Scars of the past (by MAPG)

Trip Start Aug 11, 2009
Trip End Feb 19, 2010

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Flag of Cambodia  ,
Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Phom Phen is Cambodia's capital and similar to the rest of the country, it is still bearing the brutal footprint of the Pol Pot-regime, a dictatorship that ended more than 35 years ago. One of the first measure carried out by the newly proclaimed Democratic Republic of Cambodia and its dictator, was to evacuate PhNom Phen. Only by using a terrible lie - a supposed air-strike of the Americans - did the communists manage to mobilise the entire population. People only packed the strictly necessary, thinking that they would return a few days later. The Party knew this mesure was not temporary, but of long-term. It was part of their plan to turn Cambodia into a fully self-sustainable, completely agricultural society. A society in which all people were to be turned into peasants, separated children from their parents, schools were abolished, everyboady was wearing black clothes, and even the ceremony of a marriage was banned. Men and women were not supposed to love each other, but only to be together in order to produce workforce for the rice-fields. But the rice-quotas were never to be reached and the country became plague by famine. Everybody that was against this Orwell-style utopia ended up in jail, that being valid also for their entire families. The punishers wanted to destroy even the slightest chance that somebody would want to avenge the death of a relative. Raising the voice against the dictatorship was not the only reason for torture. Even people suspected of Thought-crime (wearing glasses or speaking a foreign language was enough) were thrown into jail. 
One of these torture facilities was located in Phnom Phen on the grounds of a former high-school and bared the name S-21. The place did not change much since the liberation of the Cambodian people by the Vietnamese army in 1979. The walls of the old teaching rooms still bear the signs of the abuse committed here. Metallic beds used to electrocute prisoners, former class-rooms transformed into mass-detention chambers, or the barbed wires that prevented prisoners from committing suicide, are only some of the brutal techniques used. This prison led to the death of 20,000 (documented) and even 100,000 if accounting for the relatives that were not even registered. Included is the visual and narrative testimony of a Swedish politician that was one of the few allowed to visit Pol Pot's Cambodia in 1976. The exhibition shows pictures taken in 1976 by an enthusiastic visitor, one believing in the "miracles" of socialism and in the success of the Cambodian approach. The same person reflects on those images with the knowledge of our days. He is sure that everything he saw back then, the happy faces of children, peasants, the factories, were only a big set-up. The only restriction at S-21 is regarding laughing.
If deeply recommend visiting this complex of buildings for a better understanding of the suffer that the Cambodian people went through, and hence to admire them for the striving country they are today. The Pol-Pot regime's heritage of a starving, uneducated, and dismantled population was visible years after 1979. Not all the grunts of the regime were punished for their abuse, some are free people even today. Nevertheless, the Cambodian people deserve all the respect for being nowadays hard-working, education-oriented, and entrepreneurial. I only hope that it is not the old employees of facilities like S-21, that drive the Lexus and the Audis of Phnom Phne's streets.
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