The Mekong and the Danube: Rivers and Friendships?

Author: Nguyen Le Nhat Linh

Coming from a totally different continent, the Danube is a new topic to me. With its connections to the European cultures, I find it really hard to relate to both through my own personal experience and my academic background (which is very mathsy).

Long in the history of humankind, rivers have played so many important roles: they connect people,  as towns and cities revolved around that source of life. However, another aspect of rivers is that they can be seen as a way to segregate people; they act as borders to separate nations and very often in this case, it led to territorial conflicts between the countries under consideration. In this respect, I can certainly relate my knowledge of a very famous river in Vietnam, the Mekong River to the Danube.

The Mekong river: Vietnam / Cambodia

In the 1620s, the Khmer King Chey Chettha II allowed Vietnamese people to come to the area of the Mekong Delta, which then belonged to Cambodia. This at the time was an act of friendship between the two countries and act as a way to connect the two nations together. The Vietnamese set up a custom house at Prey Nokor and named it Sai Gon. As time went by, increasing waves of Vietnamese flooded the region and slowly Vietnamised the total area of the Mekong Delta. This was partly because the Khmer Kingdom was also weakened by its own war with Thailand. During the late 17th century, Mac Cuu, a Chinese general decided to expand Vietnamese and Chinese settlements deeper in to Prey Nokor. By 1961, the Vietnamese completely occupied the area. This  later led to an action by the Khmer Rouge regime to reclaim the lost Delta and it sparked the war between Vietnam and Cambodia. Vietnam won the territorial war but at a great price of neighborly friendship.

film festival vukovar on the danube river
Vukovar Film Festival on the Danube

Having had lectures about how rivers can act as borders between nations, I am deeply interested in the Vukovar story, a war between Croatia and Serbia. During the Yugoslav wars of secession, the city of Vukovar was heavily destroyed. Approximately two thousand self-organized defenders fought to defend the city for 87 days of war, against thirty six thousand Yugoslav People’s Army troops.  What was interesting for me to see are the reasons  for the war, which were similar to those between Vietnam and Cambodia: it was about claiming territory in an aim to re-define state boundaries. It made me think how wars are always fought for similar reasons, regardless of where they happen. Even today, Croatia–Serbia still have a dispute which refers to differing views regarding their border in the area of the Danube River.

The Croatia-Serbia border dispute in the Bačka and Baranja area.

Map of Croatia / Serbia border dispute

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