AAS Annual Meeting

Southeast Asia Session 63

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Session 63: Transborder Perspectives on Post-Genocide Cambodia: Temporalities, Poetics, and Politics

Organizer: Alvin C Lim, Longus Institute for Development and Strategy, Singapore

Chair: Chhany Sak-Humphry, University of Hawaii, Manoa, USA

Discussant: Chhany Sak-Humphry, University of Hawaii, Manoa, USA

The radical provocation of the past two decades of high profile international intervention can be viewed as the latest movement in the deep spiral repetition of transborder mediations on the history of the bounded territory we identify today as Cambodia. Interrogating subject matter as diverse as ideological development, diasporic identity, literary aesthetics, and non-governmental organization (NGO) efforts to translate across the borders of class, experience and status in the cosmopolitan milieu, our panelists take seriously the disruptive and productive challenge of power and difference in contemporary Cambodia. In his discussion of his interview with Nuon Chea, Frank Cibulka will examine the cross-border influences on the former Khmer Rouge leader’s fateful political education. Next, Shihlun Allen Chen will analyze the floating transborder identities of the Chinese in colonial and post-colonial Cambodia. Following this, Mariko Miyahira will investigate the relationship between local dynamics and international justice initiatives in her examination of the involvement of Cambodian NGOs in the transitional justice process. Finally, Alvin Cheng-Hin Lim will deploy Jacques Rancière’s theorization of the distribution of the sensible to offer an aesthetico-political treatment of Cambodian literature. Chhany Sak-Humphry will serve as chair and discussant for the panel.

Frank Cibulka, Zayed University, United Arab Emirates

The paper will be centered on an oral history project which includes a rare exclusive interview with Nuon Chea, the former high ranking political leader of the Khmer Rouge. He has been known as ‘Brother Number Two,’ reflecting his political ranking in the genocidal regime which ruled Cambodia from 1975-1979. He served as a Deputy General Secretary of the Cambodian Communist Party, as the chairman of Cambodia’s legislature during the Khmer Rouge period, and was allegedly its chief ideologist. He is also regarded by many as the chief architect of the regime’s campaign of terror. He is a man of Sino-Khmer origin with Thai education, whose embrace of a universalistic ideology led him to preside over a campaign of genocide which stunned the international community. I interviewed Nuon Chea in August 2007 in the former Khmer Rouge stronghold of Pailin, just weeks before his arrest by the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, set up to examine alleged crimes against humanity. The paper will examine the circumstances and the content of the interview, the political career of Nuon Chea with a particular focus on cross-border influences upon his political development and fortunes, and will conclude with a consideration of moral implications of dealing with alleged perpetrators of genocide, whether as sources of information and objects of research, or as targets of judicial punishment.

Cambodian Non-Governmental Organizations’ Role In Cambodia’s Endeavor To Deal With The Past: The Case Of Ngo Contribution For The Transitional Justice Process
Mariko Miyahira , University of Hawaii, Japan

Transitional Justice (TJ) norms have become increasingly influential in promoting a range of options for societies newly emerging from conflict. In order to examine why and how such international norms spread, an important question of agency that identifies actors and their motivations in joining TJ needs to be addressed. Through the incorporation of literatures going beyond that of TJ (including international aid, local cultural and historical context, and norms diffusion), supplemented with interview data with 14 NGO workers and field notes, this study endeavors to assess the state of Cambodian NGO’s work in the country’s TJ process and identify potential challenges they face. Based on a constructivist approach to international norms that highlights the power of norms, this study pays particular attention to 1) the establishment of TJ institutions and the incentives it gives to different domestic actors, 2) NGO outreach as the sites for reconciling potential difference in international norms and domestic dynamics, 3) the nature of NGO-International coalition, and 4) memorialization practices in Cambodia. In this way, this study demonstrates the critical role NGOs play as a potentially autonomous but local context-bound agent in the TJ processes.

Shih-Lun A. Chen, University of Hawaii, Manoa, USA

The Overseas Chinese, the significant minority in Southeast Asia, has long been considered as the medium that bridges the transnational network between China and Southeast Asia. However, the functions and bargain powers of this middleman role may be defined differently according to the external limitations of receiving nation’s social political economic environment, and, more importantly, each individual’s self identifications that mark, restrain, extend or create his own role and resources in different occasions. Under Cambodia’s colonial and post-colonial regimes, the collective self-identification of the Chinese reflects policy shifts in education, publication, community participation and legal rights. All those occasional identifications represent the balance and compromises between externally political assimilation pressures and the motives of economic benefit maximization. Thus, this paper aims to understand how the self-identities of Chinese individuals change with temporal variations in local and regional political and economic conditions. From my investigations in Cambodia, I generalize a pragmatic model of Chinese self-identities through reviewing the changing self-identification of the Chinese under the external environmental transitions before and after Cold War politics. Finally, I propose a metaphorical mechanism of a self-identity equalizer to explain how an individual integrates transnational limitations and internally personal backgrounds, and subjectively expresses and selects his combinative identifications in different occasions.

Alvin C Lim, Longus Institute for Development and Strategy, Singapore

In this paper I will deploy Jacques Rancière’s theorization of the distribution of the sensible in a reading of Darina Siv’s short story "Sokha and Apopeal" and the traditional Khmer legend "Preah Ko Preah Keo". I shall demonstrate from these readings that imaginative narratives such as these are radically political insofar as they disrupt and rearrange their readers’ understandings of the possible. Working from Rancière’s key insight that "politics consist in reconfigurating the partition of the sensible, in bringing on the stage new objects and subjects, in making visible that which was not visible, audible as speaking beings they who were merely heard as noisy animals," I shall effect a crossing between the disciplinary borders of aesthetics and politics, and examine how the narratives under consideration disrupt and redistribute the regimes of perceptibility of the feudal court of King Sattha ("Preah Ko Preah Keo"), Democratic Kampuchea’s agrarian Great Leap Forward, and the subsequent dystopia of Vietnamese occupation ("Sokha and Apopeal"). Hitherto Cambodian literature has been subject to traditional modes of analysis. I hope that the aesthetico-political analysis presented here will open a useful avenue to the study of Cambodia’s literary heritage.