Gariwo: the gardens of the Righteous

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the “big brothers” of mass murder

The Cambodian genocide took place between 1975 and 1978. Cambodia is a South-Eastern Asian country bordering on Vietnam. Colonized by the French, in 1953 it became an independent State run by prince Norodom Sihanouk, who was overthrown in 1970 by a coup of general Lol Non, supported by the United States. After a harsh campaign against the communists and the Vietnamese who were there in the country, in 1975 the power was seized by the Khmer Rouges, a small Leninist group which was popular especially in the rural areas of the North, where the Republic of Democratic Kampuchea was proclaimed. Until then the population was 80% of the Khmer ethnic group. The main minorities were: the Buddhist monks (nearly 60,000); the Muslims of the Cham group (nearli 100,000), the Catholic, the Vietnamese and the Chinese who controlled trade almost completely. The death toll of the persecutions remains uncertain due to the lack of documentation, but it is estimated between 1,500,000 and 1,800,000. Considering that Cambodia then had about 7,500,000 inhabitants, the average mortality rate between 1975 and 1978 ranges from 20% to 29% of the population. The Khmer Rouges, who were prompted by their need to find more and more “objective enemies”, exterminated the population following the criterion of town/countryside dichotomy, and, subject to that, the time criterion, which discriminated between “new” and “old” citizens. The sum of both persecutions resulted in a mortality rate of nearly 40% among the inhabitants of the urban areas, and 10% of the rural dwellers.

First of all the khmer rouges killed the alleged political foes: the leaders of the preceding regime and the army officers (82,6%), the policemen (66,7%) and above all the judges, 99% of whom were killed.  As far as the minorities are concerned, they eliminated 84% of the Buddhist monks, 33,7% of the Cham Muslims, 48,6% of the Catholics, 38,4% of the Chinese and 37,5% of the Vietnamese. Genocide was planned and carried out by people belonging to the Khmer Rouge movement and more precisely the blame needs be put on the so called “Big Brothers”, a group pf 20-25 people united by similar experiences and educational backgrounds which can be defined along 4 main lines: their stay in France, where their ideological background was formed, in the Fifties; their period of opposition against prince Sihanouk, the years spent underground in the Cambodian jungle, where they took refuge when they were accused of high treason by the Lol Non for their communist convictions, their experience of the most significant moments of the Chinese cultural devolution. The main leaders of the “Big Brothers” were Pol Pot (Brother Number One), Ieng Sary, Son Sen, Hou Youn, Hu Nim, Khieu Samphan and Duch, the director of notorious camp S-21, the main jail institution of Democratic Kampuchea. The killers were recruited among the lower and medium cadres of the Communist Party, little educated people, to whom they added also 60,000 very young soldier-peasants especially chosen because they were not “contaminated” with urban capitalism or the imperialist education system. Cambodia’s communist party was characterized by its extreme isolation and segregation conditions if compared with the other communist parties of Asia’s South-East: it was a very small party which feared being easily eliminated by its opponents. These three elements prompted the Khmer Rouges to imposed the harshest possible rule on every aspect of the social sphere, by excluding all possible ideas of reform, of political dialectic and individual space and by perpetrating genocide in much shorter a time span and in much more radical ways than in the Maoist and Stalinist models. Genocide was planned while the “Big Brothers” were underground in the jungle, where they developed an orthodox version of communism based on an extreme hatred of urban and city culture, economy and life-style, as well as an unrealistic project to set up a rural economy based on rice production. The consequence of such physical, geographic and ideological isolation was essential in determining the further development of Pol Pot’s thought and political leadership, as soon as he seized the power. As a matter of facts we cannot speak of a linear and coherent planning, because, much more quickly than in the other communist totalitarian regimes, there was a continue creation and replacement of the “objective enemy” to be fought. Nonetheless there was a strategic plan to exterminate the population on a “sociological” basis, which applied the social-territorial criterion and the city-countryside dychotomy and bourgeois-peasant one in order to single out the regime’s enemies. The "Big Brothers" had gotten to know about communist ideology during their education years in Paris as their attended the PcF (French communist Party). The PcF was strongly influenced by Stalinism, whose inspiring principles stemmed from an antisocial attitude, the conviction that political struggle was exclusively based on the relationship between amicus and hostis and the capability of violence to solve issues and contradictions. Just as the Khmer Rouges seized power in Cambodia, the outbreak of the Chinese cultural revolution (1966-75) increased the value they attached to permanent revolution and the access to power of the poorest. Furthermore, the Khmer Rouge regime used the concept of race as a propaganda pretext to better justify the persecution of the “people’s enemies”. The instrumental feature of such an approach is highlighted by the fact that genocide indiscriminately hit the Khmer ethnic group, too. The hatred of the leading class from the urban areas, seen as the symbol of a corrupted and oppressive economy, wedded in its ideals with the Western world and imperialism, was a powerful detonator. 
First of all the Khmer rouges carried out the elimination of the elements linked to the old regime, now contaminated by capitalism. It is worth noticina the “hygienistic” feature of the Cambodian genocide, drawn from the Soviet mass murders: Leninist mass terror was aimed at purifying the Russian land by eliminating the “noxious insects ". In this sense we can read the mass murders as an attempt to eradicate the “bourgeois tumor” from the Khmer society. Secondly, the regime planned the deportation of hundreds of thousands people from towns to the countryside, both to re-educate them (setting free from the bourgeois features and the cancer of trade) and to create the illusionary economic plan based on the primitive “economy of rice grain”. The highest number of deaths happened during the forced marches from towns to the countryside, but also the survivors did not find any better fate in the labour camps, situated in unhealthy place with a high incidence of malaria.


 Also in Cambodia, like in the other totalitarian regimes, a “gulag archipelago” was created. Its main re-education camp, called as S-21 -, was run with incredibile cruelty by “Big Brother Duch”, who had the prisoners confess their alleged crimes through dreadful torture before murdering them.

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