chapter  3
37 Pages

From genocide to elections to coup d’état: Public space in Cambodia’s transitional political economy

It is hard to pinpoint a time in Cambodian history when the people’s troubles began, as it would seem that the country has always been caught between Scylla and Charybdis. The precarious circumstances in which Cambodia has often found itself have to a great extent been influenced and determined by its geography. Located in the very heart of Indochina, Cambodia sits on the fringes of two of the world’s most influential cultural traditions, the Indo and the Sino. The place name “Indochina” can only begin to hint at some of the difficulties Cambodia surely faced as two very different cultural influences staked out their claims in the Mekong Delta region. Even closer to home, the land of Cambodia sits directly between two powerful neighbors, the Thai and the Vietnamese, both of whom have long had an interest in determining the affairs of the Cambodian people. More recently, the French saw Cambodia, along with Laos and Vietnam, as an opportunity to buttress their position in the Far East against the influence of other European colonizing nations. In the 1960s and 1970s Cambodia bore witness to a high stakes and deadly proxy war fought between the Soviet Union and the United States (US) in neighboring Vietnam. Despite the best efforts of Cambodia’s leader at the time, Prince Norodom Sihanouk, this Cold War showdown spilled over into Cambodia’s borders, setting off a series of events that ultimately resulted in genocide. Cambodia was once again a victim of its own geography.