A major diplomatic incident could be triggered by a diehard right-wing Vietnamese group in Sydney, with the naive complicity of the Fairfield City Council.
A local Vietnamese paper claims that the council has officially sponsored a flag-raising ceremony on November 28 for the flag of Washington’s defunct South Vietnamese puppet regime, overthrown by the Communist-led Vietnamese national liberation movement in 1975. In addition, it claims that the council has contributed $6000 to the cost of construction of four flagpoles.
The November 4 edition of the Vietnamese language Saigon Times triumphantly plasters the Fairfield council’s support for the flag-raising ceremony across its front page, claiming that “Australia officially recognises the national flag of the Republic of Vietnam” and that an “official flag raising ceremony will be organised on November 28, 2004, at Cabra-Vale Park”.
The headlines and story are accompanied by a large colour picture of the Australian flag flying next to the flag of a regime that has not existed for almost 30 years. Presumably, this picture was taken at some sort of rehearsal in the park for the official flag-raising ceremony.
The right-wing Saigon Times seems to be pre-empting a possible future Fairfield council decision. A group organised as the “Vietnamese Community in Australia” has lodged an application with the Fairfield council for the ceremony.
But by already going 50-50 with this group in erecting the flagpoles at the Vietnamese-Australian war memorial in the park, the council has already given tacit approval to such a ceremony. It seems the council has been conned by that element in the Vietnamese-Australian community which wants a return of the long-defunct pro-US regime.
The government of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam has had good diplomatic relations with Canberra for many years. There is growing trade and other economic relations between the two countries. Tourism is increasing rapidly. Last year, 80,000 Australians visited Vietnam, of whom half were Australians of Vietnamese background. Tens of thousands of Vietnamese visit Australia each year, for study, for business, or to visit relatives. By its actions, Fairfield City Council could cause a serious diplomatic incident, undermining relations between the two countries.
Fairfield council covers a region of Sydney that is ethnically very diverse. It would be a huge mistake to align the council with that one section of the Vietnamese community that dreams nostalgically of the days it was propped up in power in Saigon by the huge military intervention of the United States.
Let them have their defunct flag on the walls of their offices and homes if they want, but not officially displayed in a public park.
There are probably also a few veterans of the Third Reich living in Sydney. They can have Nazi flags in their lounge rooms if they want, but it is totally inappropriate for any local, state or federal government body to officially sponsor Nazi flag-raising ceremonies.
The flag of the slave-holders’ Confederate States of America is sometimes flown by military buffs or motor cycle gangs, often ignorant of the political implications. But it would rightly be seen as an outrageous insult by visiting African-Americans and most other US citizens if a government body in Australia endorsed and funded a ceremony to raise the Conferate flag.
The next Fairfield City Council meeting is on November 23. However, there is a danger that council officers will approve the flag-raising event without referring it to council.
Community groups, trade unions, and individuals should protest to Fairfield City Council well before its next meeting, by email to <email@example.com> or the mayor, Nick Lalich, at <firstname.lastname@example.org> or by phone on (02) 9725 0222.