A Change of Guard

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Saturday, 29 October 2016

Feeding the Savage and the Tiger

[First published 21/05/2015; re-posted with additional remarks].

Op-Ed by School of Vice

Cambodia went to war with Thailand a couple of times over the Preah Vihear-related territorial issue, in addition to asking the ICJ to review the underlying legal wrangle that underpinned the conflict between the two countries since 2008. Yet, not once since the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia in 1979 has the Hanoi-installed Phnom Penh regime made any serious effort to resolve the perennial issue of Vietnam's land encroachments along the border in the east.

Va Kim Hong [the regime's expert on border affairs] is known to have expressed preference for a policy of shearing chunks of one's flesh off [Cambodia's territory] to feed and satisfy the tiger [Vietnam]. Ke Kim Yan [former RCAF chief] was unceremoniously stripped off his army post for having detailed a series of territorial infringements by Vietnam along the border in an otherwise obligatory routine report expected of his duty as a soldier. The 'leaked' charge or allegation made against Kim Yan was that he was removed from his post due to the vast personal land deals he had accumulated in his name. But if the charge of abuse of one’s position and power, and of massive corruption constituted the real reason behind his demotion, then he was hardly an exception out of all his CPP colleagues holding powerful positions in the military or elsewhere.


Buddhist monks - traditionally revered by Khmer people - have frequently been at the receiving end of rough treatments and abuses from ruling authorities. The CPP has not abolished or banned religious practices as had been the case during the Pol Pot era, yet the clergy as a Khmer institution has been a subject of strict censure and repression, reminiscent of the treatments dished out to its fraternal counterpart throughout the former Khmer territory of Kampuchea Krom. Whereas Pol Pot and his 'Marxist' colleagues have been widely blamed for attempting to "socially engineer" society and create a new humanity in accordance with their radical Utopian vision through the eradication of conservative influences, patterns of thought and behaviour as embodied by the country's intelligentsia, of whom the clergy forms an integral part, the seeds of this alien ideology and hatred towards these conservative elements that had hitherto held Khmer society and life together for millennia, had been sown or disseminated in parts of the country through the fledgling communist movement from day one by the Vietnamese communists themselves who gave birth to that movement. 

Since their military invasion of the country in December 1978, the Vietnamese have not found it necessary to impose on society these extreme radical measures associated with Pol Pot's administration. Perhaps, there have been no real practical, political needs or reasons for them to do so, as that administration had already - more or less - succeeded in terminally handicapping the nation on most cultural fronts, and with the whole world keenly watching developments post-Pol Pot rule, it would have made sense for them to prop up a facade of social revival and, images of pre-war normality of sorts, to give political and moral legitimacy to that intervention. 

Buddhist monks have not only been savagely beaten and coerced into consenting legally to cease their social activism, but also a few among them had been targets for assassination down the years under this current CPP rule. Just like the hated Pol Pot regime, the CPP views these conservative embodiments and 'vestiges' of traditional Khmer society and culture with barely disguised disdain, and above all, fearful suspicion. Yet, as with its manipulation and treatment of the judiciary, the legislature, the monarchy, multi-party democracy, human rights, the PPA etc., it has opted to subvert or pervert the true essence of these societal institutions and preserve their mirages in preference to their outright abolition instead. Thus, just to give an example as to how this means in practice, not all monks seen walking the streets or attending to 'religious' events in the country today are real ones, ordained to serve society or devotees! Known as "Hochi-monks", their real role is to infiltrate and, often, take over Khmer Buddhist monasteries in the country and abroad; sometimes, by means of financial inducements, at other times, by administrative intimidation or coercion with official backing, and indeed, where deemed expedient, by murder! The victims of such systematic violence and repression are undoubtedly the real Buddhist monks!

But, what is it about the monks that make them particular targets for the CPP authorities' rough treatments and crackdowns? After all, as bona fide followers of the Buddha, they certainly don't yearn or seek political power and or material privileges? One plausible explanation is that their collective punishment reflects not so much the revered spartan saffron ropes used to cover their forms, but rather it is the norms and moral values they impart onto their lay constituents in the greater mass and numbers that poses an unacceptable threat to the ruling authorities with actual socio-political agendas essentially ad odds with the legitimate cares and preoccupations of the vast majority of the population. 

In this respect, the Buddhist clergy's persecution in recent decades displays the same nature and causality as does that of any effective and credible organised political opposition movement. What is worth bearing in mind though, is this: no quintessential Khmer/Cambodian ruler, government or regime would ever persistently and systematically raise its violent hands against this age-old parental institution; an act considered by Khmer people to be even more savage than beating one's own biological parents. School of Vice [Image reproduced].                 


It is clear that Mr Hun Sen would rather opt for the policy of 'appeasing the tiger' favoured by Kim Hong whenever the tiger demands to be fed, rather than exploring other possibilities that would not end up violating Cambodia's territorial integrity as affirmed under the terms of the Paris Peace Accords of 23 October 1991. Just as he publicly threatened to abolish the monarchy for its perceived reluctance to give the royal seal of approval for the controversial 2005 supplemental Treaty demanded by Vietnam.

Fitting into this same pattern also entails the favourable land leases [99 years of ELCs] to Vietnamese 'companies'; open-door policy on Vietnamese immigration/settlement; allowing Vietnamese nationals to enjoy a lion's share in ownership and control over vital economic arteries of the country, ranging from the Angkor Archaeological Park, national airlines, telecommunications, timber and mining industries, Bokor resort, numerous prime real estates, Vietnamese 'advisors' and nationals holding government ministry positions, including within the inner cabinet of the CPP regime itself as well as the military [that's one reason why Kim Yan was caught off-guard so timely!], the imprisonment of the two Svay Rieng province farmers and conviction in absentia of opposition leader Sam Rainsy for the border stakes uprooting incident a few years back, ...  The list goes on and on. Yet, Mr Hun Sen would like to claim: 'There is no traitor in my family line'! 

The tragedy for the Khmer people and, perhaps, the saddest part in all this is that, [unless Mr Hun Sen himself is 'Vietnamese' somewhere at the core of his soul and being] he really didn't have to do what he had or has done in the course of his time in power. True political wisdom [or even a modicum of good leadership sense] points to better means and approaches of dealing with one's more powerful neighbours or patrons. In opting for the course of brutality and violence even where the perceived threat or danger to his rule has not warranted the means used, he has allowed the savage inside of him to overpower his emotions and take complete reign of his better judgement and resolve. Each time this happens, the savagery in him multiplies and the humanity in him further diminishes.

So it was that many precious and innocent lives had been ruined along with this mortally diseased soul of a mad man [or beast], viewing himself as a genius nevertheless;  all in self-destructive devotion to feeding the blood-lust of the Savage inside him on the one hand, and the insatiable hunger of the Tiger, on the other.     


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