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Sunday, December 5, 2010

Khmer Rouge Aftermath

The psychologist talks methodically for about 15 minutes and everything slows as he paints a picture of a country of small villages in which an entire society is distorted by the tragedies and atrocities of the past.
Where everybody knows things that cannot be said, where one businessman does not deal with another businessman because he was a killer.
Where victims killed too, sometimes simply for survival.
Today, children who lost both parents live among their parents' killers.
Secrets are everywhere: knowledge of where bodies were buried, who buried them, who did what to who.

Later, I discover the reason the psychologist speaks in English is because the authorities do not really censor what is said in English. That's because, as the editor of the English language version of the Phnom Penh Post says to me, somewhat ruefully, they know hardly any Cambodians will read or hear it.
Time and again I am told: "We don't have a culture of reading in this country," which actually means, "we killed everyone who could read". This is old news.
Information about Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge is in the open. Comrade Duch who ran the S-21 prison has been found guilty, there are four more Khmer leaders in prison just down the road from here.

here are foreign investors, NGO workers, diplomats, as well as backpackers and young travellers lured by holiday brochures describing Cambodia as an "enthralling destination" and eulogising the "warm, enigmatic people".
There are tours, temples, mountains, wonderful beaches. But all of this just seems to skate over the top of the enigmatic Cambodians who walk their own invisible paths.
Older people just do not talk about the past and their mantra to the young is that staying silent is always a solution if there is a problem.
What used to be a survival strategy for them as children, in a time of unimaginable brutality, has become almost a national characteristic a generation or two on.

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