For the first time since the early 1980s, no official gathering took place to mark the May 20 “Day of Hate,” a yearly reminder of the atrocities committed by the Khmer Rouge regime during the 1970s.
The “Day of Hate,” a national holiday during the time of the 1980s Vietnamese-backed government, was dropped from the national calendar after the 1991 Paris Peace Accords.
The CPP, however, continued to observe the anniversary with large party rallies at which people were invited to vent their anger over their sufferings under the 1975-78 regime. Last year’s gathering in Takhmau attracted 1,000 people, including Second Prime Minister Hun Sen and National Assembly President Chea Sim.
But this year, there were no live gatherings, just the transmission on several television stations of films and documentaries about the 1970s regime, including the Oscar-award-winning film, “The Killing Fields.”
CPP officials Wednesday attributed the change in style to the ongoing effort to register voters in time for the forthcoming elections.
“This year we did not organize the meeting because we want people to go and register,” said CPP Cabinet Chief Ith Sam Heng. “But on the television we show about the genocide. The CPP is always against the genocide, because it is the enemy of the nation and of the world.”
But observers suggested different motives behind the decision for a more low-key observance.
“This excuse is so poor that it is obvious registration is not the reason,” one analyst said Wednesday. “The reason is mainly because of recent defections of Khmer Rouge to the government. If they continue to celebrate the Day of Hate, then it means they still hate those who have come over to their side. It would not be very comfortable for them.”
Whatever the reason, Wednesday’s screening of “The Killing Fields” on Apsara television drew many Phnom Penh residents to local coffee shops and restaurants to relive their experiences or learn about the suffering of their predecessors.
For Sin Nang, a 41-year-old vegetable seller, the film struck a chord with her own experiences in a labor camp where she saw four members of her family killed.
“This is the true story, not invented, because this is how they killed people, by working without stopping,” she said. “Right now I am still knotted with anger to see these events again, and I can never forget all these things in my mind.”
Kun Eng, who was only two years old when Phnom Penh fell to the Khmer Rouge, said that although the cruelty depicted in the film appalled him, he could not apportion blame for events he had no real memory of, nor could he be sure that they really happened.
“I cannot say who was responsible for these events, but it seems beyond my belief that they killed so many people of their own race,” he said.
It is attitudes like Kun Eng’s that make 60-year-old In Pheang determined to keep the painful memories alive.
“I had 10 relatives brutally killed by the Pol Pot soldiers,” he said, pointing to their actor counterparts on the screen. “I want to remind my children, and the generation after, to keep hold of their anger. I am still angry.”
But some people, even of In Pheang’s generation, believe it is time to let go of the country’s bitter past and end this kind of observance altogether.
“The government has shown this kind of story many times,” said Phon, 57. “They should stop screening all of this because it makes people keep on thinking about sad, regretful things.”