POST: What does the Cambodian Diaspora bring to the opposition?
SIRIVUDH: I remember the battle between 1979 and 1991. Cambodians abroad, above
all in the United States, contributed a great deal to the national resistance [both
morally and financially]. They were the most active and lobbied to sensitize the
French National Assembly and the American Senate. Since 1993, there has been a distance
between us because Funcinpec and Son Sann's party were taken up by Cambodian internal
affairs, so there was less of a need to maintain contact with those abroad. As a
result, there was a sort of betrayal. I recognize that there was distance. Also,
the Cambodians abroad saw the lack of competence. That was during the battle years.
In 1998 this community was greatly enthused about the elections. There was a great
deal of frustration that they were not allowed to vote. They had been pushed to return
during the pre-electoral period in 1993 but few were able to jump on a plane. In
1998, the law did not allow Khmers abroad to vote and it was a battle. It is the
first duty of a Cambodian. The CPP, Funcinpec and the Sam Rainsy Party have an interest
in clarifying and modifying the electoral law to permit the many Cambodians abroad
to vote. There are half a million votes in Canada, Australia, the United States,
and France... I think the Cambodian people are not a migratory people. It is an historic
phenomenon. The first time in history there was a Cambodian exodus was due to the
Khmer Rouge. Cambodians are of the land, they are attached to their land, not like
the Chinese or the Vietnamese who migrate. Today we have French-Khmer and Cambodian
Americans. I am worried about the day when they will be told to return by the countries
they live in. The government must learn to involve those who return from abroad,
how to direct a reservoir of gifted and talented people. The Franco-Cambodians are
intellectuals, they speak and write well but are not very business-minded. The Khmer-Americans
are less intellectual but they have more technical training. They work for IBM, Microsoft.
They go from technical workers to department chiefs. The government was not interested
in the return of these talented people in 1993. I pushed for that but the structure
to receive them wasn't up to the job. There was no response to their needs and they
were not offered much when they did come, even if little was needed - a small house,
that sort of thing. There was also a local fear: They came to steal our jobs. A skeptical
eye was cast upon the newcomers: ëMe, I survived Pol Pot.' All that must be dealt
with. Me, I propose that someone manage the permanent and temporary returns.
POST: What do you bring to Cambodians abroad?
SIRIVUDH: I bring them their Cambodian roots. They are very nationalistic and
emotional and respectful to their temples, but they have no academic reference. So
I complement that with the things that I know. I give them these ideas: Why not translate
American books into Khmer? I encourage translations. Machiavelli, for example...
Cambodian history is hard for them so I give them information. I inform them on the
number of villages in Cambodia, I brief them on the new political structures, the
wording of the Constitution. If you gain the right to vote [after] 1998, start having
ideas. I fulfill their political conscience. In terms of religion, for example, they
bring me a great deal. The monks have evolved a great deal. They speak of Buddhism
from an angle of those who have researched it, and this contributes to their sense
of social responsibility, they build their temples, give computer courses. There
is a renaissance abroad of educational centers that fulfill the same rolls as the
pagodas of a better time in Cambodia.
POST: How much money do they give you?
SIRIVUDH: The Khmer-Americans contribute my travel expenses since the start
of my exile. They saved in order to receive me [in the US]since the beginning of
1997. They send me publications. They ask me what I need. For example, they furnish
me with telephone cards because they work in the companies [that produce them]. They
are astute so when I propose that they organize an event at $25 a head, they arrange
to lower the cost to $10 a head and save the rest for the speaker, in this case me.
Sometimes I have to pay the costs of people who accompany me and invite friends from
the National Democratic Institute, the International Republican Institute, offer
small gifts during the trips. It is taken care of by the committee. I tell them not
to hesitate to invite American friends to dinner because that too is politics, to
have good relations. During my three years in exile, I have not bothered [funding]
institutions. No one can say ëwe have paid for Sirivudh'. I have decided on this
political attitude: Survive with what the community gives me. I have lived at my
son's and at my sister's in Paris.
POST: What do Cambodian-Americans in Long Beach expect from you?
SIRIVUDH: They expect me to continue to be the man who won't sell his soul,
that Sirivudh remains a man of dialogue, that I am the Mr. Clean of Cambodian politics.
I am not caught up [in corruption], I have integrity. And also that I be a bridge.
I give quite a few messages to His Majesty the King and to Prince Ranariddh. Some
don't like the Royalists. They are very republican, but I am lucky. They don't like
the royalists much but Sirivudh is alright. I am the accessible man. That is what
the Cambodians of Long Beach expect, that I be their interlocutor, leaving my Prince's
vest aside. We also have exile in common, as well as my peasant roots on my mother's
side. I have retained this double culture. You know [King] Sihanouk is someone who
is very simple. He speaks about everything, about cinema.. In this sense he is unique.
No one wants to try to imitate him. No one can imitate a De Gaulle or a Sihanouk!
POST: The NMDC, your movement here, is it your political party?
SIRIVUDH: I am a member of Funcinpec. It is the movement that calls for good
treatment for Sirivudh. I am not it's president. They support my ideas but they created
the movement themselves. They invite me [and] remain faithful to me. The first political
document that spoke of the two chambers of the Assembly in 1996 was the movement
POST: What has it been like being a prince in Los Angeles and what reactions have
young Khmer-Americans had to you?
SIRIVUDH: I lived in France before the resistance so I don't know the United
States very well. It is a new experience. [But] I do give something to the youngsters.
I made friends among the younger generation. I talk to them in English. Whatever
the origins of Cambodians, people are attracted to a prince. And I also made friends
with the Khmer-Americans. They say: ëHey the prince is accessible, we can talk to
him'. Indirectly I am doing a royalist lobby. There is still no royalist newspaper
but there is a little opening. Their degree of antipathy toward royalty has diminished
a little. I don't show up with bodyguards and a crowd of courtesans. I keep a simple
attitude and that kind of behavior attracts them. People congratulated me because
Long Beach has the reputation of being tough ground for royalists. The organizers
were very worried. My reputation as a clean man helped me a lot. They talk a lot,
disagree, there is a sort of debate. They like to talk with a prince but the royal
language blocks them. Therefore, I usually start my reunions by telling them not
to be bothered with [royal] titles. We can speak in English. If I behaved like a
prince, very prince-like, they would say, ëWe don't give a damn, we live here. You
are the one asking for something here'. A group of traditionalists tell me Highness,
you are too simple, keep a little distance [but] I'd rather adapt to what Cambodian
people expect [in Los Angeles]. I also criticize: the crime rate, kids hanging out
with gangs... I sensitize the parents. I tell them that's a shame. For five or six
years, its been better. I talk about Cambodian people's problems here. I visit the
UCC to check on domestic violence problems. I show an interest in their problems
and if I can help personally, I do. I also take information back from Washington
on the policies regarding the communities.
POST: What have you missed the most in exile?
SIRIVUDH: I gave up everything to come back [before 93]. Before I die, I have
a dream. I would like to see this little country of 10 million people - it is a very
green country, a balanced country, a country of service - with all its problems solved.
We will die one day. I don't want to see a kingdom die. One should serve the country
when they can still do it. I didn't ask to be a prince. I want to be the prince of
a kingdom which is at the heights of its temples. We were born in a fighting context.
I don't want Cambodia to lose five more years. I am interested in the Eastern part
of the country, [it] needs pioneers. If I am nominated one day, I will be the pioneer
of the East.
POST: What solution is there for ethnic Vietnamese in Cambodia?
SIRIVUDH: I am very clear on this. The Cambodians are very nice and they let
themselves get taken advantage of. Their history is that way. In the 1960s, there
were Vietnamese in Cambodia and there were no problems. Cochinchina was lost, that
is the past. It will not be reclaimed but at least the international community must
understand. It is necessary, all the same, that illegal immigration be dealt with.
Solutions must be sought through a discussion. How many Vietnamese people are without
papers? [We must] regularize the residents and trace those who are not residents,
who have no papers and who do not respect our laws. But before all that, there must
be a discussion and negotiations with Vietnam. It is not a matter of a problem of
racism but of an arrangement. We lived together just fine in the 1960s. We can even
take advantage of the Vietnamese presence to learn from them. There are good shoe
repairmen, construction builders, electricians, mechanics. When they train us, the
problem will solve itself. We must give the Cambodian police the means to control
illegal immigration. But that will only be possible when a coalition government,
Vietnam and the international community recognize together that there is a problem
of illegal immigration.