The University of Memory: Cambodia Reflections

Cambodia is a country symbolized by its glorious past and wounded present. A prevailing stereotype of Cambodia by the West and even within the Southeast Asia mediascape is that of a “post-communist” country ruled by a former Khmer Rouge leader and dominated by NGOs. Alongside the prevalent international image of genocide, refugees, poverty, and war, global media has often associated Cambodia to the Angkor Wat—thanks to the Hollywood Blockbuster Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life (2003) and its leading actress Angelina Jolie’s constantly revisits due to her Cambodian adopted son. These two dominant, but somehow disjointed, narratives have engulfed the entangled history of state-building processes in the broader context of regional warfare in the post-World War II era. Since 1953, after the gradual pullout of the Japanese military force, Cambodia finally gained its independence from the French. As a former French protectorate, King Norodom Sihanouk’s power was sustained through the constitutional monarchy with an elected parliamentary form of government. Even though Sihanouk had decided to abdicate the throne in 1955, with the help of his political party Sangkum (which means “community of the common people”), he won the general election, officially becoming the prime minister of Cambodia. Regardless of the public’s reception of Sihanouk as a god-king and that he won governmental power through an official election process, Sihanouk was overthrown by a coup d’état in 1970 that subsequently led to his support of the Khmer Rouge and the inevitable civil war in 1975. Democratic Kampuchea was then established as the new government of Cambodia. From April 1975 to January 1979, the Khmer Rouge, under the leadership of Pol Pot, committed one of the most heinous massacres in modern history—the Cambodian genocide. As a result of Pol Pot’s political aspiration to return to Year Zero, a massive number … Continue reading The University of Memory: Cambodia Reflections



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