All Khmers please remember our roots and history
Which speak to the grandeur of our great race
Make up your mind and body and try hard to rebuild
In order to lift the value of our nation
To once again rise to the greatness that we once had
THAT these words, from the song “History of Khmer People” written by Nuon Kan in 1958, are still being sung by the most famous performers in the Kingdom is a testament to their power and the importance of national pride to the development of Cambodia.
Preap Sovatt and Aok Sokunkanha are two of the many pop stars and musicians who continue to spread Nuon Kan’s message to crowds throughout Cambodia.
Most of the pop fare being played today is about youthful pursuits such as loving your songsa.
But nationalist sentiments, like these lyrics in Nuon Kan’s piece, show that despite increasing foreign influences Cambodians, including the young, still have a profound love for their country.
Conflicts with Thailand over the border around Preah Vihear temple in the past year have not only given cause for Cambodia to ramp up its military presence along the frontier – they have also reignited nationalist feelings among Cambodians young and old.
But the temple ruins on the northern border may only be the most recent focal point of patriotism in the Kingdom. There is a rich history of Cambodians loving, serving and protecting their country.
“Working to find every way you can to help develop your country shows that you love your country,” said Pung Chhiv Kek, president of Licado, an organisation that works to protect human rights and promote respect for civil and political rights in Cambodia.
If millions of Cambodians were passionate about working together to improve their country, it could become a prosperous nation, she added.
“Nation. Religion. King,” is Cambodia’s national motto. While these are only words, many Cambodian’s have internalised their meaning and are living their lives with their country first.
“I want to help the country where my whole family lives,” said Sok Hak about his decision to become a soldier in the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces.
“I want to show my hometown that I am conscientious and caring.”
Roeur Sokhom, who works to clear land mines as a supervisor at Mine Advisory Group, said that he decided to pursue his particular career due to a profound love for his countrymen.
“Clearing one mine can save one person who will be able to farm their land with confidence and improve their living standards,” he said.
Many other Cambodians who are not putting their lives on the line for their country are still doing what they can to contribute to the Kingdom.
“I love my country, as well as its people, and I often contribute whatever money I can to the Cambodian Red Cross or charities that are supporting soldiers along the border,” said 31-year-old Vann Kiry, an English teacher at New York International School.
Nationalism frequently takes centre stage in the political campaigns of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, as well as the opposition Sam
Rainsy Party, which employ various strategies to convince their constituents that they are the best caretakers of the Kingdom.
“Our party thinks about our homeland, protecting our frontiers to the east and the west, fighting against corruption, serving national interests rather than our own interests and trying to develop the economy of the country,” said Yim Sovann, a lawmaker and spokesman for the SRP.
“Nationalism is the basic foundation used to create legislation,” said senior CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap.
“It is the key to promoting microeconomics, national solidarity and unity.”
According to Ros Chantrabot, a preeminent Cambodian historian and vice president of the Royal Academy of Cambodia, nationalist sentiment can encourage development in all sectors of Cambodian society.
“People should know their country’s history and culture and think critically about the true meaning of nationalism,” he said.
But Ros Chantrabot also warned that Cambodians should also understand how nationalism can be used in the wrong way.
Once people gain this knowledge and are able to implement their findings in their daily lives, “they will have true Khmer souls”, Ros Chantrabot said.