What do Cambodians think about Pol Pot in 2023

What do Cambodians think about Pol Pot in the modern era? While you would expect the nation to have unbridled hatred for the Khmer Rouge regime, the actuality is something much more nuanced.

To read about Pol Pot click here.

Pol Pot and The Killing Fields

Whatever your thoughts about Pol Pot a few salient facts cannot be denied. Firstly he was the leader of the Khmer Rouge and Democratic Kampuchea and secondly this regime caused the date of anywhere from one quarter to one third of the population.

The country bow for all intents is a country of young people because of these deaths but also one that has a collective PTSD. Essentially if you meet someone who was born from the 1970’s or before then they are decedents of either calibrators or survivors of the Khmer Rouge. This means that collective fear and guilt has been handed down, but also there is an overall sadness you do not see in other parts of the region. 

Because of this you would assume that modern Cambodians would simply hate Pol Pot and his clique, but this is simply not the case anymore.

To read about the Communist Party of Kampuchea click here.

The Khmer Rouge and the modern Cambodian state

One of the biggest problems with the modern Cambodian state is that in many respects it is whether rightly or wrongly so viewed as a continuation of the Khmer Rouge and Democratic Kampuchea. This is because the “communist”Khmer Rouge were and the Communist Party of Kampuchea were overthrown by Vietnamese backed rebel Khmer Rouge soldiers, who would take the mantle of the  Peoples Revolutionary Party of Kampuchea formed in 1951, before it would later become the the Workers Party of Kampuchea and latterly the Communist Party of Kampuchea.

To read about the Workers Party of Kampuchea click here

These two dates are thus sen as the retconned version of communism in Cambodia , wit the Khmer Rouge only counting people from the 1960 party, while the Peoples Revolutionary Party of Kampuchea trace their lineage to 1951.

What compacted matters further  is that the Peoples Revolutionary Party of Kampuchea were enthroned by the Vietnamese, before later changing to the market orientated Cambodian Peoples Party (CPP). The CPP not only still govern today

, but are still heavily associated with what  many Cambodians feel was Vietnamese occupation.

Cambodians hate the Vietnamese

Cambodians think about Pol Pot

Sadly racism takes on many guises, and one of them is Cambodian hatred and resentment for the Vietnamese. In reality the Vietnamese liberated the country from teh tyrannical rule of the Pol Pot clique, 

To read about the central committee of the Communist Party of Kampuchea click here

So, despite their liberation many Khmer still followed the western backed Khmer Rouge, while others viewed the country as being a Vietnamese puppet state. In essence the view o f many people in many countries is that to be rules bu a bad local ruler is better than to be ruled by a good foreign one, smoothing I have perosnally heard everywhere from Iran to most countries that have some point been colony of another. 

The fact that this was largely not true then and is completely not true now does not matter, The CPP regime to some is tainted by the link to the Vietnamese, a  point unitised by the xenophobic opposition of Sam Rainsy and the Candlelight Party, despite their darling status with the western media. 

A lack of education and a young population

(Photo by FB)

So when it comes to the question of what Cambodians think of Pol Pot there is a real age device. Older people tend to hate him, but also not talk about things, which leads to younger people essentially making up their own narrative.

Yes there are young people that hate him, but also many from working to educated classes that see him as a great “nationalist”  whose orders were not followed and did not know about the suffering in Democratic Kampuchea.

He is thus lauded as a  complex but lawed hero, who had things have worked out would have led Kampuchea back to the glory days of Angkor. I genuinely met a cocktail bartender in the younge at Phnom Penh airport, or as I like to cal it as far away from the revolutionary classes as possible waxing lyrical and almost gushing as he talked about how great Pol Pot was. 

So, much like Mao Ze-Dong and the 70 percent right 30 percent wrong ideologue,  what Cambodians think of Pol POt is far more nuanced  and he is not nearly as vilified as one might think.

And yet unlike modern Germany this is not a fringe movement of the right, but average everyday Khmer people who have not been eduacted on the horrors of the Khmer Rouge regime by an older population simply not willing to talk about things.

Conversely though this is also what helps keep the CPP in power, because even those people who support Pol Pot to some degree do not wish for the times of war to return. The government might be flawed, or to many falsely seen as tools of the Vietnamese, but they also provide stability, something few Khmer argue about the merits of. 

Want to do a dark tourism tour of Cambodia click here