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The delusions of the January 7 debate

The delusions of the January 7 debate

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A propoganda poster from the Khmer Rouge era calling for solidarity between the citizens of Cambodia and Vietnam.

Dear Editor,

Your article “PM blasts January 7 detractors” (January 5) didn’t demonstrate anything new for Cambodian politics. Leaders have always pronounced strong political rhetoric to create a clear dichotomy of pro- and anti-groups when this day has arrived. In reality, the government has consolidated full power to exercise over everything, including whether to celebrate this day or not celebrate. The current political environment in Cambodia has not given any clue of the possible threat to the stability of government at all. But why every year, when January 7 arrives, is there a flowering of incidents and controversial public speech in Cambodia?

The answers might be diverse. But I am impressed by the Khmer proverb which states: Veay tiek bong-erl trey, or, “to stir the water to see the fish clearly”. It has been 31 years since Vietnamese troops encroached on Cambodia’s borderlands, accompanied by Khmer Rouge defectors, to topple the Khmer Rouge regime of Pol Pot. The argument since has been endless. Vietnamese troops are presented in Cambodia as either liberators, or invaders, or both. In the past decades, the two debaters carried guns and ammunitions to fight against each other, at least between the Khmer nationalists based along the border and the Khmer troops based in Phnom Penh, and backed by a hundred thousand Vietnamese troops. But after the Paris Peace Accords of 1991 and the subsequent power consolidation of the Cambodian People’s Party, the debate remains only on lips and tongues.

Hence both guns fighting and lips quarreling have significantly divided Khmer society. It has shown division over unity, disadvantage rather than advantage, and myopia rather than long-sightedness. The more we hate the past atrocities of the Khmer Rouge, the more shameful we are as the same Khmer. The more we praise foreign intervention, the more we lose national identity to those foreigners. Thus, what inputs should we welcome and what outcome should we expect? Can Cambodian people come to a joint beneficial solution to this disgraceful quarrel?
Of course, from these 31 years, Cambodian people both old and young have focused on their living standards, schooling and future cultivation. The past has become a good lesson for them. The Khmer Rouge regime will never come back again for sure. The trial of the Khmer Rouge is going on to respectively bring national reconciliation and the healing of trauma. All Cambodian parties and individuals have to join this trial and be courageous to show up at the courtroom as the primary witnesses if you really need the genuine outcome of justice. Cambodian people have to look forward to determine the broader interests of the nation. They should not entrap themselves in a “quid pro quo” of this delusional date, January 7. Take Germany as an example: They have never taken as a big deal or celebrated the day the Allied Forces, led by the United States, liberated them from Hitler’s brutal Nazi regime. That tragic past and the liberation of the Allies has been buried deeply in Germany.

Sophan Seng
University of Hawaii at Manoa
United States

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