January 7 is indeed a significant day for survivors of the Khmer Rouge. It arrestied the macabre convulsions that would have swallowed all of us into a hellish hole if the Vietnamese military had not intervened.
It is a bittersweet day of commemoration through invasion.
And now, unfortunately, it is a day propagandised to be solely the Day of Liberation, neatly sweeping away the equally important fact of it being simultaneously the inaugurating day of an occupation that would last for the next decade.
That occupation began with the barricading of Phnom Penh to facilitate the plundering of its wealth by convoys of trucks heading to Vietnam and the mass crimes of the K5 plan.
My hairdresser remembers returning from Battambang to his home in Boeung Keng Kang I on February 3, 1979, only to find that all the wealthy neighbourhoods of villas and jewellery stores were still barricaded off.
It was an occupation cut short only by the meltdown of the Cold War – specifically, the break-up of the Soviet Union, which funded the Vietnamese occupation of Cambodia.
The rewriting of history in this manner by the current regime is fraught with danger for the longevity of Cambodian stability and peace.
Cycles of past grievances that touch on national identity and humiliation run deep in any society, and no less in Cambodia. Think of the Khmer Kampuchea Kroms and their current suffering and struggles. Think of the underpinnings for the bloodletting in the former Yugoslavia.
It’s not only on January 7 that the regime is revising history to fit its narrow political agenda. The political interference in the Khmer Rouge tribunal speaks to the same dangers.
This regime never wanted the KRT, but once it was inevitable and the regime was confident of its control over the mechanisms of the process, it did everything to achieve and protect its twin goals: to go down in history as the government that put the Khmer Rouge on trial and, concurrently, to erase its own Khmer Rouge history and crimes.
With the United Nations’ stamp of approval, the CPP regime is achieving exactly that.
No counterbalancing, competing narratives are permitted or have the resources and official, institutional dissemination systems to match it.
Thus, January 7 is paradoxical for Cambodians who are simultaneously survivors of the Khmer Rouge, survivors of the K5 plan under the Vietnamese occupation, and continuing survivors of a regime that desperately needs to whitewash its history of the Khmer Rouge and has indebted political ties to Vietnam – a dangerous liaison, in light of the two countries’ historical enmity over territorial annexation.
Stated differently, January 7 is a paradoxical and conflicting date for us who are Cambodian victims of the Khmer Rouge, Cambodian victims of the Vietnamese occupation and Cambodian victims of a regime with unhealthy political and historical ties to both the Khmer Rouge and the Vietnamese military.
January 7 initially made us deliriously grateful, then wearily suspicious. That is the tension.
Theary C. Seng
Founding president CIVICUS: Centre for Cambodian Civic Education