In August 1978, shortly before the fall of Democratic Kampuchea, Gunnar Bergstroem visited Cambodia as a Khmer Rouge sympathizer. He and three other members of the Swedish-Cambodian Friendship Association took a two-week propaganda tour of the country and dined with Pol Pot at the Royal Palace.
On Sunday, he returned to Cambodia for another tour—this time to repudiate his earlier visit. Now 57, Bergstroem works as a drug counselor in the north of Sweden and gave up his Maoism long ago.
Today he will visit Tuol Sleng, Choeung Ek and the Khmer Rouge tribunal; on Tuesday, an exhibit of photos taken by his delegation in 1978 will open at Tuol Sleng and the Reyum art gallery. He will then embark on a speaking tour, organized by the Documentation Center of Cambodia, of five Cambodian provinces, where he will show the photos and discuss his experiences. DC-Cam has also published a book of the photographs, complete with Bergstroem’s annotations of his reactions then and now. He spoke with The Cambodia Daily’s Rollo Romig at DC-Cam headquarters Sunday afternoon.
Q. Why did you decide to return to Cambodia?
A. I had to think about this. What’s the point? First, it’s personal—to somehow make things right, if that’s possible. And I want to encourage critical thinking.
We have a friendship association with Cuba in Sweden and they use the same arguments we used: ‘Well, Cuba’s basically good, so we can excuse that some writers are locked up, there aren’t so many.’ Today I think that every time you take one step away from freedom of speech, freedom of movement, elections, you’re on a sliding scale, and the idea that we will move back to democracy later—that never happens. So if I’ve learned something, I’ve learned that.
I looked out the window just now and saw two monks on the street, and I remember my own self-censorship. Of course I knew that