Extreme nationalism in question: challenges and consequences
Khmer had been great for many centuries starting from even before the first century of the Christian era. It was the time when the Tai people – the now Vietnamese (mixed mostly with the Cham and the Khmer indigenous people) and the now Thai people(s) (mixed mostly with the Mon and the Khmer indigenous people) – were still tribes under Chinese rule. Since first century A.D, Kambuja state – the Funan – had trading activities with different countries from South Asia (such as India and China) and South-east Asian. When Kambuja state was greatly glorious and developed as an empire – powerful beyond its borders occupying vast areas beyond Sukhothai, Ayuthya, the current Bangkok and the former provinces in the north-east Thailand, the kingdom started to construct many temples dedicated to deities in Brahmanism and later Mahayana Buddhism – since the late sixth century. The kingdom’s great master-piece temple constructions have started since from the reigns of the Khmer kings as Jayavarman II, Yaśovaraman I, Rājendravarman, Sūryavarman I , Sūryavarman II and Jayavarman VII, as all Thai people and international scholars and tourists can see in their eyes those temples in the present Cambodia and many other temples it lost to the now Thailand – formerly called the Siam – in which the Khmer temples stand such as Phimai temples with similar design to Angkor; and Khnom Roung temple on the top of mountain similar Bakeng temple in Boriram province.
Although the Khmer Empire collapsed due to relentless invasions, persecutions and hungry thirsts for occupations which resulted in burnings and destructions of the Angkor in the first half on the 15th century, and subsequent burnings and destructions of Longvek camps, which was the last strong hold of the Khmer kings and generals to retain the country in the first half of 16th century, the Thai and the other foreign invaders were still in pursuits to conquer the Khmer Kingdom. And when the land of Cambodia was ruled by members of Khmer royal families often in conflict for absolute control in their own rights, the country had become so weak that enabled lingering ambitions of the Thai to occupy the Kambuja succeeded. Just from when it succeed and overruled the Khmer kingdom for about 100 years, the Thai have endlessly and shamelessly claimed in front of the international court in 1962 for the Preah Vihea Temple to be their own property without looking at themselves and see who and where were they when the Khmer kings and people started to build those temples.
Losing the court case in 1962 indeed has not brought to an end of the Thai thirst for more territory and temples from Cambodia; they have composed text-books to teach their children that they are superior people to the neighboring countries – particularly the Laotians and the Khmers. A Thai-American professor at University of Illinois once (2006) told me in Siem Reap that a group of Thai ‘scholars’, a few of his old friends are on the team, went to the US on research mission supported by Thai Royal foundation to write a textbook claiming that Apsara dance (known as the Khmer Holy Dance) has originated in Siam soil – not a copy from Cambodia. He said that they are ‘crazy’ persons. He told me further that he asked them to be fair and to remember that about more than 40 per cent of Thai language has been from Khmer language.
When I spent a week to conduct my field-work research on the role of the Thai sangha in society and politics in comparison to that of the Khmer monks in the same arena, I interviewed some 30 Thai students (on July 26, 2005) in our group discussions and conversations at Mahasarakham University about how do they think about the Preah Vihea temple, they immediately answered us that “the Preah Vihea temple (in their words as ‘khao prajvihan’) is Thai property, and their government’s officials who signed the decisions made by the international court in Holland in 1962 were blind officials; they did not really read the decision papers; they are blind; they ate Thai rice and spent salary of Thai people, but they were partially treasons.” In addition, they said that it is not only the ‘khao prajvihan’, which is the Thai property, but also Angkor Wat and Ankor Thom (the Bayaon Temple) that were constructed by their ancestors. This view could be the results of their ‘confused’ extreme nationalistic education at schools regardless that at homes. Khmer-Thai people living in the north-eastern provinces in the present Thailand might have share similar history and ancestors with the Khmer, but this does not that it is the same true as all Thais living in Thailand.
As another practical instance, all tourists can see the display of a huge portrait ‘milk churning of apsara’ extracted from the master piece of an inscribed artifact on the wall of Angkor to display in centre of the Thai new airport Sovanabhumi – does this represent the Khmer property or the property of Thailand? And why it is so silent from the Cambodian side – the owner – on this regard?
After the 2003 incidents of burning down the Thai embassy, a committee was set up with bilateral agreement to help reduce tensions and solve any conflicts resulting from any possible confusion and extreme nationalistic activism, but up to now how far this committee has worked has not been known. And a question to be asked is that ‘should Cambodia let those school text-books in Thai education go on without check from the Cambodian side?’ Any possible and acceptable solution, however, has to be satisfied from both sides – not a kind of both territorial and economic triumphal of the Thai on the Khmer like this day. For any successful purpose, however, intellectual quality must be in need and in real use.
Of course, the success in proposing the Preah Vihea temple to be accepted and listed by the UNESCO as the world property on 07 July 2008 seems to be great for many Khmer people, but indeed it is not a real surprise to be satisfied on what has already been legally decided and guaranteed to be Cambodian property by the International Court. In fact, history never disappears itself; it remains there as a recalling voice to be listened and heard so as to be remembered, and as a lesson to be learnt. Yet, whether it is learnt or not, it determines one’s destiny.
Philosophy lecturer and researcher
Royal university of Phnom Penh
Tel: 011 685 524