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Villagers gather for meeting to discuss the Renakse petitions cataloguing the crimes of Pol Pot in 1982. Documentation Center of Cambodia

Reconciliation in Cambodia

Reconciliation is as much an individual journey as it is a collective phenomenon. In fact, if we acknowledge that reconciliation can only become tangible in the hearts and minds of individuals, we realise that it is the individual spirit, not the collective will, that holds the key to a post-conflict society’s ability to overcome its past.

When I think of this, I am reminded by the relationship between the Tonle Sap and Mekong rivers.

The two rivers are distinct for most of their journey; however, they converge around the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh. When the rivers merge, the Tonle Sap does not lose its distinction.

Swollen by the rapid flood of rainwater from the Mekong, the Tonle Sap becomes a hydrological wonder—defying gravity and reversing its course to flow upland and into the Tonle Sap lake, one of the richest freshwater fisheries in the world.

Reconciliation, like the merging of two rivers, does not destroy individuality; rather, like the Tonle Sap, the convergence becomes a factor that empowers individuals in unforeseeable ways.

Whether we view our situation as individuals or as a collective body, reconciliation is essential to living a full, quality life. We can’t escape our history; however, we don’t have to be enslaved by it either.

History overlaps. We often forget that we are no more removed from the history of the Khmer Rouge as the generation before was removed from colonialism, war, and social upheaval that preceded them.

Yet reconciliation offers us a way out. Reconciliation offers a way by which we can contribute to the collective success of our nation without sacrificing our individual endeavours.

Like the Tonle Sap and Mekong rivers, we do not lose our individuality when we merge; rather, as we accept each other, we empower each other’s personal way of life and contribution to Cambodia as a whole.

Youk Chhang is the director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia.

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