"BEAUTY is an obstacle to development". "Comrades, you are free".
"Angkar has the eyes of a pineapple".
Those are three of the 340 Khmer Rouge slogans used by the Khmer Rouge, gathered
by Henri Locard in his new book: Le 'petit livre rouge' de Pol Pot. The French academic
painstakingly amassed the slogans from witnesses he interviewed during his research
into the Khmer Rouge prison system.
"I first came across these slogan as I was writing Angkar Prisoner, a biography
of Moeung Sonn (a prisoner of the Khmer Rouge for 18 months). I started to write
them down on a notebook without any purpose in mind. After a while, it started to
form something like a jigsaw puzzle that built up the Khmer Rouge ideology,"
Khmer Rouge ideology was mainly expressed through word of mouth. There were very
few written documents. Nothing like Mao's Little Red Book. Only party members had
access to written documents.
The ready-made slogans were heard and repeated by everyone.
"Angkar is everyone, Angkar is everywhere. Angkar is powerful."
"They were Angkar words," said Locard. "They were coming from the
Throughout the book, the slogans create an image of what it was like to live in the
collective villages during the Khmer Rouge time.
Locard divides the slogans into six differents categories.
The book starts with those at the height of the regime, and closes with the ones
that refer to collectivism as the death of the individual.
For each section, Locard gives his opinion on the first few pages, then follows each
slogan in Khmer, with a translation, and his explanation of what each meant.
"Disabled soldiers of squad 05, young girls have to look after you." This,
says Locard, meant that the unmarried girls of the village would have to "achieve
their revolutionnary duties" - a signal of an upcoming forced wedding.
"If you want to stay alive, work!" "If you do not finish your work
during the day, you would have to work at night". These two slogans are taken
from the chapter "Work", showing how people were intimidated to achieve
their daily goals.
Work was the new battle, Locard said, and all the people were soldiers committed
to winning it.
From witnesses, Locard also found counter slogans born within people's imagination,
and he compares them with the "official" ones.
"Dig up the ground to put it on the ground" expresses the people's anger
at being forced to destroy old dikes, for example, and having to build new ones.
The counter slogans were ironic: "Socialism is a ready made house, with ready
made clothes, a machine to feed you and a [wood] plane to adjust all the faces to
make them look all the same."
"Any comrade who violates the law of Angkar must imprison himself," the
Khmer Rouge would say. The "April 17" people - those forced from the
cities after the KR takeover - countered: "If we keep our secret, we will live
for a long time."
Locard collects slogans that show the obsession of the fight against Angkar enemies.
Throughout the Pol Pot rule, the Khmer Rouge fought their enemies in name of ideology.
The slogans are a terrible yet lively testimony of the time. As one reads them, it
seems possible to hear them being shouted through a loudspeaker. Sometimes it is
hard to figure out what they might have meant.
I think their meanings might only be clear to those who heard them at the time. Words
obtain meaning in a contemporary situation. Readers may not be able to understand
the terrible meaning of these slogans.
Locard reflects in his introduction that the Khmer Rouge offered no distinction between
nationality or race, only between the "new" and "old" people.
Locard prefers the use of politicide, rather than genocide, to define what he says
was the repression of nearly a quarter of the population.
He explains that "Angkar controlled not only all the economy but also the family
and private lives of everyone. Every kind of breach of Angkar rules, all latent opposition
or even a lack of enthusiasm for the revolutionary line defined by the Politburo
in Phnom Penh was a political mistake and heavily punished, whatever your ethnic
or national origin."
The slogans were designed for everyone. Coherent, sometimes based on traditional
sayings, they were an example of the collectivization of the society.
Locard makes many comparisons with the Orwellian society of 1984. "The slogans
are a perfect example of doublethink: on one level admirable, but in fact, a terrifying
"With this book, I just wanted to give a better knowledge of the Pol Pot society,
a better knowledge of communism and of the political langague - a doublethink language,"
"Everyone should know Angkar, but no one should know Pol Pot." A good example