A Change of Guard

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Sunday, 19 June 2011

Cambodia after Pol Pot [A view from Russia]

By Kudashkina Ekaterina
Jun 19, 2011
The Moscow Time
The Voice of Russia

Interview with Dmitry Mosyakov, Director of the Center for South-East Asia, Australia and Oceania Studies in Moscow, Russia.

Dr. Mosyakov, thank you very much for joining us. It is really a pleasure to have you here with us. So please tell me, I think you were telling me that very soon there is going to be a trial related to Cambodia, if I am not mistaken, but I am not sure that our listeners are quite aware of what the whole story is about, so could you just give them a little insight into that?

You know, for a long time people all over the world waited for this trial, because after the crash of Pol Pot’s regime, and when one could see the crimes of this regime, there was a popular demand for this trial, and the United Nations asked the new Khmeran power to organize this trial with the help of the United Nations, with the help of the experts of the United Nations, and there were many American scientists and specialists who went to Cambodia to help Khmeran people find the places of all these crimes of the Pol Pot regime, but for a long, long time the Cambodian government under Hun Sen’s leadership rejected this demand, and the reason was that this trial could divide the Cambodian society once again, because a lot of people in Cambodia, especially poor peasants still supported some of Pol Pot’s ideas of common life, of quality in different spheres, of full independence, and so on. So the Cambodian government tried not to organize this trial but tried to make one step after another, and say that today it is impossible, tomorrow – different obstacles, and so on. During this period of time some of the main people for this trial died, and now the situation is, I think it is very favorable for this trial, because the real leaders of Khmer Rouge, they are simply 80 years old, or 82, 83 years old, and this trial would be something as a theater, not a real political event, but a theater with old figures that go to the trial at the finish of their life, and I think that from this point of view this trial would be, because no danger for the Cambodian government, but in fact the reason for not organizing this trial because of social difference and social instability was only one reason, another reason was that the leaders of this Khmer people’s revolutionary party, now it is Khmer party, Khmer people’s party, they are former Khmer Rouge, and so they maybe thought that if this trial is opened, somebody will remember their activities during the period when they were functionaries of the Pol Pot regime, because all of them left this regime not in 1975, when the regime conquered the power, but, for example, Hun Sen left Khmer Rouge in 1977, Chea Sim, second figure in the Cambodian leadership, left Khmer Rouge in 1978, several months before the crash of the Pol Pot regime, and other people who form the leadership group of People’s party, they were afraid that during this trial some facts of their activities, when they took part, maybe not in the crimes, but they saw this situation, they took part in collectivization, for example, they took part in evacuation of people from Phnom Penh streets, etc, different crimes, a lot of crimes in Cambodia during this period of time, and so they wanted not to organize this trial, because they were afraid that this trial could be not only over former Khmer Rouge leadership, but it could change the direction of the current leadership of Cambodia, and so they decided not to organize it. It was a very serious problem, because the United Nations, the United States and other states gave the money to organize the trial, because in fact they said: we don’t have money, Cambodia is a very poor country, and we don’t have money for organizing such a huge trial with international observers, with journalists, so we don’t have money. So the United Nations and the United States said: we will give you money. So they tried to find other reasons not to organize it. But now, when the leaders of modern Cambodia, they are also not young people, and I think they will very soon be changed by another generation of politicians, so they decided to organize this trial and to finish this story.

Mr. Mosyakov, but as far as I know, you have been working at various archives, and you even wrote a book about Cambodia, what did you find, you were telling me that you found some extremely interesting facts in those archives, and you also mentioned that there had been a lot of crimes committed by the Pol Pot regime, but what were they, I am not sure that our listeners do remember that because that was quite a long time ago?

Yes, the Pol Pot period in fact is the period that this regime was in power, from 1975 till 1979, when Vietnamese troops came and overthrew the Pol Pot regime. But as of archives, I think it was very interesting work, because some archives of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs were opened for specialists, for scholars, and opened of the period of time from 1955 till 1990, and I had an opportunity to see these archives, and among the documents that I saw there were some documents that I didn’t even think I could find, for instance, some letters from Russian representatives in Phnom Penh in 1975, when Pol Pot troops entered the city and conquered the city, so in fact there were some people, not only one person as everybody knew, but 4 people that were in Phnom Penh and they had to have some ties with the leaders of this regime, and I saw some telegrams; what happened in Phnom Penh, what they saw at this period of time, because they left the Russian Embassy and they went to the town, and they saw the situation, and I saw this telegram, and then they were arrested and they were on the verge of death.

Did they survive?

Yes, they survived, because they said that we are Soviets, and so we are Communists, and so don’t take us, but in fact they were in a camp, and everything was ready to kill them, but suddenly an officer came and they were freed, - not freed, but they went to the French Embassy, and then 300km by foot to Thailand’s border. It is only one fact, another… There are many different facts, for example some documents connected to Soviet - American negotiations about the situation in Cambodia, Vietnam’s presence in Cambodia during the Vietnam War, so how the Americans tried to persuade the Soviet representative to influence Vietnamese leadership for finishing this war or for withdrawal of the troops, different documents of Sihanouk’s relations, Sihanouk was the king of Cambodia and leader of Cambodia, he was overthrown in 1970 during the putsch, so his negotiations with the Soviet leaders, how Soviet leaders viewed Cambodia at that period of time, and how their attitude towards Sihanouk, for example, you know, Sihanouk came to Moscow in 1970, when the putsch began in Phnom Penh, and he received this information from the Russian Prime-Minister, and Mr. Kosygin asked him to leave Moscow, because the situation is very grave in his capital, and Sihanouk asked not to leave Moscow, he wanted to stay in Moscow, not to go from Moscow, and Soviet leaders said – No, you can’t stay here, go away; and all this we can see in the documents in my book. Another situation...for example, the situation in Cambodia in 1993, when before the elections there were two factions in the People’s party, one faction is Hun Sen’s, it is Moderates, and the other one is Conservative, by Chea Sim, and so they wanted to dissolve and to form two different parties, and so that would be the end of the revolutionary, communist pro-Vietnamese movement in Cambodia, and the old revolutionary president of Vietnam came to Phnom Penh as a guest for this meeting and he had a very serious speech and he told them – if you divide in several years nobody will remember you, you have to unite and to re-unite once again and you will be in power, and we will help you. It was a secret visit, it was a secret meeting, and after that they re-united, and till now the leaders of Cambodia are Hun Sen and Chea Sim, you see, it was from 1993. And the main thing in Cambodia is that if you look at the leadership during the Communist period, during the period of the Vietnamese occupation, you will see Hun Sen, Chea Sim, Heng Samrin. And now, after all these years, after democratic elections, you once again see Hun Sen, Chea Sim and Heng Samrin is very old to have some state powers, but in fact all of them are leaders, they are still the leaders.

Is it a national tradition of power succession in the countries of the region, - power succession is a little bit different from what we are accustomed to. I mean that people come to stay for years and years, and this is seen as natural occurrence, is that correct?

Yes, you see, Cambodia once again shows us something separate with the development of this country, once again, because in fact all these leaders are still leaders because of democratic, really democratic elections, and the most interesting situation is that from one election to another election the amount of people who choose them is rising, they are getting more and more support, because their policy is something as in many after- or post-Communist regimes, you see, in fact what the main thing in these post-Communist regimes, is when we can see the post-Communist leaders, former Communists, but now they are not Communists, they know their Communist origins, and they know the real power of people, and they understand that to have power you need to have support of people, even when you have a lot of houses, as now, you have a lot of money, enterprises, business, and everybody knew in Cambodia that all these members of the leadership, everybody has their own business, very rich people, but you have to think about people not as simple things that are somewhere down, but you have to give money, acceptance etc.for the people, and you have to create new ideas for the people, it is very important, and for People’s Party, from one election to another election, they made different programs, but the main thing in their programs was the idea of equality, the idea of social justice, fight against social differences, help for poor people, etc, and I think that this helped them, because the political opponents, it is the pro-Sihanouk party and the pro-western party, now it is a party of Sam Rainsy, you see, their ideas are very, very separate, you know, for rich people, not for the common people living in the villages.

These are very interesting things you are telling me, because the way I understand it, it is just another proof, that political technologies taken from another region of the world, don’t take into account the local mindset, which is extremely different, and that is why they don’t work, and they don’t make the country happy.

Yes, I think it is a very interesting thing. You see, the post-Communist regime as we can say in Vietnam, it is not a post-Communist regime, it is a Communist regime, in fact, in China, in Cambodia, in Laos…you see, their development and their success, everybody can see, and you can see that these countries are unique, yes, they have some social problems, but these problems they can solve inside, without such accidents as in Thailand, without such situation, grave situation with the regime as in Myanmar. So we can see that there are two ideas, because we have to understand that communism for all these countries is a modernization theory, it is not as we can usually think a theory from the past, for them it is a theory of European modernization, in different spheres, and from my point of view, I am not a communist, but it is a very understandable modernization, modernization through the people, through a new system of education, new system of medicine, and it is not like in Thailand, maybe the situation there is better, so it is another topic, but you can see it is a private business, and for common people it is very difficult, but in Cambodia, it is education for everyone, medical assistance for everyone, and there are some social guarantees for everyone. It is everything from the Communist past, because at that time they adapted all these laws, but they didn’t reject from them during this period of time, now Cambodia is a democratic power, democratic state with a king, and with a parliament that had all the power, but in fact you can see some ideas from the west, but a very great part of the practical policy is from the Communist past.

How did they make this transfer, how did they manage to make this transfer without disintegrating?

I have already told you that they were on the verge of dissolution. I think it depends on the personal quality of the people, of the leadership, and from the tradition of the political party. You know, the People’s party began its living, began its activity during the Vietnamese rule, and in Cambodia there was a usual thing when political parties are against each other, very often there are fights, putsches, and so on, they cannot find a compromise, and so it was in Cambodia in 1981, when there were two groups and one of them tried to take all the power during this Vietnamese rule and tried to arrest the leader of the other group and his group of former Khmer Rouge functionaries. So Vietnamese stopped, because Vietnamese were over them, they stopped these contradictions, and told the representatives of these two groups: you have to leave peacefully, because if you don’t find a compromise, you will leave the leadership, you will not be political leaders in Cambodia, and so the inside People’s Party, because of this Vietnamese message, danger for people, they had to find compromises for all the problems, for collectivization, for trade policy, etc. and this experiment and this experience was very effective for People’s party, so they were ready for a compromise, and when they had to make this final compromise about power, they were ready for it, because their experience before was for this compromise, between leaders and between members of their commands. Some observers, beginning from 1990, 1993, every year they write – this year the People’s party will be dissolved, because everybody knows that there are two groups, but in fact nothing, every time on every question they can find a compromise, and that is a guarantee for the power, they are together, they understand that only together we can be on the top.

That is very interesting. Do you have any figures in your mind, could we illustrate the rate of growth of Cambodia in recent years?

The rate is very high, I think like 8-10% every year.

And for how long have they maintained the trend?

I think 10 years, more than 10 years.

Just like Chinese.

A little lower than Chinese, but very quickly. They have oil now, they have different things.

Do foreign investors come to the country?

Yes, it is very attractive, for example, in the sphere of tourism, in the banking sphere, and I was in Phnom Penh, in December, so there were a lot of new buildings.

1 comment:

david said...

The writer assessment is corrected. Good observation.