erikwdavis

The Wet-Season Offensive at Preah Vihear?

In khmer on July 29, 2010 at 2:01 pm

I’ve written a fair bit on this blog about Preah Vihear, including perhaps especially this post here, which discusses a famous ritual performed at the site by Bun Rany Hun Sen, the wife of Prime Minister Hun Sen. That ritual, the Krong Pali ritual, immediately brought accusations in Thailand that the Khmer were (typically) practicing ‘black magic’ against the Thais.

The dry season is over, so it’s out of season for the current hubbub over the ownership of Preah Vihear; these have thus far largely corresponded to the traditional military dry season offensives, which is an interesting aspect of the mobilizations themselves.  The current kerfuffle, rather, is based on a different calendar altogether, the calendar of opportunism within Thailand.

AFP PhotoHaving routed the Red Shirts, and with the Thai government hunting them down in ways that smack of Thaksin’s extrajudicial killings during his notorious ‘war on drugs,’ the Yellow Shirts (PAD and allies within the military and government) having again taken up the popular irredentist banner of nationalism. They definitively lost the last round, and Preah Vihear temple was properly listed as a World Heritage Site, under Cambodian authority.  This round is really about the administration plan for Preah Vihear, which the PAD insist be delayed until all land disputes on the border are resolved. Which, of course, they will never let happen.  Should disputes appear resolved, they’ll just head to the border again and cause more violence with the relatively amicable Thai and Khmer on the border, as they did last time.

Meanwhile, Google has done the right thing and corrected their map of the Preah Vihear area. Tourist numbers are up sharply, as well.

The Khmer are also rattling their sabres over Preah Vihear: Rong Chhun, union president of the Cambodian Independent Teachers Association (CITA), recently attempted a new practice at the site (see next paragraph). Rong Chhun has lost his focus on workplace issues lately and attempted to enter the political fray, thereby spending more time on border issues (like the SRP) than on domestic ones.  While Khmer fury and panic over eroding borders is a genuine concern (and a real issue – borders are genuinely being eroded, Cambodia *is* losing land), it’s not nearly as important an issue as hundreds of others.  Chea Mony of the FTUWKC similarly marched to Preah Vihear back in 2008, and received death threats as a result. It will behoove me to be very clear here: these are acts with real consequences, and no little bravery; I simply disagree that they are worthwhile.

The practice Rong Chhun attempted, however, was a bit nerve-wracking, and intended specifically to provoke reaction.  He proposed holding a “Day of Hate” (often translated into English alternatively as “Day of Anger”) against Thailand for their earlier invasion of the temple site. The “Day of Hate” is a tradition in Cambodia that stems from the early 1980s People’s Republic of Kampuchea (PRK) period, in which the Vietnamese-backed government that had overthrown the Khmer Rouge regime of Democratic Kampuchea held public rituals of catharsis and hatred against the Khmer Rouge.  I won’t go into the entire problem here, but instead refer you to this page, and this one, where I have written briefly on this day before.

By announcing he wished to hold a Day of Hate against Thailand at the site of Preah Vihear, Chhun was aligning Thailand with the Khmer Rouge (a silly notion, really, outside of the human tendency to see everyone who disagrees with us as somehow being in league with each other), and encouraging the use of a deeply ambiguous ritual of national catharsis and hatred in a space recently wracked by bullets.  Hmmm.  He was, however, prevented from marching on the temple by the Cambodian government, so he held the rally in Phnom Penh instead.

Finally, check out the comments collected on the Phnom Penh, Rong Chhun-led Day of Hate over at Bankgok Pundit, where he points out that the numbers attending were very small indeed.

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