Globalization Blamed for Decline of Culture

Decades of civil war, especially under the Khmer Rouge regime, have been blamed for the steep decline of Cambodian culture, social morality and the dignity of people.

But one local academic issued a warning last week at a Cam­bodian culture research congress about another factor: globalization.

Chhay Yiheang, a philosophy instructor at the Royal University of Phnom Penh, said globalization is greatly affecting the revitalization of post-war cultural and social values, and blamed the government for not taking  stron­g­­er action to promote local culture.

He blamed the high rate of pre-marital abortions among teen-agers on the influx of “spoiling foreign culture,” and said tough, sustainable action needs to be taken to control negative culture.

“I am not against the globalization and revolution of technology,” Chhay Yiheang told more than 300 researchers and students gathered at the university. “We accept foreign culture that is helpful to us. But if we get it, don’t make it anarchic.”

Leang Pichara, a democracy project leader for Cambodian Researchers for Development, challenged Chhay Yiheang.

“Are the cultures of acid attack and impunity affected by the globalization you commented on?” Leang Pichara asked. “I have never seen such a culture of impunity [anywhere else] in the world. Even Pino­chet was ta­ken to trial,” he added, re­ferring to the former dictator of Chi­le who battled for years to avoid prosecution for alleged misconduct.

Since Cambodia has opened itself to the world and espo­used free market values, Chhay Yi­heang said, there has been a deterioration of morals in the younger generation. He blamed what he calls “the free, uncontrolled flow of foreign cultures” brought into Cam­bodia by television. “If you watch local channels and think about it, you will realize how harmful [television is] to our nice culture.”

He compared the slow style of Khmer dancing with the faster Thai style shown on TV. “Culturally speak­ing, such small [differences] are a bigger danger to our culture and arts.”

He used the example of wedding parties where people cut Western-style cakes and then smear it on faces. The bride and groom are often asked to lick the cake off each other’s face. “How anarchic this licking culture is,” Chhay Yiheang said as laughter erupted from his audience.  “I’ve often been to Paris and elsewhere in Europe, and I’ve never seen anything this bad. This is a form of foreign culture we play with that is not appropriate.”

He acknowledged that Cam­bodian society cannot avoid being affected by globalization, describing it as a process that will provoke more materialism and competition. “We won’t go against glo­balization, and we won’t close the door like Pol Pot,” Chhay Yi­heang said. “But we want to control it for the survival of our rich culture.”


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