For the first time in over two decades, since the Vietnamese government effectively banned the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV) and supplanted it with the State-sponsored Vietnam Buddhist Church in November 1981, diplomats from the European Union and the United States have met with UBCV Patriarch Thich Huyen Quang in Hanoi to discuss the situation of the banned UBCV.
On Wednesday 12th March, Mr. Marizio Caldarone and Mr. Jordi Carrasco-Munoz of the EU Delegation of the European Commission to Vietnam visited the Very Venerable Thich Huyen Quang at the K Hospital in Hanoi where he had undergone surgery on a painful growth near his eye. The same day, the 86-year-old Buddhist leader received a visit from Mr. Watson from the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi.
The discussions were frequently interrupted by nurses, doctors and several people not wearing name tags who asked the diplomats to leave the hospital, ostensibly so they could attend to Venerable Thich Huyen Quang. Finally, a doctor cut short the visits and asked the diplomats to leave. The U.S. envoy Mr. Watson asked to come back and visit Venerable Thich Huyen Quang again. The European envoys invited the Buddhist Patriarch to visit the EU Delegation’s headquarters to continue the discussion the following day (March 13th).
Since he was still very weak after his operation, Venerable Thich Huyen Quang was too tired to go to the EU Delegation, but sent the Venerable Thich Tue Sy in his place. Venerable Thich Tue Sy was received by eight diplomats from the European Union including H.E. Frédéric Baron, Head of the European Commission’s Delegation to Vietnam, Martin Allgauer (Austrian Embassy), Jonathan Dunn (British Embassy), Irene Knoben (Dutch Embassy), Merja Sundberg (Finnish Embassy), Michèle Sauteraud (French Embassy), Giovani Favilli (Italian Embassy) and Helena Sangeland (Swedish Embassy). During the 2-hour meeting, Thich Tue Sy expressed the UBCV’s concerns on the following points :
1. the suppression of Buddhism in North Vietnam from 1945-1975, and the continuation of these policies in the South after 1975 has not only caused deep suffering to Buddhists, but has also deprived the Vietnamese people of vast networks of Buddhist social, spiritual, educational and humanitarian structures which are crucial to the country’s development ;
2. since 1981, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam’s objective has been to transform Buddhism into an instrument of the Communist Party. Hence the creation of a State-sponsored Buddhist association under the control of the Vietnam Fatherland Front, and the subsequent banning of the independent UBCV. For the UBCV, this State-sponsored Buddhist association is merely a political organization, not a religious body. Today, just as in the past, Vietnamese Buddhism needs an independent, authentically religious organization in which monks, nuns and lay-followers may learn and practice the teachings of Lord Buddha without being subjected to the control of any political party whatsoever ;
3. the detention without trial of UBCV Patriarch Thich Huyen Quang and Venerable Thich Quang Do is both arbitrary and illegal. It not only violates domestic law, but also international law. The detention of our UBCV leaders is therefore not merely the internal affair of Vietnam, but a problem which concerns the whole international community. The UBCV sincerely urges the European Union to press for the urgent release of Patriarch Thich Huyen Quang and Venerable Thich Quang Do ;
4. Freedom of expression is vital for Buddhists and for all Vietnamese people. Without the fundamental right to freedom of expression, Buddhists have no means explain or practice their faith, nor dispel misunderstandings or counter disinformation about Buddhism spread by Marxist ideologists.
After this meeting, diplomats from the EU delegation again visited Venerable Thich Huyen Quang in the afternoon to inform him about the discussion. Venerable Thich Huyen Quang was no longer at the K hospital, but was resting at a local Pagoda. The EU envoys stressed that the EU and Member States were deeply concerned about the UBCV, and had worked ceaselessly for the release of UBCV leaders. They promised to make every effort to assist the UBCV to regain its legitimate status and freedom of religious activities.
Venerable Thich Huyen Quang thanked the EU for helping the Vietnamese people, and especially commended EU efforts to combat poverty in Vietnam. He also thanked members of institutions such as European Parliament, the United States Congress and the United Nations for raising the plight of the UBCV and calling for the release of UBCV Buddhists in their public statements and private human rights dialogues with the Vietnamese government.
The UBCV Patriarch expressed his sincere hopes that the EU would use its good relationship with the Vietnamese government to press for the right to existence of the UBCV, and for freedom of religion and expression for all Vietnamese, so that everyone could freely express their opinions and beliefs, and thereby help to restore the people’s spiritual heritage and participate in rebuilding the nation.