Thursday, August 21, 2014

Distorting Khmer History

Wat Khmer in Kampuchea Krom, now South Vietnam, Google image

In the past few weeks, news headlines have dominated with political agreement between the ruling party and the opposition, ending a year-long post-election crisis.  Then another important headline followed, protests against Vietnam embassy in Phnom Penh on a comment this embassy spokesman, Mr. Tran Van Thong, claimed, " France did not give Kampuchea Krom to Vietnam in 1949, but Kampuchea Krom is part of Vietnam land for long time ago." Such a comment has sparked angry protests among Khmer Krom and students, burning Vietnamese flag and  demanding Vietnam to apologize for distorting Khmer history.  However, Mr. Van Thong not only refused to apologize, but he even refused to take petition from protesters; instead he called the protesters the anarchists and extremists who have held illegal protests and urged Cambodian government to take appropriate actions against those groups.  Fallowing the flag burning incident, Vietnam foreign ministry repeatedly called for Cambodian government to take concrete action to prevent further incident in order to maintain good friendship between the two countries.  However, Cambodian government seems careless on such an issue-- either to take action on protesters nor to officially raise the issue with the Vietnamese government.  The government sidelines on the issue creates confusion among people: the protesters claimed the government condoned their actions while government officials warned to take more swift actions on future protest, and Sam Rainsy Party's senators praised Heng Samrin and his delegation in recent visit to Vietnam for not budging to Hanoi demand.  Nonetheless, there is too early to make judgement on the current regime which has reputation in hashed crackdown on all kinds of protesters and full political and economic cooperation with Vietnam.

What Mr. Van Thong said reminds us from incident in 2003 when a rumor spread that a Thai movie star claimed Angkor Wat belonged to Thailand.  That rumor quickly orchestrated by Hun Sen and sparked violent protests against Thai embassy and business interests throughout the capital, burning Thai embassy and several Thai businesses.  Now the situation even more dire than that incident since what Tran Van Thong said is not a rumor, but Hun Sen is so quiet on such a sensitive issue; instead he took his time to attack and warn his critics on land issue which has dominated on news headlines for years.  Sooner or later, Hun Sen will speak up on this issue if it cannot be solved quickly and properly.  Or he may take more time to assess the situation before come to his conclusion.  In 2009, Hun Sen did not swiftly arrest Sam Rainsy when Hanoi call for his government to take action against Sam Rainsy for uprooting a temporary border post that deeply encroached on Khmer farmland.  But Hun Sen quietly worked through legal channel that ended up placing Sam Rainsy behind bar for over 12 years, forced him to flee the country in self-exile for over four years.  Now all eyes are looking  to what Hun Sen will say on such a sensitive issue.  Whether he dare defend his Hanoi boss as he used to do on border issue when he imprisoned a number of his critics and spent more than five hours on the parliament floor to denounce the opposition and defend his border policy.  Or will he order security forces to crackdown on protesters in the future and imprison those who dare to fight back with police as he had done with the CNRP's activists?

If the government doesn't take this matter carefully, it will be flared up in the near future while Khmer Krom are giving the government time to solve this issue through diplomacy.  For Vietnam, it is its rights to apologize or not if it wants to restore more trust between these two antagonistic neighbors who had fought several bloody wars in the past.  For Hun Sen, it is his obligation as a leader of a sovereign nation, to try all his ability to make sure Vietnam respects a true history even if Kampuchea Krom now under Vietnam sovereignty.  It is unimaginable reaction from people if U.S. government claims that its land did not belong to American Indians in the past.  Currently, China and Korea insist that Japan must recognize its past atrocity in World War II, and the two countries frequently condemn Japanese prime ministers and officials who had come to honor Japanese war shrine where some of Japanese war criminals were buried there.  This is how a sovereign leaders act in order to protect their nation integrity and history.  For Cambodia, a date of losing Kampuchea Krom should be placed as a national holiday, and Kampuchea Krom history should be put into school curriculum.  In the U.S. all Americans students from elementary through high schools are taught a true history that Europeans had conquered American Indian lands.  They have nothing to hide but try to heal the past by searching for the truth.

Conversely, Vietnam tries to cover up and distort a true Khmer history in order to exploit Khmer people in full scale.  Hanoi tries to invent Khmer history through its political propaganda, claiming Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia have a good historic friendship and cooperation in helping one another fighting against their common enemies-- the French colonists, American imperialists, and the Chinese aggressors to gain their national independence; in fact, Hanoi tried to chase out those foreign powers in order to take control Indochina on its own.  In 1930 Ho Chi Minh created an Indochina Communist Party in Hong Kong without informing or inviting Khmer and Laos representatives to attend it; in fact, the party had only various communist and nationalist groups from Vietnam at the inception  before they penetrated into Laos and Cambodia after the World War II.  Vietnam tries to use the war with France 1946-54, with the U.S. 1964-1975, and with China on its border and Cambodia in 1979 to justify its history of good friendship and cooperation among the three countries in Indochina.  Hanoi never acknowledges its conquest of Champa in 1370, Kampuchea Krom 1623, a half of Laos 1954, and military invasion in Cambodia 1979.  Instead, it talks about helping its little bothers--Cambodia and Laos--to achieve their independence, actually the Independence under Hanoi's tutelage until today.

History is a social and political mirror which reflect what happened in the past; by looking back into history, people can learn from their past mistakes and try to correct or shun them.  But if history is being distorted and invented, the new generation will be mislead and repeat their mistakes, leading to self-destruction.  Nowadays, Cambodian people are being exploited by an invented and distorted history while a true one is being thrown away or prohibited.  What Mr. Tran Van Thong commented on Khmer history either his personal view or his government view is unacceptable to all Khmer people; He can't flip history from black to white or vie versa as if politics, for true history is the history but a fake history is a politics.  Thus What Tran Van Thong said is clearly a political propaganda not a historic fact; no one should buy it.  For Hun Sen, as a Khmer leader, he should demand Vietnam to clarify its position whether Mr. Van Thong's statement is his personal view or a view of Vietnamese government; Mr. Cheang Vun can't speak or clarify this issue for Vietnam.  All Khmer People want to hear a clear statement from the Vietnamese government on this issue whether Hanoi acknowledges the true history or not.  To cover up the truth never bring healing to Khmer people but to widen the old wounds and stir up more antagonism against Vietnam which historically is being suspected of its ill will on Cambodia.

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