Brandeis International Fellowships 2003-2004

Recasting Reconciliation through Culture and the Arts

Where is reconciliation?
By Ly Daravuth
Phnom Penh, 2005
A portfolio of Recasting Reconciliation through Culture and the Arts

Dear Neighbor, where are you?

In front of the Thai embassy, Wednesday afternoon,
January 29th, 2003. Photo. The Cambodia Daily.
Norodom Boulevard, Phnom Penh — Thick, dark smoke rises in the sky in front of the newly built Thai Embassy. I tried to get closer to the scene, but a crowd of hundreds of young people on motorcycles shouting anti-Thai slogans came so fast in my direction that I was caught in the crowd. January 29, 2003, the day Cambodia was at the brink of being at war with Thailand.

The "event" started with a Cambodian newspaper reporting a rumor about Morning Star (a Thai pop star) declaring that Angkor Vat should "be given back to Thailand." She denied having said such a thing. But the rumor goes on. And it ended with violence that could have drawn the two countries to war.

January 2003

A Thai flag burns in front of the
Thai embassy in Phnom Penh.
 Thai protesters respond by burning a Cambodian flag in front of the Cambodian embassy in Bagkok.
May 2003

Thai and Cambodian government officials celebrate "reconciliation" in front of Angkor Wat.  
 The Cambodia Daily prints a picture of the prime ministers of Cambodia and Thailand, along with Cambodian and Thai officials, celebrating the "reconciliation" between the two countries.

While looking at that picture and trying to recall the events I witnessed five months earlier, I can't help but find myself thinking: Is this reconciliation?

Dear Friendship, where are you?

After almost a decade, the Vietnamese occupation army started to withdraw from Cambodia. In order to mark the "mutual understanding of the two people," an official ceremony was held in front of the the Cambodian-Vietnamese Friendship Monument. Sponsored and built by the government in the mid 1980s, this monument was meant to express the fraternity between the two countries.
August 1989
During a demonstration protesting the results of the July election, demonstrators try to remove the head of the statue with a hammer. Photo by Mak Remissa, for Cambodge Soir. After the demonstration, the government commissioned artists to "recover" the head of the statue as if nothing had happened.
September 1989
Soldiers line up at the monument in a public ceremony marking the Vietnamese withdrawal from Cambodia. A Cambodian man watches the soldiers depart.

Dear Justice, where are you?

1997, 1999, 2001, 2003

Cambodia's most famous
actress and classical
Khmer dancer, Piseth
Pilika, had her back to the
gunman who shot her at
point-blank range. It was
Tuesday, July 6, 1999.
Pilika was shopping for a
bicycle with her 8-year-old
niece near the busy Phsar
Tat Marina's injuries were horrific.
After she was battered to the ground
unconscious by a middle-aged woman
and her two bodyguards, more than
one liter of nitric acid was poured over
the 16-year-old's head, face, and body
in December 1999.


Dear Reconciliation...

where are you?