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Myrdal och Pol Pot, del 2

Tuesday, Jan 12, 2010

Observerjournalisten Andrew Anthony har varit vänlig nog att låta mig publicera avsnittet om Myrdal som fick strykas p.g.a. utrymesskäl (se gårdagen; AA:s Observerartikel här). Det är intressant läsning.

Youk Chhang is director of the Documentation Centre of Cambodia, a unique resource dedicated to the study of the Khmer Rouge genocide, He is responsible for compiling 600,000 pages of documents, 4,000 transcribed interviews with former Khmer Rouge members, and maps of 20,000 mass graves. One afternoon during the trial I stopped by his office and spoke about Duch. Chhang had read the confession that Duch had extracted from his own brother-in-law, who was imprisoned at Tuol Sleng on charges of espionage and later executed.

‘All he wanted to know about was his brother-in-law’s former girlfriends from before he met his [Duch’s] sister,’ said Chhang. ‘He was obsessed with his sexual history. The brother-in-law was flamboyant and smart, that’s why he had him killed. To get back on him for being popular.’

For Youk, the Khmer Rouge was in many ways the revenge of the unpopular, the terror of the excluded. Like so many Cambodians, Chhang lives under the long shadow of Pol Pot’s brief rule. He lost many family members including a sister who was accused of stealing rice. To prove her guilt, a soldier slashed open her stomach. It was empty, and she died hungry and in great pain.

I also spoke to Chhang about the Caldwell case. Although he couldn’t shed any light on who killed the Scots academic, he was fascinated by the Westerners who supported the Khmer Rouge. Down the years, he has made it his business to meet the most outspoken of them. Before Caldwell went to Democratic Kampuchea, a party of four Swedes, including the popular author Jan Myrdal, the son of Nobel Laureates Alva and Gunnar Myrdal, paid a visit to country. Aside from Caldwell’s party, they were the only Westerners to be allowed in.

A few years ago, Chhang met one of them, Gunnar Bergstrom, while on a lecture tour in Sweden. Bergstrom was full of remorse and handed Chhang his collection of papers and magazines from Cambodia. There were photographs of workers building a damn with Bergstrom’s comments from the time: ‘This is an amazing achievement – Cambodia’s unique contribution to the problem of feeding the population without dependence on foreign aid!’

The unique contribution, of course, was slavery. Bergstrom has voiced his deep regret on many occasions. ‘The way I see it today,’ he said recently, ‘the trip should not have been made since it became part of the Khmer Rouge propaganda.’

Myrdal, though, has been much less contrite. His preference is to concentrate on Western crimes, among which he includes human rights and democracy. He told the Hezbollah newspaper, Al-Intqad, that they were just strategies used to serve ‘imperial interests’. Chhang was so perplexed at how Myrdal could maintain this idea of himself as a defender of the poor having supported the Khmer Rouge that he ordered his memoir Confession of a Disloyal European. ‘It was the last copy on Amazon!’ he told me with mock pride.

So what was the explanation? I asked.

‘He blames his mother.’

It’s comforting to view Myrdal as a lone crank, or a misguided idealist, but the mentality he represent goes far beyond the confines of neo-Maoists. In his interview with Al-Intqad, Myrdal made a valid point: ‘If a struggle for reclaiming stolen agricultural land in some country in Africa leaves 10 White settlers dead that becomes a major human rights issue in the West whereas 100 000 dead African children are uninteresting; they are just a normality.’

Yet this kind of racism emerges in its most unpleasant form in attitudes towards Cambodia. To support a revolution against Western imperialism was worth shouting about, but the consequent deaths of two million Cambodians has not been something that the Swede has ever wished to dwell upon. Indeed, what took place in Democratic Kampuchea just over 30 years ago remains much less discussed and understood than what took place in Germany over 60 years ago. That is partly down to what’s known as the calculus of affinity – Germany is much nearer and the West was inextricably involved – but it’s also about race (the Cambodians are different from ‘us’) and the dissonance of the politics (the Khmer Rouge was the underdog fighting against imperial oppression).

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