Sunday,2007-07-29: Circular and Linear Times
The Mirror, Vol. 11, No. 518
Politics are not following circular time lines – like the annual festivals do, which come again and again, with little variation: we know already more or less what to expect when the next Water Festival comes, or the next three New Years: the International, the Chinese, and the Khmer New Year. And this expectation is common – individual persons may have different expectations – but the society as a whole knows what will come and how to prepare for it.
It is good to reflect sometimes on the two different aspects of time: the circular, and the historic, linear time line, on which we move on – and there is no way to go back. Even when we experience certain similarities in the future which remind us of experiences of the past, they are not the same.
The past week brought two important steps in the flow of time of society. Both have been expected:
- The Khmer Rouge Trial started to move ahead, because – after the hurdle of finally clarifying the procedural questions – the prosecutors handed over the first documents on five persons whom they think should be called before the court.
- And the Human Rights Party held its first party congress, corporately deciding its internal structure and electing the major officials – again, setting a process in motion which had been expected for weeks and months, and about which there had been rumors since years.
Both events have their past history. Not everybody agrees about its meaning – but it is possible to share information, to put facts and opinions together, and to arrive at a certain general view where we come from.
In the case of the Khmer Rouge Trial, the probing of past facts, and then their interpretation, is the main task for the court – but it does not stop with this view into the past. Apart from the fact that a trial is held not only in order to establish justice for past injustice – it always contains also the element of looking into the future: to learn from what went wrong in the past in order to take precautions that past mistakes should not be repeated in future. The emphasis during this probing along a linear time line is, however, on the past when a court tries to find its verdict. But the future is open: we can have all kind of speculations and hopes – but only when the judges will have spoken their verdicts will we know what kind of challenges will be posed towards the future.
With the other event – the creation of the Human Rights Party – the linear time line originates in the recent social and political experiences on the country in the past reaching up to the present, drawing also on convictions about the importance of the respect for Human Rights in other times and in other countries, while working towards an ever more human society in the future. Basically a new starting point for an historical development into the future has been set, by creating a party. To set up a party means to create an instrument for public participation and public action towards the future. Nobody can predict with certainty what will happen. And it will not just “happen” – because what will “happen” depends, actually, on what people will “actively do.”
As for the Khmer Rouge Trial, the public has to wait for the announcement of the next steps.
As for the struggle, along a linear time line towards the future of society which a new party, the challenge is to move towards the next general elections in 2008. The basis has been established – but to the surprise of many, the main adversaries seem to be, so far, political groups outside of the government confronting each other. It will be most interesting to see if, and when, such internal infighting, will be overcome: and the activists of this and other parties, and the people in the electorate, will decide how the linear time line, from one legislature to the next, will be designed.