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“Socialism is a house and clothes all set for you, a carpenter’s plane to round rough faces, to make everyone identical.” — Victims of the Khmer Rouge
Since ancient times, Khmers have taken a keen interest in moral guidance and counsel of their elders. The Khmers also prided themselves as being clever and they took great pleasure in cleverly composed discourses. The use of words and witticism, rhyming, riddles and rapidly formed punning and spoonerisms was and still is considered to be the Khmer national habit. And the Khmer Rouge made use of this deeply rooted Khmer tradition to indoctrinate, control, and terrorize the people during their reign of terror, in the form of slogans, sayings, and songs.
Henri Locard’s wonderful book, Pol Pot’s Little Red Book: The Sayings of Angkar, is a collection of Khmer Rouge slogans recounted by survivors from all over Cambodia. The word angkar means organization; it’s how the Khmer Rouge referred to itself. Until September 29, 1977, when Pol Pot declared on the radio in a five-hour speech that angkar is the Communist Party of Kampuchea, the population only knew of the ominous angkar.
Angkar’s slogans, some were inspired by Maoist ideology, others were old Khmer proverbs and maxims stripped of all their common-sensical meanings, revealed the horrific reality of its communist ideology. Khmer Rouge junior cadres incessantly repeated the party slogans while revolutionary songs were playing on the radio. But for the rest of the population, angkar’s slogans and songs were mocked and jeered at, albeit in secret. Monsieur Locard included some counter-slogans and puns from the victims of the Khmer Rouge. These were the ones that were uttered between husbands and wives, close relatives, or trusted friends. Some of these counter-slogans have been confirmed by my own family. Some of them were even found in victims’ interrogations.
Here’s a popular pun:
Vannak ak thun = proletariat
Vannak at thuen = the class that does not persevere
This next pun was found in a prisoner’s confession at a torture and execution center in Takéo province.
Sangkumniyum = socialism
Sangkum nih yum = this society weeps
Several more counter-slogans:
Before we were happy, with this socialist society all happiness has totally disappeared.
When there was private property, the cows were fine and fat; now that we have made the revolution, the cows have become scrawny.
If you eat prahok (fermented fish paste, the soul of Khmer cuisine), you are unable to leap.
The revolution shines in all its splendor in a society radiant with joy, and we wear sandals fashioned out of automobile tires.
Doing the revolution means eating watery gruel with water spinach; when we reach communism, we shall eat only water spinach.
The red krama (Khmer scarf) goes with a black shirt adorned with a whole troop of buttons.
Hygiene for the health workers, a full stomach for the cadres, slit throats and broken heads for the people.
Long live the glorious Angkar! Destroy houses with tiled roofs, live in straw huts! Long live the wise Angkar! Destroy straw huts and live in the jungle.
“Red blood” are the tears of the baby in his/her mother’s womb and when he/she is three months old — this means his/her mother has worked for the revolution.