Week 556 – 2008-04-20: Irrational Emotions Prevent to Openly Perceive the Reality and Its Challenges
The Mirror, Vol. 12, No. 556
At the beginning, I want to be personal. I edit the Mirror and the Kanhchok Sangkum as a foreigner – though as a foreigner who lives in Cambodia since 1990. Before, I spent also many years in other countries – 10 years in Japan, and extended periods of time in South Korea – apart from many visits to a number of countries in Africa and in Latin America. I always try to understand the context where I am. Friends in the countries where I spent longer time asked me: Don’t forget that we want to have your contributions as a friends from the outside – to deal only with our own views – we can do this ourselves; we want your critical opinion and comment, from your perspective, which may be different from ours.
In Cambodia, I hear the same voices – but also the contrary: Don’t upset the situation by your questions – you should better know by now how things are handled in Cambodia. You will only isolate yourself.
It is between these challenges that I try to share my reflections on what I see and do not see, reflected in the Khmer press, and in the international context of Cambodia. I appreciate the feedback I get, especially from some of our Cambodian readers – while some others whom I contacte, have cut communication. I am committed to continue this service as long as I see that there is response – and there is still even growing response – during the month of March 2008 we had 5,496 visits to the Mirror site (after one year), and 2,073 visits to the Kanhchok Sangkum site (after only two months of operation).
This is the background of our work. From this background I share every week observations, questions, challenges in the editorials – well aware that I do it as foreigner, though as a foreigner who has has opted to be in Cambodia since many years. It is from this background that I am also asking questions which do not have easy answers, but need to get them, for the best of the society where we live – and where we live together in a globalized world.
The headline of the article we mirrored on Friday caught my attention, that Mr. Sok Kong, the president of the Sokimex company and of other business enterprises, who was born from Vietnamese parents in Cambodia, boasts that he is proud of his background, saying, “Previously, I didn’t want anyone to know that I am Vietnamese for some reasons, but now it is different.” I first misunderstood the intention of the article. I took it as a sign that the Cambodian society is moving to treat the ethnic background of a person’s family as it is treated in many other countries which have overcome past ethnic and nationalistic self-isolation. I thought of the United States of America, where one of the three presidential candidates has the quite “foreign” name of Barack Obama, and I thought of the Italian parliamentary election last week, where for the first time a person of African parentage was elected into parliament. I remembered the names of public person in my own home country of Germany with such names as Asamoah (sport), Huseyin Aydin and Oskar LaFontaine (national assembly), Wischnewsky (secretary of state), and many others, who are German citizens. And the president of France has a Hungarian name from his father: Sarkozy, a Hungarian immigrant. They all took the citizenship of their present country where they play important roles; their names clearly identify that they have a former family background somewhere else.
The article says that it is related to the concern of Khmer people about the presence of people of Vietnamese origin in Cambodia, about “spies all over Cambodia,” referring also to the rumor that “Yuon – Vietnamese – troops are interfering strongly both in the Khmer economy and in politics.” It would have been interesting to have any data presented. I am reminded when, during UNTAC time, the Khmer Rouge representative in the Supreme National Council also warned the UNTAC leadership about a Vietnamese military presence in the country. At that time UNTAC offered cars, ships, and helicopters to help to locate such Vietnamese soldiers – but after some frantic search, only one farmer, who had been a Vietnamese soldier during 1979 to 1989 and had married a Cambodian woman and had remained as a farmer, was identified.
But the article states some more concerns: that the government of Cambodia provides Khmer economic resources in the form of concession land openly to Vietnam. It might been useful to evaluate the situation, if such economic cooperation would be compared, in its economic value, to contracted cooperation with other foreign countries. But the main reservation is finally identified: that a company a person of Vietnamese descent was contracted to administer tourism at the Angkor Wat temples: “many Khmers said that it is not different from giving the Khmer soul to Yuon.”
I might not have been so surprised about this, would here also have been similar concerns expressed in the Khmer press that three years after the “privatization” of the tourism administration of the Killing Fields Memorial in Choeung Ek to an unknown Japanese company (no address is known, also not to the Japanese embassy), it is not possible to publicly and transparently report what happened to the more than US$620,000 which were paid by the more than 300,000 reported visitors in 2006 and 2007. When the Cambodia Daily recently tried to get some clarity, they were given one phone number after another of some officials who would know – but everybody referred to another person in the round.
The killing fields of Choeung Ek is also a symbol of Cambodian history, though different from Angkor. It is no surprise that recently, a group of Asian visitors, considered that the Khmer soul is being sold there, seeing the cheap and undignified commercialism at the Choeung Ek Memorial.
The problems of being carried to quick and wrong conclusions in international relations, when a more careful evaluation of facts is called for before drawing conclusions, relates also to international marriages. On 25 February 2008 we had reported that the licenses of two South Korean companies, seeking marriage partners, had been canceled in an attempt to prevent fake marriages.
More recently, all legal documentation for Cambodian persons to marry a person of another nationality have been – temporarily – suspended, with the same reasoning. The planning of many families is suddenly disrupted; I know of a Cambodian man who cannot proceed with the paperwork to marry his foreign partner.
On Saturday, we mirrored the statement of the ambassador of the Republic of Korea. He cannot accept that the majority of international marriages between Cambodians and Koreans is referred to as “human trafficking,” and he points out that – in spite of admitted problems – only 0.3 percent, 7 women out of about 2,500, are reported to have returned. As the Korean ambassador said, the rate of these failed international marriages, “compared to the increase and the high rate of divorces in modern societies of other countries,” is very low. Even so, every single case is a tragedy. But one of these seven persons, who is reported to have returned after bitter experiences, said in an interview with the Cambodia Daily that “she wants another chance to marry a South Korean man and to return to his homeland.”
Such voices have also to be heard, though this may be less popular. Such voices point towards confidence in a future, where nationality and culture will not be a reason of separation, but a challenge to build a richer human society. The ambassador said, “Efforts to overcome the differences of cultures and to solve misunderstandings in communication are to be of the highest priority.” The Korean side is starting to make such efforts. As about two percent of marriages in South Korea are international marriages, special programs are organized for immigrant marriage partners to assist them in the study of the Korean language and culture – and also different courses are set up for the Korean spouses and their families to learn about the culture from where the immigrant partners come. Almost 5,000 foreigners, mainly women, joined the Internet programs depicted below, and 16,000 workbooks have been given out. The challenge to be open is not only accepted in words, but in actual engagement, in a society opening up, a society which formerly was considered to have been very closed.