Thursday, February 6, 2003

Cambodia - the long way of becoming a democracy

"Thailand's embassy in Phnom Penh was set on fire by a mob protesting over a report that a Thai actress, Suwanna Konying, said that Angkor Wat, Cambodia's most famous building, belonged to the Thais. Thailand evacuated hundreds of its nationals from the city." (The Economist, 1 Feb 2003)

This is Cambodia. I felt very safe there, but one should not forget, that the kingdom and democracy has been formed as late as 1993 and that it took five more years for a major surrender of the last Khmer Rouge forces. Before Cambodia has been caught in a severe civil war for more than 20 years (since 1970). in 1975 the Khmer Rouge took power and evacuated all cities, dispaced millions of people and killed them or let them die of hunger. Later they were involved in the Vietnam war.

To understand the upper news one has to know that the khmer kingdom has once been the pridest and most powerful nation in the region, stretching across most of what is today Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand. Angkor Wat has been the centre of this kingdom and is the most holy place for a Cambodian today, because it's not just a national symbol to them (it's even in the flag of cambodia), it's an identity. After years and years of war this is what they can proudly show to the world: "Hey, look this terrific temples. Cambodia is not war, it is craftsmenship, history and religion." And Angkor Wat is US Dollars, it's there most important tourist attraction, an industry needed in this poor country, living mainly from agriculture, toxic waste import (thanks to Taiwan) and the fast growing sex industry.

One should be careful to undermine their pride, Cambodians know how to fight. It's still a long way to democracy.

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