PHNOM PENH – For four years, Wan Preung toiled in the fields under the Khmer Rouge, unable to speak his mind. But after the regime fell in 1979, there was still one sensitive subject the teacher could seldom broach with his students: the Khmer Rouge.
“It was difficult to teach the students about the Khmer Rouge, because we didn’t know this story clearly,” Preung says. “We didn’t have much information in our books.”
When students asked, Preung would tell them about his own experiences living under a regime responsible for the deaths of an estimated one-quarter of the population. But for years, Cambodian history textbooks contained only a brief mention of the Khmer Rouge. The country’s political future was still uncertain in the aftermath of the regime, and the facts of the Khmer Rouge rule were obscured by the politics of the era.
“We couldn’t talk much,” Preung says. “It was so political, so we didn’t want to say much about it.” Khmer Rouge was the name given to followers of the Communist Party, that was held responsible for mass killing of perceived opponents during its rule 1975-1979.
But more than three decades after the Khmer Rouge collapsed, the mood is changing.
In 2009, Cambodia approved its first ever textbook on Khmer Rouge history. It’s now a part of the school curriculum. Before instructors can teach their students about the past, however, Cambodia’s history teachers must learn it themselves.(...more)