Opposition leader Sam Rainsy has slammed the capital’s newly inaugurated Win-Win Monument, claiming it represents Prime Minister Hun Sen’s “treason”, while Minister of National Defence Tea Banh said it celebrated the premier as a “symbol of national unity”.
The $12 million memorial to commemorate Hun Sen’s “Win-Win” policy that brought armed remnants of the Khmer Rouge into the government and brought an end to decades of civil war was inaugurated over the weekend.
The spectacular three-day opening ceremony, which concluded on Monday, was attended by around 1.1 million people.
Rainsy, the acting president of the Supreme Court-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), said on Radio Free Asia on Friday that the Win-Win monument symbolises Hun Sen’s treason. He accused the prime minister of giving Cambodia’s Koh Tral (Phu Quoc) island to Vietnam.
He also accused Hun Sen of serving foreign interests by allowing Chinese people to live in Cambodia and cause problems to local people and the environment.
“So change the name of the monument to the ‘monument symbolising the treason of Hun Sen who destroys the nation’,” he said.
However, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of National Defence Tea Banh said the Win-Win Monument represented national identity and celebrated Prime Minister Hun Sen as a symbol of national unification.
“Hun Sen is a smart leader and a symbol of national unity. He has developed our country quickly. The Win-Win Monument will become a memorial representing national identity and expressing national culture,” he said.
“The Win-Win Monument is a representation of the policy that has made our country peaceful for 20 years."
“Cambodian people remember and are grateful towards [Hun Sen’s] tremendous sacrifice. In fact, national unification and territorial unity are the achievements of the prime minister.”
Adding to Rainsy’s comments, some Facebook users also criticised the memorial, dubbing it the “Yuon Win Monument”, which in Khmer means the “Vietnam win monument”.
The word yuon is a pejorative term with which some Cambodians refer to the Vietnamese.
Even before the monument’s inauguration began on Saturday, some Facebook users were calling the monument a symbol of Vietnamese victory in invading and taking Cambodian territory during the fight against the Khmer Rouge.
A Facebook user named Niv Chamroeun II questioned the “win” in the monument’s name.
He pointed out that it was designed in a form similar to the Cambodia-Vietnam friendship memorials built in all 24 provinces across Cambodia and the capital. Phnom Penh’s is erected in Wat Botum park.
Niv Chamroeun II claimed the Win-Win Monument was built to make Cambodians remember Vietnamese assistance in the overthrow of the Khmer Rouge and as such was a symbol of neo-colonialism.
“Cambodians now have nothing – no art, no culture of their own, besides holding elections planted by yuon, who are the symbol of communism,” he wrote.
Another Facebook user, Khmer Sorin, posted a picture of the Win-Win monument and dubbed it the “Yuon Win” monument.
He alleged that the government did not care about its own people but those who had invaded Cambodian territory and taken Koh Tral island. “What else do you want to be taken away?” he asked.
Facebook user, Peu Sambo, wrote that the construction of the Win-Win monument was to glorify Hun Sen’s power. He went on to make the baseless accusation that the monument was actually built with Chinese donations to honour the prime minister’s loyalty to China.
Ou Vireak, the director of think tank Future Forum, said such criticism did not reflect reality. He said the Win-Win monument was designed to commemorate the end of the civil war in 1998.
“The Win-Win Monument and Win-Win Day have nothing to do with Vietnam. The criticism here is just the reusing of an old idea referring to January 7, 1979 [when the Khmer Rouge was overthrown]."
“December 29, 1998, has nothing to do with Vietnam. It was actually a Cambodian matter. So the spirit behind the ‘Win-Win’ commemoration is good – nothing wrong [with it],” he said.
Royal Academy of Cambodia president Sok Touch said the criticism was normal in a democratic society, but that history should not be criticised because it was what had happened in the past.
“As normal, the opposition group always finds a way to criticise. But [Cambodia] is a democracy, and so it is better to allow criticism rather than cause revolution, which causes bloodshed. So let them say [whatever], but what is important is that history will remain."
“When people are aligned to the opposition, they must find words to criticise to make them in opposition,” he said.
Touch said the younger generation should study history and not just believe what they see on Facebook.
He said that Rainsy’s comments were part of a strategy to stoke a reaction from Hun Sen.
“If Rainsy didn’t say that, he would have nothing to say. He has come out with this to make other politicians, especially the prime minister, react to him. If I were Hun Sen, I would not react to him because I am the victor."
“He should wait five years to talk to [Rainsy] again,” he said, referring to the five-year ban from politics given to Rainsy by the Supreme Court.
While supporting the spirit of the Win-Win Monument, Vireak said it would help to promote real national unification if the monument stood to symbolise all those who died for the sake of the nation from 1970 until the 1990s.
He said it was the pervasive influence of the cold war that made Cambodians fight each other due to ideological differences.
“A remembrance stupa for all patriots is important to close a dark chapter of Cambodian history in which the nation fell victim to the cold war. This is important to make us find a formula for national unification."
“I think it would be good if the Win-Win Monument can be a memorial for all sides that died during the conflict,” he said.
Cambodia has faced many problems and endured many disasters, including the loss of swaths of territory from the end of the Angkor Empire, the genocide of the 1970s and civil war.
Many surviving Cambodians can still hold a victim mentality.
And in some, this can degenerate into a deep distrust, a rejection of authority and xenophobia towards neighbouring countries, especially Vietnam, when whipped up by politicians for political gain.