The concept of Westernization is not so simple like to say “it refers to the conversion to or adoption of Western traditions and customs.” There are many perspectives of what is the West as a cultural archetype in which the main one is to assume social, economic and political ideas of typically associated wealthy countries like North America and Western Europe. In Europe, Westernization is mostly to follow the European models of society and it has been like this since the 15th century and the beginning of a colonial era that was to be for five centuries. At the original base of what defines the West, we find the Greek and Roman civilizations, their philosophy and their ways of thinking. Then the contribution of the Judeo-Christian religions would settle the profile of what was to be the West culture. The Discovery of the Americas, the French and Industrial revolutions and the European colonialism would close down the concept.
Many poor countries like Cambodia see Westernization as their hope to development. In this case, they open the ways to introduce many Western elements into their society, assuming that it would create the proper atmosphere to fight poverty. But the West is in crisis and, although it does not mean that many of its principles are not valid for a developing society, Cambodian policymakers should know the nature of that crisis and the need to follow in most cases the main steps of developments, privileging originality over imitation. The crisis is revealed in many faces: the crush of the markets, the fast concentration of capital at the hands of an increasing powerful minority, the global warming and the disintegration of old powers like US to the raising of new ones with other archetypes like China, India or the same Germany.
These many faces of the crisis can be traced in Cambodia easily with the arrival of many Western elements that are warmly welcome by the Cambodian society with the hope of a wealthy future, similar to the April 1975’s Phnom Penh inhabitants cheer in a welcoming greeting to the victorious Khmer Rouge guerrilla thinking that the war was over and that a golden time was about to start.
The West and all its hungry customers like China needs a lot resources now to hold their high demanding for energy. In a desperate effort, they need all the resources of countries like Cambodia, their cheap workforce, their youth… all to be thrown into the fire that will keep their giant economics alive. The desperation of growing unemployment in rich European countries is filling our countries with middle age professionals looking for better opportunities. Doesn’t it sound strain to the Western like? Cambodians, as members of a poor country, are expected to migrate to Europe and not Europeans migrating to Cambodia. But you can see many looking for El Dorado in these lands, trying with hotels, restaurants, casinos and even brothels to become rich from the Cambodian growing tourist industry and assuming the same principles of the colonial times: using the locals for their own benefit without letting too much for the same country.
The Westernization we need comes in the form of a healthy democracy, a deep concern to prevent the environmental deterioration, a general culture of education and contribution to science and technology and a social ideal for a better nation. If we need Westerns coming to Cambodia, we need professionals coming to transfer knowledge to Cambodians, not builders of casinos, hotels, restaurants and brothers. We have enough, but we don’t have enough schools, universities, science institutes, archeological centers, hospitals and those things that we find in Western countries as natural. We need also entrepreneurs, but those with a social mentality, not with a colonial assumption that see Cambodians as savage people that should be ignored or abused for their own benefit.
Right now we see a hungry Cambodia for money at any cost. Everyone wants money – and really we need it to run, even the most idealistic project – but there is a greed and ambition doing a lot of bad to the new Cambodian generations. I can see this sudden ambition to become rich without much effort to the imitation of what is confused with Westernization. For many Cambodians, it is about McDonald’s, Lexus and being successful in business that is not other thing that corruption without distinguishing very much between business and corruption. Many foreigners talk about the Cambodian corruption, without knowing that many foreigners in Cambodia participate happily of such corruption to their own benefit.
If they think it is a Westernization of Cambodia, so they are wrong… better let them go to their own countries and let Cambodia live its own Middle Age.