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Meeting with Vietnamese graduates of Soviet and Russian universities

October 31, 2010, Hanoi

President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev: It is a pleasure for me to be here today. I feel truly moved, because practically every one of you has a connection with our country. Each individual views everything through the context of personal memories. We are who we are precisely because we have memories and a past. The past of our peoples and our states includes friendship and mutual assistance, especially during the period when Vietnam was fighting for its independence. Meanwhile, the past of any ordinary individual is based on his or her collection of memories.

All of us are ordinary people – students and presidents alike. When I recall the early 1970s, some of the most vivid memories of my childhood involved meeting university and postgraduate students from Vietnam who visited my parents’ place. This is something that is forever engrained in my memory.

During that very period, I received my first basic understanding of Vietnamese culture, Vietnamese people, their industriousness, the complicated situation in their country, and the struggle that the Vietnamese people waged. I still recall certain fragments of stories, music, and crafts that were brought to my parents’ place. And I suppose that this is very neat, because that allows me as President of the Russian Federation to view our relations today from a somewhat special angle. I am truly happy that I had a chance to become acquainted with the Vietnamese culture during that period.

Perhaps I was still small back then, I was 5 or 7 years old, but even then, I could sense that the Vietnamese who were coming to study in the Soviet Union were very sound people who intended to study hard. Why did they need to study hard? All of you know the answer, especially those of you who studied in the Soviet Union back then: in order to fight for the future of their country and to accomplish the goals. Now too, students coming to our country to study want to help their state, get a good education, and subsequently apply it in practice.

All told, until now both in the USSR and in Russia about 30 thousand university and postgraduate students from Vietnam received their training, two thousand – an enormous team – received PhDs, and two hundred received Doctor of Science degrees. I am glad that this strong team of teachers, students, and Vietnamese government and party officials was trained in my country.

This has great significance for Vietnam, but it also has great significance for the Russian Federation, because when you encounter this kind of powerful energy in the audience, when people understand your language, when they are happy to hear Russian, when everyone here has some common recollections, all this helps to align the relations between our nations. Currently, these relations are excellent.

During this visit, we have agreed on a whole range of new projects. Our plans include establishment of a new joint Russian-Vietnamese technological university. I am certain this idea will be implemented. In March of this year, we signed a special intergovernmental agreement on the mutual recognition of university diplomas. It is too bad that we had not done this earlier, but I am glad that we finally did it, so in this sense, our respective efforts continue.

No doubt, I admit that in developing special, friendly, strategic relations between our nations, the Russian Federation has always relied and will continue to rely on all of you – people who studied in the Soviet Union and in Russia, people who love Russia and speak the Russian language.

Overall, many people in Vietnam are learning or speak Russian, which is certainly very good. Over half a million Vietnamese citizens know our language. This is a truly great resource for our friendship.

I would like to wish all of you, everyone present here, everyone who once studied in the Soviet Union or Russia and has friends there, everyone who is currently studying or planning to study in our nation, great success. We truly value your efforts.

And of course, I would like for meetings of this kind to continue and to be held regularly.

And now, if you would like to ask me any questions, I will be happy to answer them. Go ahead, please.

Question: My name is Pham and I graduated from the Odessa National Polytechnic University in the 1980s. I have more of a request than a question for you. In fact, I have three requests.

The first request has to do with the cooperation potential that currently exists between our countries. Unfortunately, I think that so far we have not taken advantage of this opportunity in some areas. It is very difficult for the business community here to obtain information about what Russia needs and what we can do. For example, we now have very strong furniture manufacturing and shipbuilding, and a very large fishing industry. But, unfortunately, our relations do not allow us to strengthen cooperation in these areas on a state level. That is my request to you.

My second request is this: I would like to see a strong cultural exchange programme between our nations, our countries and our people, because every year we only see snippets of the Russian culture, such as folk songs. Why have we never seen the Russian ballet? Why can’t we listen to Russian orchestras? I’m sure you understand that in a way we have become russified, so we would very much like to see this.

And the third question, or my third request: as you said, Vietnam has over 30,000 graduates of Russian universities. We would like to have, for example, a website that would help us stay in touch with our old schools and our teachers. And I think this is just the right background for the development of friendship, so it is truly necessary.

Dmitry Medvedev: Thank you.

I’ll start with your request about business. Just before this meeting with you today, during the formal part of the visit, the President of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam and I had a meeting with representatives of the business communities, both Vietnamese and Russian. This was the business elite engaged in different spheres, and we talked about ways to move beyond oil and gas projects, for example, the spheres where everything is going well, where we have great potential and have been cooperating successfully for 30 years already, the spheres where big money is involved, to move on to other projects in areas where we don’t see much progress. We agreed that we will launch new business projects, not only major ones but also medium and small. This seems particularly important to me.

Why do I say this? Because today we talked about high technology, about informatisation. Today we saw a presentation of a product created by one of our joint ventures: the so-called 4G, fourth generation communication system. This is our joint product. I think that is very good because it is a new facet of our cooperation.

Shipbuilding is certainly also an interesting and important topic, especially since both our countries are maritime states, we go to sea a lot and manufacture many different products. Therefore, shipbuilding and the fishing industry, which we discussed separately, as well as fish processing, the import, the supply of raw fish from Russia, joint projects – all those things are certainly necessary. In general, I think cooperation in the food industry would be a very interesting direction of our cooperation, especially since Vietnam has a unique culture and a culinary culture. In this regard, it would be really interesting to join our efforts.

I was asked today whether I like Vietnamese food. I told the reporters in all sincerity that I really enjoy it, it tastes great. But you know, I’m sure that everyone in this room also likes Russian cuisine, because you lived in Russia for a long time and got used to it, as you just said, you have become russified.

Now, with regard to cultural exchanges: you are absolutely right, we certainly must develop cultural exchanges. Actually, such exchanges already exist, the ties have been maintained and haven’t faded away. But if you feel the need to intensify them, I will issue instructions to our Culture Ministry, so that they think about sending more ballet companies, symphony orchestras and contemporary and folk music groups on tour to Vietnam. I think the audience here is very receptive.

And the last question. I think it is an absolutely modern issue that did not even exist just 10–20 years ago, but now it has become very relevant. Everyone present in this room can speak at least two languages: in addition to your native Vietnamese, you all speak Russian. In this regard, it is very important to launch some new information services, new technologies and information products. If nothing of this kind exits, then it is certainly a major gap. I think it would be best to create a website focused specifically on Russian-speakers. It should be a website and a forum, where they could exchange information. If you need our involvement, we are ready to help.

Question: Good evening, Mr President. I graduated from Moscow State Institute of International Relations and currently I am working at the Foreign Ministry. I would like to ask you one short question.

In the early stages of your political career was there a person you modelled yourself on and set yourself the goal to follow in his or her footsteps? For example, at the top of my short list is the President of a great country, the Russian Federation, Mr Medvedev. You know, I have a dream, I don’t know if it will be realised, to shake hands with the great hero whose example I will follow.

Thank you.

Dmitry Medvedev: I can tell you straight away that yours is the easiest possible dream to realise. If you wish, I am ready to do it right now. Come over here.

Now, about political paragons. You know, each of us has people we like, people who inspire us, and the list of these people changes over time: it will include different people when we are children or teenagers, when we are young and as we mature. But in any case, these are the people who help us to build ourselves. It could be great politicians, historical figures, of whom there are many both in Russia and in Vietnam. It can be quite inconspicuous people, our loved ones, our relatives, our friends, people whose names nobody knows but who shape us as individuals. And we are the way we are precisely because we look around ourselves, we read books, wonderful books in our native language or in foreign languages, we communicate with our loved ones and people who are closest to us. Now we can go online, we watch television, we look at the experience of other countries, and I think this greatly expands our horizons. And if our horizons are broad, we are better able to help our country and to achieve the goals we have set for ourselves.

You know, I’m sure that all of you here in this room are very happy people because you are bilingual, you are people of two cultures. That greatly enhances your lives, and I envy you.

If, for example, I could speak Vietnamese as well as you speak Russian, I would without a doubt be a much more accomplished person.

Go ahead, please.

Question: I am a graduate of the Tomsk Polytechnic University. Mr Medvedev, if you remember, you came to Tomsk in February and met with the students there. I had the honour of attending the meeting with you at that time and I asked you, when we were on the subject of economic contracts, why foreign students in Russia were unable to engage in employment during their studies. And just two weeks ago I read in a newspaper that you have signed an executive order and now foreign students, including Vietnamese students, can work at Russian universities.

I would like to express my sincere gratitude that you have heard us and that you create the best conditions for us to study in Russia and apply our knowledge in practice.

Thank you very much.

Dmitry Medvedev: Thank you. You raised a very important issue back then and reminded us about it now, which prompts me to draw two conclusions. One of them is positive: I am very pleased that this matter has been resolved and now foreign students and our Vietnamese friends are able to take advantage of the so-called economic contracts to earn money for the benefit of both their country and Russia.

The second conclusion is not very positive: it took too long to resolve this issue.

Go ahead.

Question: Good afternoon, I am a teacher of the Russian language. I have two questions for Mr President.

The first issue relates to my job. Mr President, what concrete measures do you intend to take to promote the Russian language in the world in general and in Vietnam in particular?

The second question is from my husband.

Dmitry Medvedev: And where is he? Right next to you? Excellent.

Question: What has changed in your perception of our country during your visit to Vietnam?

Dmitry Medvedev: Thank you.

These are both very good questions.

First, on promoting the Russian language. You know, even as I took office of the President of Russia I did not fully realise how important this is. This is such an important channel of communication, such a crucial element of cooperation with our close friends, with the countries with whom we have partnerships, a special relationship, Vietnam, for example, that it should be the focus of our attention.

What should be done? To be honest, this issue should receive political attention at the highest level, the level of the President and the top leadership of our country. And if you like, this meeting is also an element of these efforts.

Second, we should spend money on this area, and we should not be afraid of spending it. Because there are always areas for which it is harder to allocate funding. The Finance Ministry thinks: “Well, it would be better to spend the money on something else, on more tangible things, on the economy.” But in fact, ultimately the effect of your efforts, of our contacts with people from other countries who speak Russian, is much higher – it leads to good, friendly relations and numerous ties, so we should not hesitate to spend money on this. I’m certain that it must be one of our priorities.

And finally, there is, of course, the education system. That is also connected with money, but there are other factors too. We should try to disseminate modern experience, to promote modern methods of teaching the Russian language in the world. It is much easier now than it was 30 or 40 years ago, when we had to send books and modern textbooks. If you wanted to hear spoken Russian you had to talk with a teacher from the Soviet Union or to play a tape or to put on a record. Now things are different: you just turn on your computer, go online and get all the programmes, e-books, excellent audio recordings and videos that really make learning fun. There are huge opportunities today. I am sure that if we focus on these three aspects, we will be able to promote the Russian language at a very good pace.

You know, I think English is a very beautiful language and it is spoken all over the world, but Russian and Vietnamese are just as good and deserve our attention.

As for my personal impressions of Vietnam, unfortunately, I have not visited your country often, this is only my second visit. But I can confidently say that over the past nine years Vietnam has become a more beautiful, comfortable and modern country. Of course, Vietnam has a totally unique history, a deep, ancient history. This attracts millions of tourists to this country. In this sense, if I had the opportunity, I would be happy to travel around the country for a week, learning about the history and contemporary life of Vietnam. But, unfortunately, the President’s timetable is extremely busy. I was hoping that this time I would visit at least two cities. This did not happen but next time I will definitely come and see at least one other city in Vietnam.

The second impression is that it is a dynamic, lively country. When you drive down the street… First of all, Vietnam is full of life: there are people walking, driving, they used to cycle but now they are riding motorcycles, driving cars — it always creates an atmosphere of youthful energy, because the nation is young and it is growing and developing fast.

But now I saw that in addition to the movement of people there is a lot of construction going on, despite the rather complex situation in the world, the economic crisis that has affected both Russia and Vietnam. This is very good. This means that you will be able to maintain your development rates, and you have very good development rates.

And finally, it is equally important to preserve your cultural roots and identity. That is very difficult in today’s world. The world has become global. We all need to communicate, and it is excellent that you speak Russian. It is good for us and it is not bad for you either. But on the other hand, all of you in this room are citizens and patriots of your country who think about what your homeland will be like in the future, in the near future. And I think it is very important to preserve your cultural identity and multiply it with the knowledge of foreign languages, including Russian.

Response: Thank you very much.

I would like to say that these moments have become the happiest and the most memorable in my life. It is an honour to talk with you and I am very happy.

Dmitry Medvedev: Thank you very much, I am very glad.

Question: Mr President, my name is Kin, and I graduated from Moscow Institute of Steel and Alloys in 1988. Currently I am involved in an interesting joint project with the Fyodorov Eye Microsurgery Institute. Thanks to the support of Vietnam’s leadership, we have a small but very good clinic, which treats and diagnoses about a hundred people a day, and all of them leave us with great gratitude and respect for Russia. We would like to launch a major project and have submitted a proposal to our leadership; the city committee has already allocated a 65,000-square-metre land plot to build a large, international level joint Russian-Vietnamese ophthalmology clinic.

I would like to ask you to help us make such a Russian-Vietnamese clinic a reality, a clinic that will treat eye problems in our country and demonstrate Russia’s influence, authority and technology in the Asian region.

Thank you in advance.

Dmitry Medvedev: Thank you.

This is a really great area of cooperation, it is absolutely noble, and apart from being a hi-tech project, it involves people’s health and their ability to see each other. Therefore, we will do everything we can, just let us know what to do.

Response: You know, for such a project to be realised we need the support of both sides. I think that Russia can provide a great deal of assistance and not only where it comes to personnel training. But that is an urgent issue because we have experienced a sharp decline in medical technology training.

Dmitry Medvedev: All right, if what you need is personnel training, we can certainly help with that. You should send us a detailed request about what kind of professionals you need – you can submit it through the embassy. And if you need anything else we will try to help with that too. See, we launched a joint bank here today, so we can help in all sorts of ways.

Just send a request through the embassy. That’s agreed.

Question: Mr President, sorry, I’m very nervous.

Dmitry Medvedev: Relax, everything is fine.

Question: I graduated from Moscow State Pedagogical Institute in 1997.

You just said that there are a lot of people in our country who speak Russian. As a person who loves the great Russian language and Russian literature, I would like to ask you the following question.

It is true that we have a lot of people who speak Russian. But there are very few people who work as translators — I mean literature translators. As a professional translator of Russian literature, I would like to know whether you have a plan, a foundation, for example, devoted to helping those translators? Because we would very much like to introduce Vietnamese readers to the powerful Russian literature. As you may know, many excellent works of Russian literature were translated in the 1980s, but that is not enough. We would like to see more. Thank you.

Dmitry Medvedev: Thank you. I agree. I have a feeling that you are a very active translator, your Russian is impeccable and very idiomatic. I am very pleased to hear what you said.

I have no plan, but what you have asked me now has led me to a simple idea. I’ll think about how we could use our humanitarian ties and other channels to establish such a foundation through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and public organisations, to help the people who want to get involved in translation. I think it would be useful for our relationship, especially since this does not require huge funding, it is a low-cost project but the effect can be very good. I think we will do that through the embassy as well.

What is the lucky number in Vietnam? Nine? In that case, let’s have nine questions. This is the sixth.

Question: Mr President, I really can’t help being nervous because when I look at you I see the country of my youth, of our youth. I apologise for impertinence but I would really like to ask you to join us in singing a few lines from “How Young We Were”.

Would you agree?

Dmitry Medvedev: I cannot refuse, though I’m not sure that my voice will do justice to the song and I think you will sing much better. But if you wish, we can sing a few lines at the end.

Question: Good evening, Mr President. My name is Tan, I defended my PhD thesis at the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research in 1982. I have a personal request to you rather than a question. Before I came to this meeting, my daughter gave me your portrait and she would very much like you to autograph it.

Dmitry Medvedev: Just pass it over to me.

This was a quick question. Next, please. This will be our eighth question, and then the ninth.

Question: Mr President, I graduated from Perm State University in 1977, the Computer Science Department, and currently I am working at the Ministry of Science and Technology. I have one very short question.

How does Russia see its future position?

Dmitry Medvedev: Do you mean in the world?

Question: In the region.

Dmitry Medvedev: That is a different matter, of course. Russia wants to occupy a worthy place in the region.

That’s why I didn’t come only to pay a visit to the friendly country of Vietnam, but also to participate in an ASEAN forum. We have a partnership, we have held the second forum and the discussion was very constructive. We will continue to expand these ties. I do believe that the main economic development is taking place here in the Asia-Pacific region.

Just look, more than 50 percent of the world’s gross domestic product is created here, I mean all the countries in the region together. Therefore, if Russia has a one-sided policy it will have no future. The Russian Federation is a state of the Asia-Pacific region and we have many friends here.

Last question, the ninth. Go ahead, please.

Question: Good evening, Mr President. I have a question about everyday matters. How is your life? What was it like before you became President and what has it been like since then?

Dmitry Medvedev: I understand.

Response: And I would like to take this opportunity to ask you to pass on my greetings to Mr Putin.

Dmitry Medvedev: All right.

Response: Because I know that you have a very good relationship.

Dmitry Medvedev: That’s true.

Thank you. Thank you very much.

I will certainly pass on your greetings. As for my life, to be honest, it has certainly changed, even if we look at the time before I was elected President, because I was one of the leaders of the state, I had many responsibilities and I travelled a great deal. But I must admit frankly that the position of the country’s top leader, the President, is absolutely special, it requires increased concentration because Russia is a vast county and it is a permanent member of UN Security Council and has numerous friends and interests in the world. I have to travel a lot, and this leads to certain problems because we have a large country and it is important to visit its regions.

As you know well, for me to fly from one point to another across the country, for example, from Moscow to Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, I need even more time than to fly from Moscow to Hanoi. This imposes certain obligations and creates some difficulties.

As for my personal life, I can tell you frankly, I have very little free time –I didn’t have a lot of free time in the past but now there is very little left, and everybody needs to spend time with their loved ones, with their family, and to keep fit, which is necessary in any job and at any age. Therefore, time constraints, the lack of time – that is perhaps the most unpleasant aspect of the position of the head of state.

But there are some positive sides, and one of them is that from time to time I have very special meetings, very warm meetings, and one of them is taking place today.

Response: Comrades and friends, if the programme for the presidential visit is timed to the hour, the agenda of our meeting is timed to the second.

I wish on behalf of everyone present here to thank Mr President for his address, for his kind feelings towards our people, for his deep, wise thoughts and informative answers to questions from the participants in our meeting. And before announcing the end of this meeting, I would like to make a small remark.

Mr President, you mentioned and remembered your father’s students and post-graduate students, they are here with us today, post-graduate and graduate students. They were students of and learned from your father and in his time he was very fond of them, treating them like his children, inviting them to your home, teaching them, giving them knowledge and thus a start in life. When they returned home, like other Vietnamese students and post-graduates they became worthy defenders of their homeland and builders of our country. They are here today, along with their children. They want you to meet them and together they salute you.

Dmitry Medvedev: Thank you. This really is a very powerful emotional thing that takes me back to the past and into my memories. This is what binds us together, our mutual respect and friendship. I’m sure it will last forever.

Thank you for everything.

October 31, 2010, Hanoi