Swedish Dads’. The same approach was used in ‘Vietnamese Equal Families’, but the concept was broadened to involve whole families.

Thousands of entries were received from professional and amateur photographers around Vietnam, reflecting different views on gender equality among mothers and fathers and other family members. The best were selected for an exhibition at the Vietnamese Women’s Museum.

According to Nguyen Khoa Huy, whose picture won the most votes on Facebook, the contest was a chance for Vietnamese to express their concerns about equality in the family. ‘Asian people believe that caring children is a small task belonging to the mother, while the father focuses on the big things,’ he told the awards ceremony. ‘With my images, I wanted to show there has been some change towards equality in the family, with everything done for the kids. Thanks to the organising board, my message has reached more people and they liked it. I'm very happy’

Sweden also supported Vietnamese sport by bringing young Vietnamese football players to attend a youth tournament known as the Gothia Cup for the first time. The Gothia Cup is the world’s largest and most international youth football tournament. Young players of 12 years old holding the Vietnamese flag in a stadium of 50,800 spectators was an amazing experience for both the players and their parents. ‘We can share and learn from experiences and export Vietnamese football,’ said Head Coach Radouane Foulier.

In 2019, the embassy will focus on preparing for celebrations of the 50th anniversary of relations between Sweden and Vietnam, like a starter before the main course. In addition to regular events such as St. Lucia, Mid-Summer and Fika, food festivals are also expected. More artists will be brought to Vietnam to work with the Vietnam National Academy of Music, including one of the world’s best soprano singers, Anne Sofie von Otter. There will be celebrations of Ingmar Bergman’s 100th birthday, one of the greatest Swedish film makers, focusing on his life, work and films. ‘Vietnam is willing to listen to us and so are we,’ said Ambassador Högberg. ‘As a good friend and partner, our biggest goal is to support Vietnam to create positive development. It’s very interesting, because Vietnam is developing quickly and seeing a lot of changes.’/.

  ( VNF/VET )
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