Experts from Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Thailand and France gathered at the National Library Tuesday to discuss what must be done to rebuild Cambodia’s tattered literary heritage.
The session marked the beginning of a three-day seminar organized by the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs on how to salvage neglected literary works, establish a system of libraries and develop a vibrant publishing industry.
But much more was discussed, from the future of Cambodia’s intellectuals and scholars to the role the new commune councils may play in nurturing the nation’s evolving culture.
“A nation cannot be strong unless it is rich in academics who are trained to think philosophically,” said Dr Ros Chantrabot of the Institute of Humanities and Social Science.
Ros Chantrabot, one of the featured panelists, said Cambodia lags behind other countries in the region because so many highly educated people were killed during the Khmer Rouge regime.
He said the quality of Cambodian writing has suffered greatly in the years since. It is fortunate that growing numbers of students are pursuing the advanced education necessary to create a new intellectual class, he said.
The Royal Academy of Cambodia now offers two master’s degree programs, he said. Sixty students joined the free two-year program when it began last year, while 70 enrolled this year, Ros Chantrabot said. The plan is for graduates to work for the academy for five years.
He also noted that for the brief period in the late 1960s when newspapers enjoyed real freedom, the public’s hunger for scholarship was apparent.
Nouth Narang, former minister of culture, said he hopes the new commune councils to be elected in February will play a role in renewing Cambodian intellectual life and fending off foreign cultural influences.
New ideas and forms of art can bubble up from the grass roots instead of being imposed by a small elite, he said.