We would like to tell the story of what educated people feared the most under the Khmer Rouge regime and look at what it is that educated people worry about in today's society.
I KNOW "ABC...",
so I'm scared
Fear to many people can be fear of loss, of making mistakes, of being hated. During the Khmer Rouge regime though, Cambodian people lived with constant fear every day. Educated people feared their background or previous job could be revealed which would make them enemies in the eyes of the party. “Fear” was always present - every single day. In contrast to that, in today's Cambodia, people usually love to show their knowledge and education, they like sharing their experiences to help society. But even today, educated people worry that social instability can affect them.
Cambodia experienced a civil war from 1970 to 1979, a war with dramatic consequences. Before the Khmer Rouge, Cambodian society was rich in people eager to learn and use their education for the good of the country in both economic and cultural terms. But when the Khmer Rouge took power on 17 April 1975, they established a new political system. This regime left deep scars which many Cambodians don't want to remember or talk about. The world now regards these years under the Khmer Rouge as a terrible genocide.
Educated people were the main targeted group to be killed. Therefore, many of the country's elite were killed and only few educated people managed to survive. After years of thinking that education was a good thing to serve the country, many educated people suddenly had to hide their knowledge and skills if they wanted to survive.
In Phnom Pneh, a former school building used to teach students was changed to prison for detaining and torturing people.
“I do not regret that I did not use my knowledge to help the people. I was only thinking of how to survive.”
A man who now is 79, was willing to share his recollections and memories about the Khmer Rouge regime with us. Before the new rulers came to power he'd worked at the state hospital Monivong and the private hospital Bayon. Hesitating to give his full name, the man asked us to simply call him Heng. Back during the Khmer Rouge regime he was 38 years old. He was forced to flee from Phnom Penh to Kampong Cham with his family. He needed to lie and cover up the fact that he was educated and had worked as a doctor. Had the authorities found out, they most likely would have killed him.
Heng trembled with fear whenever he saw people in the village who were put on a truck and disappeared. He told us that those people were educated people. Most of them were teachers. He heard that those people were killed by Khmer Rouge soldiers. Heng was constantly afraid that one day, the Khmer Rouge officials would find out about his past and would kill him as well.
Chhengpor hopes to see a positive impact of using his education for society. As an educated person in modern Cambodia, he fears the potential for misunderstanding among people if the are exposed to misinformation.
"I fear that people get wrong information which might lead them to
making wrong decisions."