Roving thoughts and provocations

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The Legacy of Murderous Regimes’


The New York Review of Books has received the following statement from Hor Nam Hong, the Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Cambodia, in response to an NYRblog exchange between a spokesperson of the Cambodian Foreign Ministry and contributor Stéphanie Giry about her article, “Necessary Scapegoats? The Making of the Khmer Rouge Tribunal.” —The Editors


Mr. Editor-in-Chief:

It is difficult to define the legacy of murderous regimes. While it is easy (and just) to unleash a torrent of the bitterest denunciations of the Khmer Rouge, stepping back, language always fails to rise to the occasion. The most appropriate way to describe the legacy of the Khmer Rouge was the utter nothingness that was left in the wake of the regime.

Indeed, everything lost meaning. The cornerstones of marriage and family were desecrated, and the faculties of reason were silenced. The economy was left in shambles and vast swaths of the population were sick, dying, or dead.

Even our understanding of truth had changed. A whole new vocabulary built on an extreme communist ideology had warped Cambodian thinking and culture. A culture of suspicion, fear, and secrecy enveloped Cambodian discourse and thought. While this culture of suspicion, fear, and secrecy is a relic of the regime’s dark past, its shadow continues to linger in subtle ways that color our present.

Murderous regimes betray the innocent and corrupt the truth, and in their wake courts strive to reconstruct a history of what happened and why. Myths abound. How can they not? Totalitarian regimes thrive on secrecy and the Khmer Rouge were dedicated masters-duping media and monarch alike. And this is why I believe the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia is fulfilling its mandate of bringing some closure and justice to this horrific period.

But there are always individuals who reach too far-attributing shades of grey with truth and dubious gossip as guilt. Inquiry is a healthy aspect of any free, vibrant society, but cynical debate does not a democracy make.

It is unfortunate that individuals, in the interest of cultivating spectacle and intrigue, continue to dabble in controversy around public figures like myself.

I respectfully decline the media’s request to dance.

Provisional journalistic judgments do not make for definitive historical judgments, and I am confident that in time the culture of suspicion and controversy surrounding Cambodia’s past will be buried by the renewed spirit of justice.

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