King Norodom Sihanouk… who could be like him
The government expected more than 10 thousand persons to wait the funeral convoy bringing the body of late King Norodom Sihanouk to Cambodia. It is possible to say that almost all the Phnom Penh inhabitants, a city of near 2 million people, went out to the streets, under the tropical sun and wait for their king’s remains to make his last journey to the Royal Palace.
If monarchy is a decay institution in other latitudes of the planet, in Cambodia is not only a veneration, but it is amazing how Cambodians keep it alive after so many troublesome years.
We did not see old people crying in loyalty to their king. There were and many. But we saw hundreds of very young people, teenagers, Cambodians who grew listening stories about King Sihanouk, rather than being their witnesses. They were holding big portraits, flowers, flags, incense. There were not only Buddhists, the major religion group in Cambodia, but Muslim Cham communities as well. The Cambodian Catholic Church programmed a prayer vigil for the soul of their King.
Countries from around the world sent their condolences.
When Sihanouk was crowned king of the Cambodians, his country was under the French mandate. He was a teenager of 19 and he supposed to be a puppet king to the colonialist empire. The French did not imagine they were allowing to crown probably the reincarnation of an Angkorian king, the leader Cambodians would need to survive the entrance in a troublesome modernity.
King Norodom Sihanouk was fully a modern king not only for his people, but for the world. He leaded the Cambodian independence movement to get an eternal title, highest than the one of a monarch: Father of the Nation. In other regions, independence movements included the end of monarchies. In Cambodia, a monarch, the heir of the ancient Khmer Empire kings, was the leader of the independence. Kings use to pass and too many of them are forgotten. Fathers of the Nations have a special sit in history. Sihanouk is, concretely, the Cambodian George Washington or the Simon Bolívar, the Liberator, the Father of the Nation.
The destruction derived from the War of Vietnam put an end to a process of national consolidation leaded by Sihanouk after the Independence. To accuse Norodom Sihanouk of being a Khmer Rouge leader is, to my opinion, exaggerated and unjust. It is possible to determine by history that Sihanouk did a bad choice, thinking that the Khmer Rouge guerrillas would save the country from the threats it was enduring. You have to study carefully the history, the many circumstances, the urgent of the moments, the political pressure, to understand that you, in his place, probably would do the same. The king realized, surely late, that it was a very painful mistake. His family was also a victim of the regime, as much Cambodians were victims. It is not fair to compare the suffering of Cambodians. Didn’t the king lost his own son in the nightmare of the regime as well? Do the speeches of the king supporting Pol Pot before 1975 and after 1979 are valid? I understand such speeches as the ones of a father trying to save the life of his children, the Cambodians, kidnapped by the horror of a criminal system. There were not only the fear to the Khmer Rouge regimen. Let’s not forget that before the bloody regimen, the creator of the Tuol Sleng torture center, Cambodians suffered heavy bombings that terrorized the farmers and produced as much as killings as the regime.
As a politician, Sihanouk was a man, as politicians are. There are times political leaders are right in their decisions, there are time they cannot see the evidence of reason. There are times they follow bad or good advice…
As a man he was a man. A normal citizen lives an anonymous life, without paparazzis. Leaders like Sihanouk find difficult to be anonymous and what is ordinary in others, it’s seem as too virtuous or too scandalous in others.
As a king he behaves as a father of his people. I believe in his honesty to his people. He was an idealist, a visionary in many aspects and he believed Cambodia could recover its former glory. He is, by sure, an inspiration in many things for modern Cambodia.
As a friend, he was a wise man: gentle, delicate, simple, near.
After the decay of the ancient Khmer Empire and after ten decades of a quiet colonialist list of kings without freedom, we got King Norodom Sihanouk Magno… who could be like him?