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Monday, May 31, 2010

The Prey Nokor News No. 14 Vol. 1 is now available

Border problems rage from Svay Rieng to Takeo

Hun Xen cheers Nguyen Tan Dung during the inauguration of border post 171 in Svay Rieng (Photo: Sovannara, RFI)

20 May 2010
By Pen Bona
Radio France Internationale
Translated from Khmer by Oss Dey
Click here to read the article in Khmer

The lawsuit case against the uprooting of border post in Svay Rieng province did not even conclude yet and now the border problem is raging into Takeo province already. The opposition criticized the planting of border post 270 located in Borey Chulsa district, Takeo province, which led to the loss of several dozens of hectares of rice fields belonging to Cambodian farmers. However, the Cambodian government claimed that these lands are merely grass fields and that they do not belong to anybody. Nevertheless, opposition MPS asked the government to delay the planting of border posts to allow time for a proper evaluation.

Internal disputes in Cambodia on border problems are raging all over again, this time in Takeo in province. This problem is taking place when the lawsuit case against the uprooting of a border post in Svay Rieng has not even concluded yet.

During these last few days, the opposition criticized the loss of rice fields in Takeo province stemming from the planting of border post no. 270 in Chey Chauk commune, Borey Chulsa district. The local population protested, indicating that a border post was planted on top of their rice fields which they have worked on for a long time now.

On Thursday, a group of about 20 SRP MPs signed a petition sent to Hun Xen asking the government to delay the planting of border posts in Takeo province temporarily to allow a clear evaluation before new work can be proceeded. According to the SRP MPs’ petition, several dozens of hectares of rice field lands belonging to Cambodian farmers are lost from the border post planting.

However, the Takeo authority, as well as the government border committee, rejected this information, claiming that the land where the border post is planted is a grass field along the border and it does not belong to anybody. Government border experts accused the opposition of inflating the information to incite people to demonstrate against the government.

The problem in Takeo province is reminiscent of the problem in Svay Reing, there, opposition leader Sam Rainsy was sentenced by the Svay Rieng provincial court to 2-year of jail time for destruction of public properties after he uprooted border stakes in Samrong district. Two Cambodian farmers who were involved in the uprooting with Sam Rainsy were sentenced to 1-year of jail time each. Currently, Sam Rainsy is also being sued at the Phnom Penh municipal court for falsifying public document after he published maps showing the loss of Cambodian territories. The government sued Sam Rainsy, accusing him of publication of maps that do not show appropriate coordinates.

SRP MPs plan to visit the location of the border post in Takeo in the near future. Meanwhile, opposition leader Sam Rainsy is conduction a campaign overseas to fight against the government in regards to the planting of border posts with Vietnam

Government Bolsters Efforts Against Squatters

Chun Sakada, VOA Khmer
Phnom Penh Friday, 28 May 2010

“This [order] is good, but we worry about the concrete implementation of it, because the government has not provided fair compensation to people in exchange for their removal.”
The Council of Ministers on Friday approved a legal circular that instructs provincial and municipal authorities to seek resolutions to illegal settlements on state property.

The order tells authorities to first meet with community representatives on state land to inform them of development projects and to then discuss compensation for residents.

The circular creates a regulation for measures already practiced by authorities, critics said Friday, and it does not address situations where residents refuse to leave.

Cambodian officials have steadily found themselves at odds with squatter communities, where land values have boomed and development projects are springing up.

The order is to “inform all provinces and municipal authorities to solve illegal construction on state land through discussion with residents,” according to the draft pass by the Council on Friday.

The order is meant “to solve the anarchic construction [done] without order on the state land, where the occupier has come to settle illegally and to construct a house without order [creating] a lack of road passage and lack of hygiene.”

The order now gives officials more authority to act against squatter communities who may not be getting enough compensation, opponents said Friday.

“This [order] is good, but we worry about the concrete implementation of it, because the government has not provided fair compensation to people in exchange for their removal,” said Yim Sovann, a spokesman for the opposition Sam Rainsy Party. “If there are effects to the people because of the [order] we would like the government to respect the constitution and to fairly compensate people through the market price.”

The measure is not clear about compensation, leaving room for authorities to offer low prices to residents, which can lead to conflict, said Thun Saray, president of the rights group Adhoc.

Thai Navy, a 39-year-old resident of the Boeung Kak lake community, which has been locked in a dispute with Phnom Penh over a giant development project since 2008, said representatives were not happy with the measure.

“The resolution to remove houses is the same as before,” he said.

The city’s policy is to pay Boeung Kak residents $8,500 per family or to offer lots of land on the outskirts of the city. Residents have said that is not enough, but there has been no forced eviction in the area to date.

The order comes as Cambodia faces increased criticism of forced evictions of the urban poor.

In an annual report issued Thursday, Amnesty International said “a wave of legal actions against housing rights defenders, journalists and other critical voices” had “stifled freedom of expression in Cambodia.”

In Modern Stoneworks, an Echo of the Past

A Cambodian sculpture, a naga-protected Buddha. (Photo: Men Kimseng, VOA Khmer)

Pich Samnang, VOA Khmer
Phnom Penh Friday, 28 May 2010

“If the sculptures showed us clearly what they were about, we would just have a look and then walk away. But with these abstract pieces, we have to spend time and think about what they want to tell us."
Though the temples of Angkor Wat have some amazing stone carvings, contemporary sculpture in the country has not been widespread.

But a group of 14 young Cambodian sculptors wants to change that. They currently have 26 pieces of modern stone sculptures on display at a new exhibition hall at the Royal University of Fine Arts in Phnom Penh.

The sculptures, whose meanings can be hard to decipher if not for the display tags, are the result of more than a year of hard work for the artists.

Sasha Constable, the curator of the first exhibition of its kind in the country, said the show is aimed at encouraging more young Cambodian contemporary artists and the Cambodian public to better support this kind of art.

“There is not really a market for contemporary Cambodian art within the Cambodian community,” she said in an interview at the opening session of the exhibition on Thursday night. “I really hope that will change soon, because it’s a shame really that the elder are not supporting the younger generations of artists when there is so much talent here.”

The sculptures depict animals, like fish, and forms of the human body, such as the clasped hands of a woman in front of a headless torso.

Ouk Chimvichet’s work includes “Wonder,” the carving of a male face with earrings and long hair curled into a question mark.

“The meaning of the sculpture is to have transsexual individuals consider thoroughly whether they should get their sex organs and identity changed,” the 30-year-old sculptor told VOA Khmer.

Chhea Bunna, another sculpture graduate from the Royal University of Fine Arts, brought seven of his pieces to the show. He said his efforts were to move Cambodian sculpture toward the international trend in modern art.

“When I was at school, I was taught only how to make traditional sculptures, so I want to leave these artworks of mine for the younger generations,” he said. “If we do not make something new and the next generations have to learn the old ones, we cannot move forward. The art of other countries is updated, so I want our art to go forward as well.”

Khmer traditional stone sculptures are internationally acclaimed for their detail and beauty, as shown on the walls of thousands of ancient temples across the country, especially at Angkor Wat, a national icon.

So Chenda, dean of the Royal University of Fine Arts, said the young sculptors’ work taught them about the efforts of their ancestors in building the famous temples and also showcased Cambodian ideas and imagination.

“These young sculptors are full of innovative ideas,” he said in an interview. “And they not only preserve our traditional artwork, but they also help develop our art as well.”

The exhibition is supported by Friends of Khmer Culture, a public charity registered in the US. Visitors can purchase individual pieces, and a percentage of the sales will be used for equipment and material for the university. The exhibit runs through June 6, after which it will move to the Hotel de la Paix in Siem Reap, through Aug. 8.

Culture Minister Him Chhem said Cambodia needs such artwork to help push local art onto the international stage.

“We want to see our artists and their work recognized overseas,” he said.

Taket Meta, an university student who was attentively examining a stone sculpture, said this kind of art made him think and try to read the mind of its creator.

“If the sculptures showed us clearly what they were about, we would just have a look and then walk away,” he said in an interview at the exhibition. “But with these abstract pieces, we have to spend time and think about what they want to tell us.”

For seven years, monks have had no peace

Monks living at the Buddhist Support Society in Rochester had to replace their mailbox after vandals damaged it. They own a 10.5-acre site they bought for tranquil reflection. (Jim Gehrz, Star Tribune)
Monks Chhan Aun, left, and Sim Ouk (Jim Gehrz, Star Tribune)

Vandalism has plagued a Buddhist temple near Rochester for seven years. Neighbors and police are outraged and baffled.

May 29, 2010
Star Tribune (Rochester, Minnesota)

  • What: Prompted by a string of vandalism at the Cambodian Buddhist temple in Rochester, monks, neighbors, city leaders, youth groups and members of police neighborhood watch program will gather to discuss the issue.
  • When: 4 p.m., Thursday
  • Where: Buddhist Support Society Address: 4462 29th St. SE, Rochester
A chorus of chirping crickets and the smashed shell of a mailbox greet Chhan Aun when he steps out the door of his monk's residence at the hilltop Buddhist temple southeast of Rochester.

"We are quiet and peaceful; we try to pray for good things, not bad," he said, wrapped in his orange robe, as a former monk translates his Cambodian words. "We don't understand why people are doing things like this."

This month's busted mailbox is the latest in a seven-year string of vandalism that has jarred the four monks who live on the grassy, rolling, 10.5-acre site they chose for tranquil reflection.

Someone sprayed-painted "Jesus Saves" and a cross on their driveway last May. Dozens of lights have been broken and stolen. Flowers and trees have been yanked from the earth. Instead of studying the teachings of Buddha, the monks have been installing motion-detecting lights and asking the Postal Service to approve moving their mailbox down from 29th Street and closer to their house.

"One night at 2 a.m., a group of four or five people were outside and I shined my flashlight in their face," said Aun, 63. "They never confront us face to face; they just run away."

Neighbors and police are outraged and baffled at what would motivate the vandals to harass such gentle men, some of whom, including Aun, lived through the Cambodian genocide of the late-1970s Khmer Rouge killing fields.

"They believe in peace and tranquility, and they sure don't deserve this," said Glenda Bale, who moved into the quiet residential area in 2003, just as the temple construction was completed and the monks moved in next door from their former downtown location.

Back then, her place was an overgrown "jungle," and as she worked to clear the lot, the monks would bring with food offerings. They invite Bale to all their celebrations.

Her friend's unlocked car was broken into once and papers were scattered. The monks say they've been struck three or four times a year since they arrived.

"For this stuff to only happen to them is totally uncalled for," said Bale, 47. "You couldn't ask for better neighbors, honestly."

Police cite six documented cases of criminal damage to property since last May, but the monks say the harassment dates to a group of aggressive opponents speaking out against the temple at city zoning meetings before the two temple structures were built. Opponents' concerns about increased traffic congestion have proven to be completely unfounded, Bale said.

"We have absolutely no idea as to why these people are doing this," said Sgt. Scott Behrns of the Olmsted County Sheriff's Department. "We're confident we'll catch the people doing it; it's just a matter of how long it takes."

Deputies have stepped up patrols in the neighborhood, and if arrests are made, Behrns said prosecutors will be asked to use state laws that target bias-motivated crimes. That could mean elevating misdemeanor charges into gross misdemeanors or felonies.

"Based on the way the crimes are occurring, one would think it's the same" person or people behind the vandalism, said Behrns, who thinks a baseball bat was used to destroy the mailbox earlier this month.

Community meeting slated

Rochester's Buddhist Support Society serves roughly 500 people, mostly Cambodian refugees who fled during the Vietnam War era and emigrated to Minnesota. The group owns the temple and recruits monks from Cambodia who make minimum five-year commitments to study, pray and teach at the hilltop temple.

Aun said that the destroyed mailbox, in itself, is not a big deal.

"But if they try to set fire to our buildings or hurt the monks, that would make us upset," he said.

He's speaking out despite some concerns that the vandals will relish the publicity.

"We want to show the community that we are doing something," he said. "It is 98 percent positive to get the word out and maybe two percent negative."

About 20 concerned citizens, mostly members of Rochester Meditation Center, met at the temple last Sunday, and a larger meeting is scheduled for June 3 at 4 p.m. Members of Rochester's Diversity Council, teenage youth groups, local church members and representatives of the police-sponsored Neighborhood Watch program will look for ways to enhance understanding about Buddhism and curb the vandalism.

Until then, Aun and his fellow monks will do what they came to Rochester to do. They will sit on pillows on the floor, surrounded by colorful paintings of Buddhist scenes, and recite prayers of loving kindness to the perpetrators of the vandalism.

"They know what they are doing is not right," Aun said. "We will pray for them to do good things instead of bad."

Meet opposition leader Sam Rainsy and Mr. Sean Pengse in the US West Coast

Sunday 30 May in San Jose, California (mid-morning and afternoon)
Sunday 30 May in San Jose, California
Click on each announcement to zoom in

Opposition leader Sam Rainsy and Mr. Sean Pengse visit Long Beach, California

Opposition leader Sam Rainsy addressed the audience. Mr. Sam Rainsy stressed that he is not fighting against the Hun Sen's regime, but rather the Hanoi regime which is pulling the string behind the scene. He indicated that the Hun Sen regime did not take any action against him after the uprooting of border stakes in Koh Kban Kandal village, Chantrea district, Svay Rieng province, but it only came after him after Nguyen Tan Dung, Hanoi's PM, voiced his displeasure against Mr. Sam Rainsy. (All photos provided by P. from Long Beach)
Mr. Sean Pense (L) sits next to Mr. Sam Rainsy (C) who was giving his speech about the border situation and the political situation in Cambodia.
Mr. Sean Pengse provided additional details on the various treaties concluded between Heng Samrin/Chea Sim/Hun Sen's People Republic of Kampuchea and the occupying Vietnamese force.
The audience packed the Sea Dragon restaurant in Long Beach to listen to Messrs. Sam Rainsy and Sean Pengse.
The audience included Cambodians from all walk of life: women, men, young and old. All listened attentively to the discussions on border issues and the Vietnamese encroachments in Cambodia.
A few month ago,the pro-CPP DAP newspaper wrote that it couldn't understand why overseas Cambodians are willing to pay for their own food just to listen to opposition politicians. Well, not only are Cambodian-Americans willing to pay for their own food to listen to the politicians they support, almost everybody in the audience even financially contributed to the SRP. One attendant contributed as little as $5, yet the announcer proudly announce his contribution and indicated that the amount, small or large, is not what matters, what's important is the fact that the contributor freely and willingly contributes to the party he/she supports.

Land dispute: Eating not allowed for the protesters?

Friday 28 May 201
By P.M. and A.L.G.
Cambodge Soir Hebdo

Translated from French

Landless farmers demand for an arbitration from Hun Xen in a land dispute case. The cops tried to prevent bread delivery to the demonstrators.

The cops were not successful, but later that day, the demonstrators were disbanded by the police anyway.

"Neak Srok Orm-laing Paing Ka-pear Dei" a Poem in Khmer by Sam Vichea

Thursday, May 27, 2010

"Today, it's not the state who owns the old properties, but the ruling party, the CPP": Vann Molyvann

Independence Monument; Vann Molyvann, architect (All photos: Luke Duggleby for The Wall Street Journal)
A lone figure walks the stands of Vann Molyvann's Olympic Stadium.
The Chaktomuk Conference Hall, one of Mr. Molyvann's earliest designs, was built in 1961.
The library at the Institute for Foreign Languages, now part of the Royal University of Phnom Penh
More of Mr. Molyvann's work at the Institute for Foreign Languages
Yet more of the institute

Modern Masterpieces

MAY 28, 2010
The Wall Street Journal

Vann Molyvann, Cambodia's greatest living architect, recalls that the night his Olympic Stadium in Phnom Penh was completed, in 1964, "I took my wife to see the work." Sitting in the top tier of the stands, they listened to Dvorák's "New World Symphony" over the stadium's speaker system. "It was one of the great moments of my life."

In the years after Cambodia won independence from France in 1953, Mr. Molyvann—then scarcely in his 30s—set out under the tutelage of King Norodom Sihanouk to transform Phnom Penh from a colonial backwater into a modern city. But in the late 1960s the country was drawn into decades of war and terror, including years under the murderous Khmer Rouge regime, and Mr. Molyvann's vision was virtually forgotten. The architect himself had to flee the country.

And while he returned in triumph after more than 20 years abroad, it was to find that grand titles didn't translate into influence in today's Cambodia. His legacy—structures in a style dubbed New Khmer Architecture—lives on, contributing significantly to the flair of the city, but even that is in danger as Phnom Penh, like other Asian capitals, clears historic buildings to make room for skyscrapers.

Cambodia is best known for its magnificent temple ruins at Angkor, remnants of a great Southeast Asian empire that covered the country's current territory as well as parts of Vietnam, Thailand and Laos. After Angkor fell to the Siamese in the 15th century, a new Cambodian capital was founded on the banks of the Tonlé Sap River. That city, Phnom Penh, remained an unstable settlement, caught up in the geopolitical ambitions of Cambodia's more powerful neighbors, until the French arrived in the 1860s. The colonial administrators drained the neighboring swamps and created a grid street plan, dotted with sumptuous villas, Art Deco markets and impressive government structures.

Even then, Phnom Penh was modest, small-town colonial France—and when Mr. Molyvann received a scholarship from the colonial government and set off for the Sorbonne in Paris, it wasn't with the dream of returning to remake it. He was a law student. But as he pursued his degree, and struggled with the compulsory Greek and Latin, he had an encounter that changed his life.

"I met Henri Marchal, the curator of Angkor for the École Française d'Extrême-Orient [the French School of Asian Studies]," Mr. Molvyann remembers, "and suddenly I knew I wanted to be an architect, so I changed to the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux Arts, where I studied until 1950 under Le Corbusier." He regards that modernist architect and designer as his greatest teacher.

After that, Mr. Molyvann stayed on in Paris for several more years, studying Khmer art. While he looks back fondly on the period, he is also keenly aware that some of Cambodia's later traumas had their origins in the Paris of that time.

"The Khmer Rouge was born in the Latin quarter of Paris," he says. As they debated their country's postcolonial future, Mr. Molyvann says, the city's 400 or so Cambodian students split between nationalists and Marxists. Khieu Samphan, whom he knew as a fellow Sorbonne student, would go on to become head of state in the Khmer Rouge government.

By 1956, Mr. Molyvann was back in Phnom Penh. Independence had broadened Cambodia's horizons, in part thanks to the efforts of King Sihanouk, who at various times officially dropped his title to serve as prime minister, head of state or president, though Cambodians continued to refer to him as king. With tremendous energy and not a little royal eccentricity, the young monarch—also politician, artist, filmmaker, womanizer and host to a series of foreign heads of state and celebrities—worked to create a modern nation with an eye on the past. The leading members of an emerging urban elite, many of whom, like Mr. Molyvann, had returned from Paris, sought to create architecture, music, films, literature and art that married Cambodian tradition with modernist thinking.

Nowhere was this more apparent than in new administrative, public and private building projects that sprang up all over the capital—transforming Phnom Penh, within little more than a decade, into one of Asia's most dynamic cities.

"It was difficult at the beginning, as Cambodians had never heard of architects," Mr. Molyvann remembers. "All they knew were engineers and builders. There was a real dearth of qualified Khmer experts, as the French had used Vietnamese to administer my country. But within 10 years of independence the management of the country and its capital was Khmer. It was incredible."

Mr. Molyvann was made chief architect for state buildings and director for urban planning and habitat in 1956 and given a number of ministerial posts in the following years. "I was designing the Independence Monument and was asked to present the king with a selection of marble," he recalls. "I was too afraid to speak to him personally, but he made some suggestions and we got on perfectly after that." Shaped like a lotus flower, the monument tower, completed in 1960, remains one of Phnom Penh's landmarks.

Mr. Molyvann had part of the floodplain south of the Royal Palace drained and filled, and on this "Front de Bassac" constructed the country's first high-rises, initially for visiting athletes for the 1966 Ganefo Games, a short-lived Asian alternative to the Olympics.

"We built the stadium for 60,000 people and surrounded it with a moat, so that the waters could run off in the rainy season," he says.

Stefanie Irmer, whose KA Tours focuses on New Khmer Architecture, sees the relation between water and city as crucial to the architect's vision for Phnom Penh. "Besides creating the 'Front de Bassac' area from wetlands," she says, "almost every building Vann Molyvann designed was surrounded by water—to keep the termites out, but also to integrate the buildings into the flood plain."

Many of Mr. Molyvann's buildings are traditional in one sense—they are shaped like familiar objects. Chaktomuk Conference Hall, one of his earliest designs, is like an open palm leaf. The library of the Institute of Foreign Languages (now part of the Royal University of Phnom Penh) was inspired by a traditional Khmer straw hat. The lecture halls of the institute rest on sharply angled concrete pillars that give them the appearance of animals, about to jump. They are still in use today, as is the library.

By the early 1960s, for the first time in almost 800 years, Cambodia was blooming. The Angkor ruins were the region's biggest tourist draw, and Phnom Penh had doubled in size and become a city others in the region admired.

But the politics were turning ugly. Norodom Sihanouk, serving as prime minister, began to suppress dissent. By the mid-1960s, the U.S. had combat troops in Vietnam; as American planes began bombing North Vietnamese positions in Cambodia, the country's policy of neutrality became a farce. The former king's repressive policies alienated the political left and some rural Cambodians, who began to join a shadowy communist movement, the Khmer Rouge. Meanwhile, the right and military had become fed up with his capriciousness and nepotism. When he left to visit China in 1970, a coup replaced him with army general Lon Nol. The Swinging '60s, the meteoric rise of a young nation, the building boom in the "Pearl of Asia"—it was all over.

Mr. Molyvann remembers days with hard choices. "Shortly after Lon Nol came to power, the Israeli ambassador advised me to take my family out of the country," he says; the ambassador, a friend of his, warned him about the crumbling security and the increasing persecution of those connected with the previous government. So when Mr. Molyvann left for a conference in Israel, with his wife, Trudy, and their six children, they didn't return. Instead they moved on to Switzerland, his wife's home country.

Five years later, the Khmer Rouge marched victoriously into Phnom Penh. The new rulers immediately emptied the cities, and for almost four years Phnom Penh was a ghost town. At least 1.5 million Cambodians, nearly a quarter of the population—Mr. Molyvann's father among them—lost their lives in the killing fields. The fledgling intellectual elite was snuffed out.

"I had no contact during those years," says Mr. Molyvann. "I had to give my children a new life, so we stayed in Lausanne." He continued to work as an architect in Switzerland, Africa and Laos, for the United Nations and the World Bank. The Vietnamese pushed out the Khmer Rouge in 1979, but Mr. Molyvann "could not think of going back." The new rulers "were still communists."

"It was not until 1993 that I returned—with the U.N.," he says. Initially, his homecoming was triumphant. He was appointed minister of state for culture and fine arts, territorial management and urban planning and contributed to the application for Angkor's successful recognition as a Unesco World Heritage site.

But he soon realized that the Cambodia he had left behind in 1970 no longer existed. Cambodian People's Party leader Hun Sen, who had been installed by the Vietnamese and who continued as prime minister after the U.N.-organized elections, gave Mr. Molyvann back his villa, but the architect's plans for Siem Reap—the province in which Angkor is located—were unappreciated. He had called for a "tourist village" set apart from both the temples and the old town of Siem Reap, integrated into the environment and with water conservation as a key goal.

"The government wanted to use the resources of Angkor to develop Siem Reap without the participation of the local people," Mr. Molyvann says. "In 1998, I became president executive director of Apsara (Authority for the Protection and Safeguard of Angkor), the government body created to look after the temples. Three years later, I was fired." Unchecked development in Siem Reap has led to a dramatic drop in groundwater levels, causing subsidence that has put the Bayon, one of the main temples in the Angkor area, in danger of collapse, according to experts from the Japanese Conservation Team for Safeguarding Angkor. Development has also driven up property prices and the cost of living, a hardship for the locals in a province that remains one of the poorest in the country.

But it was not just the government and developers standing against Mr. Molyvann and his vision. Bill Greaves, director of the Vann Molyvann Project, a nongovernmental organization engaged in recreating the lost plans of the remaining New Khmer Architecture sites, thinks postwar Cambodia is simply not aware of its past.

"Right now, Singapore and Shanghai are models for forward-looking cities, both for the government and the people," he says. "Hence Phnom Penh's different stages of history are likely to be discarded."

In the past decade, as investment has begun to pour into the Cambodian capital once more, colonial and 1960s buildings have been replaced by chrome-and-glass edifices, floodwater lakes have been drained, local media have reported almost daily evictions and ministers have gushed over the need to build skyscrapers in order to keep up with the neighbors.

The government frequently declares that preservation has to go hand in hand with development. In practice, it seems to walk well behind. Beng Khemro, deputy director general at the ministry for land management, urban planning and construction, says his department's hands are tied. "Many historical properties are in terrible condition," he says. "The people who own them don't understand the value of the past and would rather demolish them and build high-rises to make a profit. The past is not appreciated. Without a change in attitude amongst the population, we are fighting a losing battle."

Cambodia has preservation laws, and Dr. Khemro says he is trying to pass a regulation to get them applied in particular instances. He'd like to try a pilot preservation project away from Phnom Penh, he says, noting that Cambodia's second-largest city, Battambang, has many buildings from the French period.

"Also," he adds, "there's less pressure."

Molyvann advocate Mr. Greaves is skeptical about the survival of the architect's legacy. "The old buildings disappear at an alarming rate—even public edifices like the National Theatre, which was knocked down a couple of years ago, are not safe. We try and get there before the demolition crews arrive."

A drive around town with Mr. Molyvann illustrates his curious position in this free-for-all scramble for change. At the Independence Monument, guards at first refuse him entry. Only after his driver reveals the distinguished visitor's identity is the master architect, old and frail, allowed to climb the steps he designed half a century ago.

Passing the stadium, Mr. Molyvann looks at the haphazard development around his favorite creation. Appropriated by developers with government connections, the moat has been partly filled in to make space for shops and an underground car park; the result is annual flooding that threatens the entire sports complex.

With equal shades of sadness and anger in his voice, Mr. Molyvann says, "Today, it's not the state who owns the old properties, but the ruling party, the CPP."

Tom Vater is a writer based in Bangkok.

"Kamnap Snaeh Chass Pduol Prah Loeu Kamnap Thmei (Tumteav 1)" a Poem in Khmer by Yim Guechsè

Cambodia in yet another bribe scandal: No surprise there with Hun Xen in power!!!

Hun Xen and the late Hy Lundok

Cambodia in bribe scandal: Australian MP

Thursday, 27 May 2010
David Boyle
The Phnom Penh Post

CAMBODIA has been potentially implicated in an international corruption scandal involving an Australian company accused of procuring prostitutes for foreign officials and offering them bribes in order to secure contracts to print bank-notes, an Australian senator said Tuesday.

Securency – a subsidiary of the Reserve Bank of Australia, which has a 50 percent stake in the company – manufactures polymer bank notes that are used in nearly 30 countries.

The Australian Federal Police (AFP) is already investigating whether the company’s commissioning agents offered huge bribes to officials in Malaysia, Vietnam, Nigeria and Indonesia.

At a federal senate committee hearing on Tuesday, Senator Bob Brown, leader of the Australian Greens party, indicated that Cambodia could be another country where agents employed by Securency have engaged in bribery.

“In the matter of Securency, government officials have been flagged as being involved in Vietnam, in Indonesia, in Nigeria, potentially in Nepal and South Africa and Cambodia, and a number of other countries,” he said.

At a meeting of the Australian federal senate’s economic reference committee last October, Brown identified Melbourne lawyer Daryl Dealehr as Securency’s commissioning agent in Cambodia.

Dealehr has ties to the families of Cambodia’s late and notorious national police chief Hok Lundy and Cambodia’s controversial Prime Minister, Hun Sen,” he said.

Dealehr, who could not be reached Wednesday, is the treasurer of the Cambodia Association of Mining and Exploration Companies (CAMEC), and the owner of the mining company Cambodian Resources Ltd.

Neav Chantana, vice governor of the National Bank of Cambodia, said Wednesday she was unaware of any corruption allegations against Securency, and that the bank had no dealings with the company.

AFP said in an emailed statement Tuesday that it would not be appropriate to comment on any potential expansion of its investigation to incorporate Cambodia, explaining it could “jeopardise the integrity of the investigation”.


"Oy Knea Nov Ae-na?!" a Poem in Khmer by Sam Vichea

Dr. Hoon Xhen, no texting during meeting please!

Hun Xen reading text on his mobile phone (Photo: DAP news)

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Sericulture Project to Increase Silk Yarn Production

By Chhun Kosal & Sam Campbell
Economics Today

As the decline of Cambodia’s millennial silk industry continues, its demise seems ever more inevitable. But Economics Today can reveal that Cambodia’s silk industry is in metamorphosis, hopefully to emerge stronger than ever.

Reliant on adding value by weaving and almost completely dependent on imported silk thread, Cambodia’s silk industry has been touch and go for some time. While some organizations continue to run workshops producing tiny amounts of high quality silk for export, it is clear these artisans can offer little to the thousands of Cambodian weavers staring unemployment in the face. Read the rest of the article at: Economics Today.

Drought in Cambodia

Report and Video by Uon Chhin, Radio Free Asia

Kong Nay asks that “Chapey” be included as a world heritage

Kong Nay (Photo: Lyda, RFI)

24 May 2010
By Chan Lyda
Radio France Internationale
Translated from Khmer by Socheata

បទ​យកការណ៍​របស់ ចាន់ លីដា

After surviving the Pol pot regime, currently, traditional Khmer art is facing with the flood of modern music. Kong Nay, a famous musician and Chapey singer from the 60s, is concerned about the loss of this unique ancient art. He asks that “Chapey” be quickly included as a world heritage treasure.

Cambodia's 2 opposition parties ally for elections

Kem Sokha (L) and Sam Rainsy (R) (Photo: RFA)

Tuesday, May 25, 2010
Asia News Network

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia -- The Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) and Human Rights Party (HRP), which are two main opposition parties in the Cambodian National Assembly, agreed Thursday in principle to establish a political alliance called the Democratic Movement of Change (DMC) for the upcoming elections.

The DMC is a new political force to lead and advance the country to have prosperity, according to the joint statement issued by both parties.

The upcoming elections include the 2012 commune council election and the 2013 general election

From Presidency to prison: A warning to all dictators in the world

Manuel Noriega (L) and Hun Xen (R)

From Presidency to prison

Tuesday, May 25, 2010
Ayaz Ahmed Pirzada
Pakistan Observer

Gen Manuel Noriega the former dictator of Panama ousted by the American military in 1989, has been refused immunity plea by a French court that as head of a country he could not be prosecuted for any criminal case. This was the second occasion a court refused to entertain plea for immunity. Earlier a US court dismissed this request in 1998 when he was hustled into USA after his capture in Panama. A Miami Judge gave him 20 years prison for money laundering and drug trafficking. Known as inmate number 38699-079 Noriega completed his jail term in the US on September 9, 2007 but was not released as the French government had asked the US authorities for his extradition to Paris to face criminal charges. Gen Noriega 73 was extradited to France on April 28,2010 where a French Judge refusing immunity found him guilty of money laundering and handed down a jail term of 10 years.

If no other cases are brought against him which is unlikely, he would be released at the of 83. Once a charismatic personality and happy go lucky type Noriega looked frail but at 73 he still inspires enough anxiety for government of Panama and still has some followers who love him. But in Panama, he faces legal problems as he was convicted in absentia of embezzlement and corruption, and for ordering the killing of political opponents. Although he faces up to 60 years in prison for those charges, Panamanian law allows older convicts to serve prison time at home. There is a long list of heads of state who were refused immunity, arrested, tried and in some cases punished for the crimes they committed. On October 16, 1998, London police arrested Chilean dictator Gen Augusto Pinochet. They were acting on a Spanish warrant charging the former dictator with human rights crimes committed in Chile during his seventeen-year rule. The British courts rejected Pinochle’s claim that he was entitled to immunity and ruled that he could be extradited to Spain to stand trial. Only his deteriorating mental capacity revealed in medical report, saved him from prosecution He was released in March 2000 and he returned home to Chile. In March 2002 the Court of Appeals of Brussels ordered Scheduling of hearing to assess the relevance of the ICJ decision in the case of Ariel Sharon the then Prime Minister of Israel accused of slaughtering hundreds of refugees at Sabra and Shatila in Beirut.

Milosevic, ‘Butcher of the Balkans’ was tried by an International Criminal Tribunal for corruption, mass murders and crime against humanity .The trial after Miloševiæ’s death under suspicious circumstances. After the arrest and trial of Milosevic, former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was arrested, tried and hanged in 2007.Liberian President Charles Taylor also sits in the dock in The Hague. Chad’s exiled former president, Hissène Habré, is to stand trial at a special court in Senegal while another corrupt and murderer of thousands of people, Khieu Samphan, the former president of the Khmer Rouge, is facing a U.N.-sponsored court in Cambodia for his part in “the killing fields” - the slaughter of his own people - nearly 30 years ago. Most recently, the International Criminal Court in The Hague has issued warrants for arrest of President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan for allegations of genocide. The Sudanese president became the first sitting head of state on March 4,2009 to be charged with war crimes by the international criminal court in The Hague. Radovan Karadzic was arraigned thirteen years after the Srebrenica genocide, when Bosnian Serb forces rounded up more than 7,500 Muslim men and boys and slaughtered them in cold blood.

Of all these leaders who were indicted, tried and punished for their crimes Noriega is the only leader whose ordeal does not seem to be anywhere near the end . Manuel Antonio Noriega Moreno a career soldier was the de facto leader and military dictator of Panama from 1983 to 1989. His biggest blunder perhaps was to join the recruits of the CIA He was initially a strong ally of the United States and according to statements made by former CIA Director Admiral Stan Field Turner in 1988; Noriega became a CIA “asset” in the early 1970s. Former President George. H. W .Bush during his tenure as Director of the CIA, had personally arranged annual payments to Noriega of $110,000. Noriega enhanced his position as de facto ruler in August 1983 by promoting himself to General .He was convinced that being a strongest man in Panama he would prolong his authority by becoming a CIA source and an ally to the U.S. Despite the canal treaties, he allowed the U.S. to set up listening posts in Panama, and acted as a diplomatic go-between with Cuban President Fidel Castro.

He aided the pro-American forces in El Salvador and Nicaragua by acting as a conduit for American money and weapons. However, Noriega insists that his policy during this period was essentially neutral, allowing the warring parties on both sides of the various conflicts free movement in Panama as long as they did not attempt to use Panama as a base of military operations. He rebuffed requests by Salvadorean rightist Roberto D’Aubuisson to restrict the movements of Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (leftist Salvadorian insurgent) leaders in Panama, and likewise rebuffed demands by American Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North that he provide military assistance to the Nicaraguan Contras. Noriega insists that his refusal to meet North’s demands was the actual basis for the U.S. campaign to oust him. Noriega was accused of amassing huge illegal money and used the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI) as a means to launder his wealth ($20 million). His personal banker, Amjad Awan, a Pakistani senior manager at BCCI handled Noriega’s accounts. He was convicted of money laundering after a lengthy trial in Tampa, Fla.

Holding individuals accountable for involvement in international wrongdoings, corruption, and heinous crimes is a modern concept which has legitimately taken root during the last five decades. A case against Ariel Sharon in a European court illustrates substantive shifts in international customary law regarding questions of jurisdiction and immunity. With every passing year, the dominoes of impunity keep falling, first Europe, then the Middle East, then Africa. And they continue to fall every where. These days the world lawyers community is asking the question when another president will ever be charged for wrong doings, looting the resources of his nation and punished accordingly. A growing number of Pakistanis are voicing for making President Zardari as the next head of state to face accountability, at home or abroad. Their demand is based on the Supreme Court verdict directing the government to send a fresh request to the Swiss authorities to reopen cases of money laundering, kick backs, illegal income etc. But so far the decision is being frustrated by the government‘s defiance, showing scant respect for the judiciary.

Khmer dinner will raise awareness for Cambodian charity

Khmer dinner will raise awareness for Cambodian charity

By Editor
Everything Long Beach

Cambodian Awareness Organization at the University of California, Irvine is a newly-founded club dedicated to bringing Cambodia and its culture to the front of public thought. The service-based club believes in helping loving and caring for others.

The charity group will host their first Cultural Charity Banquet on Saturday, May 29, 2010 at 6:00 p.m. at Recreation 18-hole Golf Course, 5001 Deukmejian Drive. Doors open at 5:30 p.m.

A full-course Khmer dinner will be served family-style outside in a beautiful garden with a gazebo. Attire for the evening is semi-formal. Guests are encouraged to come decked out in their best Khmer outfit.

There will be a silent auction with many hand-made items.

Performances include: Khmer classical dance, rap, singing, a showcase of CAO, debut of the full version of the song “Show the World We Exist” and more. Speakers for the evening will include Prany Sananikone, Director of Diversity Relations and educational programs, Office of Equal Opportunity and Diversity (OEOD), at the University of California, Irvine, and another special guest as yet unnamed.
This coming Summer 2010, CAO will make a trip to Cambodia as an exchange with the university students at Panasastra University in Phnom Penh with a goal of doing humanitarian work among the village poor in Cambodia. Funds raised during this event will go towards providing for the needy in different provinces of Cambodia, more specifically towards poor children and orphans.

Even those that are unable to attend the event can still make contributions. Donors that give more than $10 will receive a free CAO t-shirt. Include your address along with your donations and tax-deductible receipts can be issued. All profits go towards the poor children in Cambodia.

Tickets must be purchased by May 26 and are $35, or $22 for students. Student id’s will be checked at the door. Tickets may be purchased online at or make checks payable to “Cambodian Awareness Organization” and send to: Attn: Phanith Rama Sovann, 438 Stanford Court, Irvine, CA 92612.

For more information about the Cambodian Awareness Organization or to make a reservation for the charity dinner, please contact Phanith Rama Sovann at (562) 522-4217 or

Sam Rainsy lost to Hor 5 Hong on appeal

24 May 2010
Translated from Khmer by Socheata

Opposition leader Sam Rainsy’s defense lawyer in France indicated on Sunday that, on 20 May 2010, the French appeal court had decided to stay on the decision handed down by the tribunal of first instance in the lawsuit brought up by Hor 5 Hong against Sam Rainsy. Didier Alla, Sam Rainsy’s defense lawyer told this news to The Phnom Penh Post, and that the appeal court issued this decision on 20 May. Didier Alla added: “What was decided by the tribunal of first instance will be preserved.” Sam Rainsy lost his case in the defamation lawsuit brought up by Hor 5 Hong at the tribunal of first instance last year. He was ordered to pay 1 euro in damage compensation to Hor 5 Hong. Hor 5 Hong said that, in his autobiography, Sam Rainsy accused him of leading the Boeng Trabek re-education center where diplomats and officials from the Lon Nol and Sangkum Reastr Niyum (Sihanouk) regimes were jailed and/or killed during the KR regime.

Red, Yellow, and Roots of Thai Turmoil

Angkor Wat bas-relief: Notice two types of troops in the Khmer Army, the Khmers on the left carrying shields, disciplined and keeping in rank. The ‘Syem’, either referring to their dark skin or possibly Siamese, were mercenaries stand in front of the main Khmer army. Probably as cannon fodder to wear down the opposition. Notice their generally ill-disciplined manner and long, unkempt hair. These troops, the Khmer army, march towards a battle against the Cham, who came from what is now Vietnam. (Source: The Southeast Asian Archaelogy Newsblog)

Monday, May 24, 2010
Op-Ed by MP

THE current political turmoil in Thailand is only the latest fission in a long suppressed socio-historical tension that can be traced back to the conception and evolution of the 'Siamese' dynasty as distinct from its closest cousin and rival that broke away to form the separate Kingdom of Laos. Some scholars assert that Siamese - a derivative of the word ‘Siem’ as in ‘Siem Reap’ in Khmer is a pejorative term meaning 'swarthy' (having a dark skin). Whether there is veracity to this assertion, successive Thai historians and nationalists have felt offended enough by the use as well as the implied or embedded connotations of the term to have demanded its replacement by the more acceptable adjective 'Thai' - meaning ‘free’ or freemen - in formal usage, which is in turn, a rendition of the ethnographic pronoun of T'ai, a reference to that linguistic group that would have once enclosed the forebears of the modern day peoples of Laos and 'Siam' as well as clusters of ethnic T'ai descends to be found still in Southern China today under the same bracket.

Inscriptions at Angkor also mentioned 'Siem Kuk' - Siamese war slaves or prisoners - and this fact has done little since to assuage the slighted sentiment of the Thai elite. Nevertheless, as a family grouping, they were, perhaps, as varied and eclectic as the Khmer-Mon linguistic entity. Note also the striking similarities between the Laotian and Thai languages - to unaccustomed ears both peoples could almost be mistaken for speaking the same tongue. Be that as it may, ambition, rivalry, historical animosity between the two ruling Houses, aided by (mostly, partial Thai scholars) have much to do with the way generations of Thais have distanced themselves from what they have been led to look down upon as sub-civilised, inferior races that now make up the main plank of the rural poor of Isan or the North-East - the stronghold of the so-called Red Shirts.

In the main, and at a risk of oversimplifying, Thailand’s political unrest can be viewed from two broad, but closely interlinked perspectives: 1) the historical perspective and, 2) the socio-economic perspective.

1) From the first perspective, Thai society can be seen as characterised by racial ethnic divisions and tensions that are the de facto legacy of Siamese aggrandisement and imperialism from the moment the first Thai state emerged and Thai civilisation created in supersession of the great Khmer civilisation that made possible that creation. By themselves ethnic patterns and distinctions are not necessarily sufficient ingredients for such a violent fracture – this may require other forces to give them cohesion or potency – yet they remain enduring, unwedded, or more accurately, unassimilated outlines illustrating the far from settled business of empire building as a historical process itself. In other words, Thai society, despite having enjoyed marked material progress in the modern era compared to the economic limbo that most of her neighbours have been in, is far from a melting pot success that successive Thai dynasties would have yearned for. The social neglect of the former provinces of Laos and Cambodia, or the subjects of the former Khmer Empire has been more a product of lack of interest on the part of Thai rulers than Thai or Siamese racism or deliberate ethnic discrimination per se. Although racial/ethnic sentiment can drive public policies, such prejudice should not be attributed to an overall ethnic majority, but to - at most - a handful of autocratic opportunists, who claim to represent that majority. This situation is precisely the case with Thailand’s semi-democratic, feudalistic stage in political economic development, which leads to the discussion of the second perspective.

2) Traditionally, analysts have identified the ‘Three Ms’ of Thai Monarchy, Military and Monks as the forces that bind together Thai society. While this model of explanation may facilitates our understanding somewhat and to an extent, I do feel it is rather superfluous a model, and may even mislead us into thinking that the Sangha or the Clergy who certainly have moral, ceremonial influence over lay community are in a position to translate that influence into effective political action, or that the Military is an autonomous institution only occasionally rolling the tanks onto the streets of Bangkok to enforce democratic mandate or referee political disputes.

It is also widely believed that the world’s longest reigning monarch today is an absolute Autocrat who wields decisive power in Thai politics conforming political outcomes to his personal wishes and agenda. My hunch is that while the King is certainly one of the wealthiest man in the world today, his overall political influence is more apparent than real. As in most developing, modernising economies – and more so in established post-industrial economies – a whole new powerbase of industrial economic elites in combination are the real powerhouses behind Thai political institutions. They may be Siamese, Sino-Thai, Sino-Khmer or whatever in origin, but they are the exclusive 2 percent of the entire population who command between them 80-90 percent of Thailand’s economic wealth. The economic status of the King alone allows us to place him legitimately among that 2 percent, and by way of deduction, we can also add Thaksin Shinawatra – the man who inspires and finances the Red Shirts’ mutiny – to that list.

Thaksin may not be the philanthropist that he wants his followers to think he is, but his definition of life’s success is in line with a family motto of ruthlessly and relentlessly strengthening and expanding infinitely his personal empire and that was what drove him into Thai politics in the first place. So instead of viewing the long neglected rural poor of Thailand as a burden and handicap for his administration, he proactively set about positively altering their economic conditions, banking on their reciprocated loyalty and political allegiance as fair rewards for his sacrifice and fruits of his labour. Where the Monarchy is content to let its traditional popular image be exploited in return for being allowed to conserve and add to its vast wealth through Crown Properties and other royal privileges, and where many of his rivals understood and accepted the rules and limits of patronage building, Mr Thaksin appeared to have trampled upon those sacred, unspoken vows, and inevitably aroused consternation and provoked ire among the Thai elite by effectively making a complete mockery of their carefully propped up White Elephant that is the Thai Monarchy.

This, in a nutshell, represents my view of the current Thai unrest. It is not meant nor pretended to be authoritative in any way, but a joiner to on-going public debate. I also hope my Thai friends find some positives in this amateur reflection and recognise that I have endeavoured to be as constructive and polite as the subject matter allows. I could prolong the discussion further by suggesting what needs to be done, but I think the Thai people know that already – perhaps better and more firmly than I do – that the Will of the people is something paramount and thus irresistible and is bound to prevail in the end, even if it takes longer than one would desire.

Saved by the crown [-Can Cambodia claim the same?]

King Sihamoni of Cambodia (R) (Photo: AP)

What monarchs offer modern democracy

May 23, 2010
By Joshua Kurlantzick
Boston Globe
(Massachusetts, USA)

The tumultuous past two months in world politics have brought a surprise with them: Suddenly, monarchy seems relevant again.

In Belgium, where the fragile government constantly is on the verge of collapse, King Albert II has been essential in trying to prevent its dissolution, mediating between leading politicians and pushing them back to the bargaining table. After Britain’s recent election, as politicians from the Labor, Conservative, and Liberal Democrat parties struggled to negotiate a ruling coalition, Queen Elizabeth’s presence reminded Britons that the country retained institutions that would prevent it from really melting down.

And most notably, in Thailand, the chaos that has ruled the streets of Bangkok stems partly from fear over the country’s future after the eventual death of increasingly frail 82-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who has helped resolve past political crises by forcing the leaders of the army and the demonstrators to meet and reconcile. Without him, notes James Ockey of the University of Canterbury in New Zealand, “Thailand may not be able to resolve future crises without major conflict.”

The idea of a monarch may seem like an anachronism in a 21st-century democracy, a relic of an earlier era in which a small elite intermarried and ruled much of the world, while most average people had no say. And to be sure, in states where kings and sultans still actually rule, like Brunei, Jordan, and Morocco, monarchs can be every bit as oppressive and opaque as any other dictatorship. Morocco’s King Mohamed VI, for example, presides over “repressive legislation to punish and imprison peaceful opponents,” according to Human Rights Watch. In Brunei, Jefri, the brother of the ruling sultan, allegedly embezzled billions in state funds, which he spent on some 2,000 cars and a lasciviously named royal yacht, among other items.

But in Europe and parts of Asia, many politicians, political scientists, and citizens have lately developed greater respect for the positive role a constitutional monarch can play in democracy. As in Belgium, monarchs can be arbiters of last resort when elected politicians cannot resolve deep divisions. They can offer their nations a unifying figure to prevent political crises from spiraling into something worse. And in an era of partisanship and diminished individual rights, monarchs can serve as a means of stability in a democracy that might otherwise tear itself apart. A.W. Purdue, author of the book “Long to Reign?”, argues that a king or queen “enables change to take place within a frame of continuity.”

Some political scientists have even argued for reviving defunct monarchies in the interest of democracy, especially in developing nations where monarchs could serve as figures of national unity to prevent ethnic and tribal bloodletting. Cambodia did so in the early 1990s following its civil wars, and the king helped inspire average Cambodians and heal wounds after the Khmer Rouge era. After the toppling of the Taliban in 2001, Afghanistan welcomed back former king Zahir Shah to launch the Loya Jirga and serve as a figure of unity as political parties bargained to build Afghan democracy. In Iraq, Sharif Ali bin Hussein, a descendant of the last monarch, has begun publicly arguing that a constitutional monarchy could help reduce the vicious ethnic and sectarian divides roiling the country. In Laos, where people can see the Thai monarchy on Thai television broadcasts, the exiled royal family has become a rallying point for some opponents of the authoritarian government. Southeast Asia academic Michael Vatikiotis argues, in an essay pushing for a return of the crown in neighboring Burma, that monarchy provided a unifying factor in that diverse society — a unifier ripped away during British colonial rule and never effectively replaced.

“The forlorn hope of progressive political change in Burma using all modern means,” he writes, “suggests that reaching back in time and resurrecting the long-dismantled monarchy could provide a prescription.”

Although the House of Windsor dominates global media coverage of monarchy, in reality 12 European countries still have monarchs, as do Cambodia, Japan, Thailand, Malaysia, Bhutan, and other nations. Despite occasional republican movements that attempt to end the monarchy, polls show strong support for the crown in nearly every nation that has one. In the Netherlands, 70 percent of respondents in one poll wanted to retain the monarchy; in Spain, 65 percent of respondents supported it; in Japan, the number was 82 percent. In many of these countries, poll respondents have more respect for the monarchy than any other public institution.

Many modernizing countries have found that a monarch provides a source of authority and national identity that stands apart from political squabbles. He or she can serve simply as a figurehead, or more substantively as a kind of independent power center that can check the worst impulses of elected politicians, in the way that a Supreme Court or House of Lords might.

Although a ceremonial president can fill this role, as in Israel or Germany, the monarch has a unique claim on the public imagination. Neil Blain, an expert on modern monarchies at the University of Stirling in Britain, says the monarch’s symbols, like the scepter and crown, can’t be replicated by a ceremonial president. The queen, he says, “attests, however mythically, to the country’s political stability and enduring historical foundations.”

“The English do not wish to see the queen on a bicycle,” he says, “because from where people stand here she looks just right in a Rolls-Royce Phantom or better still, a horse-drawn carriage.”

In developing nations, modern monarchs can do more than provide links to the past — they can help usher in democracy. In Bhutan, King Jigme Singye Wangchuck pushed his once-isolated country toward its first truly democratic elections. In Spain, King Juan Carlos midwifed a new Spanish democracy after dictator Francisco Franco’s death. In Cambodia, King Norodom Sihanouk returned to the country after the wars of the 1970s and 1980s and helped oversee a transition to democracy in the 1990s that brought the country a vibrant, if sometimes rough and bloody, democracy.

Some of these monarchs also helped bring economic and cultural modernization. The royals of Bhutan have prodded their citizens to embrace the Internet, satellite television, international trade, and other modern changes. Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah, though not a constitutional monarch, has been credited with pushing for social and economic reforms that have diluted the power of the conservative religious establishment and pushed the kingdom to invest in science and technology education.

European monarchy experts also now see a growing role for kings and queens at a time when countries are becoming more diverse. As democracies take in more and more immigrants, and countries give up some of their national identities to superstructures like the European Union, these changes can make national unity more difficult, and a monarch can serve to welcome newcomers and help them feel like citizens.

Sweden’s king, Carl XVI Gustaf, for example, has used the monarchy to integrate immigrants. In one famous speech, he said that “new Swedish citizens...have come here from countries all over the world...under these circumstances it is precisely the strength of the monarchy that the king can be an impartial and uniting symbol.” The Netherlands’ queen, Beatrix, has used royal speeches to call for tolerance at a time when right-wing anti-Islamic politicians have made headway among the Dutch public.

Scholars of monarchy also suggest that, in an era of tightening internal security and control, when elected politicians are amassing previously unheard-of powers and courts are loath to challenge them, a monarch can safeguard public freedom. Eamonn Butler, director of the Adam Smith Institute, a think tank in London, recently argued in the Financial Times that Queen Elizabeth has stood aside too often while the prime minister has become too powerful, but that she remains a figure, under the British constitution, who could check the executive’s power. “The only solution is to make our current constitution work,” Butler wrote. “It certainly means having a monarch who is prepared to intervene on behalf of the people.” In fact, Britain’s unelected House of Lords — often criticized as a relic of a vanished feudal aristocracy — has played a similar function, trying to limit the British government’s surveillance efforts and other new powers.

Similarly, in Cambodia former King Sihanouk (who has since stepped aside because of health reasons and now holds the title of King Father), frequently clashed with Prime Minister Hun Sen, who is elected but has amassed near-dictatorial powers in his office. Sihanouk frequently criticized Hun Sen’s strongman tactics, and invoked the royal institution as the protector of average people abused by the prime minister.

Monarchs, however, must walk a very fine line. Because today’s constitutional monarchs’ power is so nebulous, to use it effectively they must be extremely careful in wielding it.

In Thailand, King Bhumibol Adulyadej frequently has used public speeches to criticize what he sees as politicians who are too venal or power-hungry — which sometimes has veered into a political alignment with Bangkok-oriented elite parties and against parties aligned with rural people, who came to Bangkok and eventually led the demonstrations that resulted in violence. “The palace is thus very much in politics, although the general myth is that the king is above politics,” says Irene Stengs, an expert on the Thai monarchy at the Meertens Institute in the Netherlands.

In fact, the king sanctioned the 2006 coup, after it happened, that deposed populist former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. With these actions, Bhumibol — who is protected from public criticism by strict lese majeste laws — has chipped away some of the respect he earned over decades. Among the “red shirts” battling the government, one has begun to hear anti-monarchical sentiments, though they are careful not to disdain the current monarch. In contrast to many previous rallies in Bangkok, the red shirts did not hold up noticeable photos of the king this time — interpreted as a sign of distrust of the palace.

Nepal’s royal family recently learned of the devastating consequences when a king overtly takes sides. After a Maoist insurgency rooted in the rural regions challenged Nepal’s parliamentary government in the late 1990s and early 2000s, then-King Gyanendra in 2005 took control of the government himself and attempted to dominate the security forces and to wipe out the Maoist movement. The suppression failed, even parliament turned against the crown, and the Maoists eventually took power in Kathmandu as part of a power-sharing agreement. In 2008, with Gyanendra’s reputation in tatters, Nepal created a republic and abolished the monarch, and Gyanendra moved out of his palace like a delinquent tenant.

For now, most of the other constitutional monarchies seem to have absorbed the lessons of places like Nepal. In Spain, Juan Carlos, though given an extremely conservative education and hailing from a conservative background, has worked with politicians from across the ideological spectrum. In Britain, even as the Labor, Conservative, and Liberal Democrat parties haggled with one another about forming a new government, Queen Elizabeth did not appear in public to bless any of their leaders — although she personally, according to Britain’s Daily Telegraph, disdained the Labor policies of Tony Blair. And according to British tradition, when the new Parliament convenes for the first time and the government formally announces its agenda for the year, the person who reads the speech — as she always does, no matter who is setting the policies — will be the Queen.

Joshua Kurlantzick is Fellow for Southeast Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations. He can be reached at


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