Question: As Vietnam Ambassador to Greece, can you share us about your feeling after hearing Kostas Sarantidis Nguyen Van Lap, the hero who had contributed to the development of the Vietnam-Greece friendship, had passed away?
Ambassador Le Hong Truong: Although we all know that everyone must leave the world someday and separation is inevitable, me and the staff of the Vietnamese Embassy in Greece were very sad to hear that Uncle Lap has passed away.
I believe that it is certainly not only our own feelings, but also the sorrowful grief of many Vietnamese people as well as old comrades and friends of Uncle Lap, and any patriotic Vietnamese people in general.
Uncle Lap once said that he always thought about Vietnam throughout his life, from waking up in the morning till bedtime at night. His house in Athens is popularly seen with a Vietnamese flag fluttering in the sun, and that place houses nothing but mementos, artifacts and pictures of him during the time in which he lived, fought, and worked in Vietnam. Also in this house, Vietnamese customs and practices are always maintained as all of his descendants have Vietnamese names. All family members gathered together during weekends and holidays.
Uncle Lap acknowledged that he still saw himself as 80% Vietnamese as he often thought things in his mind in Vietnamese language first, then Greek. Till the end of his life, when he was on the hospital bed, his greatest wish was that his descendants would continue preserving and promoting his love for Vietnam.
The sincere and profound love for the second homeland of hero Nguyen Van Lap is truly a shining example of patriotism and national pride for today’s generations.
Do you have any impressions or memories about the life and career of Hero of the People's Armed Forces Kostas Sarantidis Nguyen Van Lap?
I’m full of admiration to hero Nguyen Van Lap, who devoted his blood, tears and even his youth to the national resistance war for independence and freedom. I am proud of a foreigner who had such a deep and sincere love for Vietnam.
When I arrived in Greece, I planned to visit and salute Uncle Lap and his family. However, it is unfortunate that he passed away just few days after I arrived.
I asked myself what motivated a legionnaire to voluntarily become an Uncle Ho’s soldier, then willing to stay in Vietnam and joining hands to the country’s construction and development for two decades. I think the most correct answer is the legitimacy and justice of our nation's resistance war against foreign invaders, the resistance war under the sound direction of President Ho Chi Minh, who won the hearts of people from the other side and convinced them to stand in the ranks of the Viet Minh (the short name for Vietnam Doc Lap Dong Minh or Vietnam Independence League).
Seldom has a foreigner been admitted to the Communist Party of Vietnam at the age of 22 and then received Vietnamese citizenship like Uncle Lap. He was also the only foreigner to be awarded the title of Hero of the Vietnamese People's Armed Forces.
Then-President Nguyen Minh Triet (R) awards the Friendship Order and Vietnamese citizenship to Kostas Sarantidis Nguyen Van Lap at a ceremony in Hanoi on January 7, 2011. (Photo: VNA)
How do you evaluate Nguyen Van Lap's contributions to the friendship between Vietnam and Greece?
As the spiritual leader of the Vietnamese people in Greece, Uncle Lap was the founder of the Greece-Vietnam Friendship Association and the Association of Vietnamese people in Greece, which is a small community but always turns their hearts towards the motherland. Uncle Lap also served as a bridge in linking Greek friends to Vietnam.
He established as an example of patriotism and love for Vietnam. Before the Vietnamese diplomatic mission in Athens establishment in 2010, Uncle Lap seemed to play the role of a Vietnamese “diplomat” residing in Greece. He played an excellent role as a community worker in protecting the interests of the local people while connecting the Vietnamese community with people in the host country.
He was not only respected by the Vietnamese community in Greece, but also by his comrades in the Communist Party of Greece (KKE). The notice of the KKE Central Committee’s Office on the passing away of Uncle Lap read: “It is with deep sadness that KKE bids farewell to Kostas Sarantidis Nguyen Van Lap, a humble Greek communist, an exemplary internationalist who fought alongside the Viet Minh during the French colonial period in Vietnam and became a hero in the struggle for national liberation of the Vietnamese people.”
Although Uncle Lap is gone, I believe that the image of a true patriotic Vietnamese man has claimed a place in the hearts of millions of Vietnamese people. The Vietnam - Greece friendship relationship will continue to develop strongly thanks to solid foundation laid by Uncle Lap.
According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ambassador and staff of the Vietnamese Embassy in Greece will attend the funeral of Hero of the People's Armed Forces Kostas Sarantidis Nguyen Van Lap on June 29. Can you please share about the embassy’s preparations for the funeral?
After receiving the news on Lap’s passing, we directly contacted his family to send our condolences to them and update information on the funeral plans. We also sent urgent telegrams to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of Labor, War Invalids and Social Affairs to inform them about Uncle Lap’s passing away and the schedule of his funeral.
The Embassy conveyed condolences from President Nguyen Xuan Phuc, former President Nguyen Minh Triet and Deputy Prime Minister Pham Binh Minh to Uncle Lap's family.
Defence Minister Senior Lieutenant General Phan Van Giang, Foreign Minister Bui Thanh Son, Head of the Party Central Committee's Commission for External Affairs Le Hoai Trung, and President of the Vietnam Union of Friendship Organisations Nguyen Phuong Nga also sent messages of condolence to the family of the deceased 94-year-old.
In addition, many agencies and individuals in Vietnam have had the embassy sent wreaths and condolences to Lap’s family over his passing.
The embassy staff assisted his family in preparing the funeral, ensuring that the ceremony will be held in accordance with Greek tradition.
On June 28, I joined the embassy staff visited and offered condolences to Uncle Lap's family and discussed the preparations for the funeral on the morning of June 29.
The Embassy informed the representatives of the Greece - Vietnam Friendship Association and the Vietnamese community in Greece on Uncle Lap’s passing away. They are deeply saddened to hear the news as in the hearts of the Vietnamese community in Greece, Uncle Lap was like a father who helped them a lot during the first days they came to Greece.
It is scheduled that in the early morning of June 29, all officials and staff of the Vietnamese Embassy in Greece, representatives of the Association of Vietnamese people in Greece and the Vietnamese community in Greece will attend the funeral and see him off at his final resting place.
Thank you so much for your sharing!