Low-ranking Khmer Rouge cadre, 30 in all, will have their say and then some in a massive video installation opening this week in Phnom Penh.
The “Voices of the Khmer Rouge” exhibit contains 30 lengthy interviews with former Khmer Rouge now living in pockets along the Thai border, as men and women aged 38 to 70 give their reasons for joining the movement. And staying with it.
“The way I feel, I think Pol Pot was a good man,” a former soldier tells interviewers. “He is the hero in the struggle, although there were killings, some mistakes.”
The video installation, co-produced by filmmakers Thomas Webner Carlsen and Jan Krogsgard, runs 43 hours in total and examines the lives of the former soldiers.
Carlsen told VOA Khmer in an interview the idea was to learn more about them.
“Are they basically just criminals like Pol Pot, like Nuon Chea, or who are they?” he said. “This is a very important question. And we don’t want to come up with any firm and final answer to that question; we just want to give as many people as we can the possibility, the opportunity, to get acquainted with these people themselves and then they can judge for themselves who they think the Khmer Rouge are.”
The filmmakers said in a statement they want the scope of the installation to raise questions about “gatekeepers” of information, the authors of history and “to challenge representation as we know it.” “When do we know enough to reach conclusions, when are we overwhelmed by information and must refrain from concluding in general terms?”
Within the monologues soldiers talk about their experience under the regime and their reasons for joining it, but they also address the possibility of a tribunal—something that had not been established when the interviews were conducted.
“Please try the Khmer Rouge leaders,” one soldier says. “And America has to pay us compensation,” he adds, a reference to the US bombings of Cambodia during its war with Vietnam.
“If China had not given Khmer Rouge guns, how could they shoot?” he says. “If America had not offered weapons such as mines, how could they have laid mines so that people's legs are blown off and they have to live very difficult lives? So who is responsible for this? This is the responsibility of the greater powers, so sentence all of these countries too; the Khmer Rouge was under your feet.”
Carlsen said the installation, which took five years to edit and prepare, should counterbalance some of the sensationalization surrounding the Khmer Rouge.
“I believe that there is more to these stories than just blood, the killings, forced labor, torture and starvation and all these terrible disasters,” he said. “Who were the people behind these? Were they all bad people? Should they all be considered criminals?”
“Voices of the Khmer Rouge” will run for two weeks at the Bosphana Center in Phnom Penh starting March 4.
“When people hear the voices of the former Khmer Rouge cadre themselves, they will better understand them,” said Sar Kosal, event manager for the Bosphana Center, “and think again whether they should hate these soldiers or reconcile with them.”