The ‘Anne Frank’ of Cambodia?

For months ago I find it most of the time published in any visible page of The Cambodia Daily, full color and that strain comparison: The Cambodian Anne Frank.Watching the movie of Rithy Panh or reading the book of Elizabeth Becker, Bophana, A Cambodian Tragedy, you understand that it is the making of a character.

The story is moving, of course, but the intention of preserve the memory starts to mix with another shocking reality: commercialization of history. Tragedies like the one of the Khmer Rouge regime era come under the well established rules of the market.

You can notice many kind of groups in modern Cambodia and one of the most well known is a rising middle class made of former victims of the Khmer Rouge. It became like a title of nobility. If you say ‘I am a victim of the Khmer Rouge,’ then you get a free burger.

Easily, you can notice also that most of them use their past dramas in their benefit with the support of certain humanitarian international elements ready to sponsor their dreams of revenge with history. There was even one, Yasith Chhun, who used his old hate in order to take power in Cambodia…

But I find exaggerate this comparison of Bophana with Anne Franz. It is evidently the creation of a brand to sell at the hands of these wealthy victims of the Khmer Rouge. The friendship of Oliver Stone to institutions like Bophana Audiovisual Center is just meaningful: an American director whose career has been guided by abusive interpretations of history, putting them irresponsible on films, gives us a clue.

Now you find these victims of the Khmer Rouge writing books, making films, painting and giving interviews to the press… of course, those who completed their tragedy by being adopted by countries like France or United States. They have nothing to see anymore with that unprotected child that fled to the Thai refugee camps in the late 1970s. Now they return as well educated people in their sponsored rich societies and open their own tragedy market in Cambodia.

The Khmer Rouge victims’ market is well supported by organizations like Bophana Audiovisual Center with all its Cannes and, going further, by systems like the Documentary Center of Cambodia, DC-Cam. I do not mean that they are useless or their work have not merit. I just call for a kind of measure in their way they deal with history. For me, they are creating an idea that the Khmer Rouge regime time can be used as a way of living. If you want an interview with the survivors of S-21, you have to pay more than 100 US dollars for one hour! It was what I had to pay to most promoted painter Van Nath, who was expecting even more, or Bou Men, who makes crying performances inside the Tuol Sleng Museum before cameras. Even the former S-21 guard, Hen Huy, asks 100 US dollars for an interview! If you need any file from Bophana Audiovisual Center in order to preserve the memory, you have to pay for each file just as shopping in the mall. Nothing to say about the well sounded Tribunal for the Khmer Rouge leaders and their high expenses.

What about those unknown victims? Where are those who could not flee to United States and France? Those who are evicted every month from their lands, abused every moment of their human rights and silenced by ignorance and poverty? Those who remained in Cambodia and are really working in their re-construction?

Update 1, 10.06.10. Recently the Cambodia Documentary Center (DC-Cam), was supporting the claim of the ‘victims of the Khmer Rouge’ to ask their ‘rights’ to the International Tribunal. It is like this: the victims are satisfied that the survival Khmer Rouge leaders are being sentenced, but it is not enough. They would need attention (money), psychologists (money), medical services (money), attention to their families (money) and many other things to ‘help them’ in the overcoming of their traumas, of course, DC-Cam will see for it, to be ‘near the victims.’ The question is this one –> Who is a victim of the Khmer Rouge? For me, all Cambodians were victims of the Khmer Rouge. All Cambodians were enslaved in agrarian concentrations camps, all of them saw how their relatives and friends were shot in the forests, too many of them ran to refugee camps and, the same Khmer Rouge cadres, most of them children and teenagers, were victims of a brainwashing… Therefore, all Cambodians, the almost 15 million living now in this country, are victims of the Khmer Rouge regime. The funds for this too expensive tribunal could go into development and not for the creation of a well-off privileged group inside the Cambodian society.

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About Albeiro Rodas

Albeiro Rodas (in Cambodia Sky Ly Samnang), is a MA in Digital Communication, independent journalist and a Salesian of Don Bosco from Amalfi, Colombia, based in Cambodia since 1999. He is the creator of the Don Bosco schools of journalism in Sihanoukville and Kep with young people from poor communities and the founder of the Don Bosco Kep Children Fund. Medal for Social Commitment UPB (2010); among the 100 more upstanding Colombians abroad (Marca Colombia, 2012, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X39xwdGtVXI) and among the 12 Colombians that are making this a better world 2013 (http://www.colombia.co/en/culture/colombians-that-are-making-this-a-better-world.html).

7 responses to “The ‘Anne Frank’ of Cambodia?”

  1. specialiste referencement says :

    Heya just wanted to give you a brief heads up and let you know a few of the images aren’t loading correctly.
    I’m not sure why but I think its a linking issue.
    I’ve tried it in two different browsers and both show the same outcome.

  2. jean says :

    I am not sure albeiro that you are making the right point here. You cannot critisize Vann Nath or Bou Men to try to make a living. Bophana centre tries to support itself as they can, which is ok also. I don’t get the point. There will be ,o financial compensation at all for the victims except some NGO like TPO who will get something out of the tribunal to support themselves afterwards. What really is criticisable is the way these people promote memory, its a western vision of trauma and memory. Its just the continuation of integrating cambodia in global economics. Be aware the main benefit of this trial is for mister hun sen, he asked for it in 1997. Publication of Ann Frank diary lately in Cambodia is another clue of this.

  3. Elizabeth says :

    Albeiro,

    Thank you for your response and I apologize if I was rude. I appreciate you de-tagging Ly from the post. He is unaware of your blog so no harm done!

    Elizabeth

    • Albeiro Rodas says :

      🙂 Dear Elizabeth, you were not rude, but assertive. It is a value in journalism, sometimes even over kindness. We need it and thanks once more for your feedback. Regards, Albeiro.

  4. Albeiro Rodas says :

    Dear Elizabeth, thanks for your feedback. In consideration for your point of view, I removed the text that mentions Mr. Ly Hov Khol and you are completely right: my idea of him comes exclusively from what I read on the media on his case. The idea of the article is to call the attention of how some people try to manipulate history in their benefit. It is not only of Cambodia, but everywhere. During the Khmer Rouge regime, practically all Cambodians were victimized in one and other way. It is what I want to say. Please bring my kind greetings to Mr. Ly Hov Khol and my apologizes if by using his name and case I offended him and his family. Best regards, Albeiro R.

  5. Elizabeth says :

    I randomly came across your blog and would like to correct you on your claim that Ly Hov Khol looks for compassion for being a victim of the Khmer Rouge. Obviously, you don’t know him. You read an article in which the author states a fact: “Ly Hov Khol was a young child when he and his family fled the “killing fields” in Cambodia in the late 1970s,” and used that as an assertion to your claim that the victims expect to receive a free hamburger for the trauma they’ve been through.

    I DO know Ly Hov Khol and he is a good man who doesn’t live in the past. Please don’t throw his name around like you have any clue who he is.

    Thank you,

    Elizabeth Beach

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