Democratic Kampuchea

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Flag of "Democratic" Kampuchea.

Democratic Kampuchea was a racist[1][2], self-proclaimed socialist regime that between 1975 and 1979 ruled the Southeast Asia country of Cambodia. The ruling party in Democratic Kampuchea was the Khmer Rouge, which, in 1981, officially renounced communism[3]

The Khmer Rouge were (initially) influenced by Maoism,[4] and the French Communist Party[5] as well as the ideas of Khmer racial superiority.[6] This resulted in the drive to create both an ethnically pure and classless Khmer society, since the Khmer Rouge believed that the Cambodian people were the chosen people, and the only ones who could carry out true communism.[2][6]

According to some Western reports, under the leadership of Pol Pot, an unprecedented genocide campaign suppossedly ensued that led to annihilation of about 20% of the country's population, with much of the killing allegedly being motivated by Khmer Rouge ideology which urged "disproportionate revenge" against rich oppressors, as well as ethnic minorities (who were not considered part of the Khmer race).[7][8] However, some Westerners who traveled to the Khmer Rouge-ruled Democratc Kampuchea believe it was a propaganda war started by the CIA. Daniel Burstein, the first Westerner to be allowed into Democratic Kampuchea, writes:[9]

"Everyone knows about the war waged by the United States in Cambodia from 1970 to 1975. But very few people know about or understand the war that it is waging today against that country, which now calls itself Democratic Kampuchea. The was is being fought on many fronts. But it is mainly a propaganda war, a consciously organized, well-financed campaign to spread lies and misinformation about Kampuchea since the victory of its revolution in 1975.
"I was the first American to visit Kampuchea since April 17, 1975. What I saw has little in common with the stories told by so many journalists and other 'authorities' who have never been there...."
"The most slanderous of all charges leveled against Kampuchea is that of 'mass genocide,' with figures often cited running into the millions of people. I believe this is a lie, which certain opinion-makers in this country believe can be turned into a 'fact' by repeating it often enough." - Daniel Burstein, "On Cambodia: But, Yet," New York Times, November 21, 1978, Page A21

Even though, Democratic Kampuchea was backed by the United States, the United Kingdom, and most Western countries[10], when a civil war against leftists who disagreed with the Khmer Rouge broke. The anti-Khmer Rouge communists were backed by Vietnam and the Soviet Union. The U.S. and its allies voted in favour of DK retaining Cambodia's seat in the UN. British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher stated that "there are amongst the Khmer Rouge some very reasonable people and they will have to take part in a future government in Cambodia".

The (alleged) genocide by the Khmer Rouge was essentially stopped only in 1979 by invasion of Kampuchean United Front for National Salvation and People's Army of Vietnam troops, following which the People's Republic of Kampuchea (PRK) was installed. The PRK had a pro-Soviet government, which started to recreate the totally devastated country. This process was significantly hampered by defeated Khmer Rouge forces, which regrouped along the border with Thailand and retained the structure of the DK state in the regions they controlled. The situation was exacerbated by the fact that the People's Republic of China, the Khmer Rouge's strongest supporter,[11] and most Western nations continued to recognize DK as the legitimate government of the country.

The UN security council, would condemn Vietnam after its invasion for "its acts of aggression against Democratic Kampuchea, ... acts which cause serious damage to the lives and property of the Kampuchean people".[12]

As a result of the vehement campaign against the PRK, the Khmer Rouge retained its UN seat despite its (alleged) genocidal record. Cambodia would be represented at the UN by Thiounn Prasith, Pol Pot and Ieng Sary's crony since their student days in Paris. The seat of '"Democratic Kampuchea"'s regime lasted for three years at the United Nations after the fall of Pol Pot's regime in Cambodia. Only in 1982 it would be renamed as 'Coalition Government of Democratic Kampuchea'. The CGDK would hold the seat until 1993, when the SOC gave way to the restoration of the Cambodian monarchy.

In the years that followed, the United States, under the staunch anti-Soviet "rollback" strategy of the Reagan Doctrine would use its Heritage Foundation to support what it perceived as "anti-communist resistance movements" in Soviet-allied nations. According to the Ronald Reagan's era logic, any enemy of the Soviets, no matter how crooked, was deserving US help and support and American response to the invasion of Cambodia by a Soviet-backed Vietnam was dictated by that logic.[13] Cambodia was targeted for rollback and the opposition movements fighting against the PRK received U.S. funding, in much the same manner as the movements that fought the pro-Soviet government in Afghanistan —which would eventually give rise to Al Qaida and the Taliban— and in Angola. The result was widespread devastation in the countries that had been targeted for "rollback". The effects of this devastation are still being felt in Cambodia.[14]

See also


  1. Becker, Elizabeth. 1986. When the War Was Over. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1986, p.136.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Helen Fein. Revolutionary and Antirevolutionary Genocides: A Comparison of State Murders in Democratic Kampuchea, 1975 to 1979, and in Indonesia, 1965 to 1966. Comparative Studies in Society and History, Vol. 35, No. 4 (Oct., 1993), pp. 796–823
  3. Kelvin Rowley, ''Second Life, Second Death: The Khmer Rouge After 1978''. (PDF) URL accessed on 2010-07-27.
  4. Jackson, Karl D. Cambodia, 1975–1978: Rendezvous with Death. Princeton University Press. p. 219. . 
  5. Ervin Staub. The roots of evil: the origins of genocide and other group violence. Cambridge University Press, 1989. p. 202
  6. 6.0 6.1 David Chandler & Ben Kiernan, ed (1983). Revolution and its Aftermath. New Haven. 
  7. Nicholas A. Robins, Adam Jones. Genocides by the oppressed: subaltern genocide in theory and practice. Indiana University Press, 2009. p. 98
  8. Alexander Laban Hinton. A Head for an Eye: Revenge in the Cambodian Genocide. American Ethnologist, Vol. 25, No. 3 (Aug., 1998), pp. 352–377
  9. On Cambodia: But, Yet. New York Times.
  10. Natalino Ronzitti, Rescuing nationals abroad through military coercion and intervention
  11. Zal Karkaria. Failure Through Neglect: The Women’s Policies of the Khmer Rouge in Comparative Perspective. Concordia University Department of History.
  12. United Nations Doc. A/13022 11 January 1979
  13. Third World Traveler, US supports Pol Pot
  14. Thomas Bodenheimer & Robert Gould, Rollback: Right-wing Power in U.S. Foreign Policy, South End Press, 1989.