Author: Rob Lemkin
Created: 6/7/2011 12:00:00 AM
Welcome to our first Enemies of the People blog. We plan to update weekly throughout the trial of Nuon Chea (Brother Number Two) due to start in Phnom Penh on June 27, 2011. We will use this blog to provide new information and analysis from unused Enemies material and our current production Suspicious Minds.
Last week Sambath and Rob were in Bangkok for Extra Virgin’s theatrical release of the film. The release had been delayed due to military tension between Thailand and Cambodia over the disputed UNESCO heritage temple at Preah Vihear. Interestingly, Thai audiences connected the problem of nationalism investigated in Enemies with the nationalism issue at the heart of the current conflict. (Can nationalism ever really be good?). Some also were interested in the fact that the Thai government (along with the American and Chinese) supported the Khmer Rouge for a decade after the Killing Fields.
The Bangkok schedule also included a seminar at Thammasat where Nuon Chea (then known by his original name Lao Bun Ruot or the Thai-inflected Rong Loeut) studied law and awakened politically in the 1940s.
The story is a fascinating one and highly significant for the evolution of the Khmer Rouge. And although we will go into it further in our Enemies DVD extras and next film, here is a sneak preview!
The little known French-Thai war of 1940-1 resulted in Nuon Chea’s hometown of Battambang becoming part of Thailand and the end of his colonial French education. [More on his early years in a forthcoming blog]. So he travelled to Bangkok in 1942 aged 16 where he stayed with a friend of his father’s, a Cambodian monk who lived in the famous Marble Temple (Wat Benchamabophit). In 1944 he passed the entrance exam to a law foundation course at Thammasat. The campus was then a hotbed of Free Thai (Thai Serei) activism working for the overthrow of the Japanese-backed Thai regime. Nuon Chea says he read a lot of books about national liberation at that time, the most inspiring being a biography of George Washington.
Nuon Chea supported his studies by clerking at various Thai government ministries (Agriculture, Finance, Foreign Affairs). But at the same time he became increasingly politically active – in 1946 he joined the Thai Democratic Youth League (a communist group); in 1947 he organized student demonstrations against the government (at Thammasat’s archives Sambath saw pictures of this event); and in 1950 he joined the Communist Party of Thailand (another name change required, this time: Kan Phon). So while he worked for the Thai government he also organized for revolution in Thailand and French Indochina. It was the start of a career as an underground revolutionary in which he was so successfully low profile that decades later Sambath, like many Cambodians, had never even heard of him when he started his research.
In 1950 Nuon Chea failed his first year law degree exams for the third time (thereby beating his future friend Pol Pot, who only failed his Radio Engineering exams in Paris twice!). It was a sign that politics, not law, was Nuon Chea’s destiny. In April 1950 he was selected by the Thai and Vietnamese communist parties to build up a secret independence movement in Cambodia. He got the bus to sleepy provincial town of Samlot, at the foot of the Cardamom Mountains.
Seventeen years later, in 1967, in the same small town, the Khmer Rouge launched their armed struggle in a series of attacks directed by Nuon Chea. The rest, as they say, is history – a history that we will continue to reveal in future blogs and our various ongoing film projects.
Bye for now!