CAMBODIA: Understanding nation building

FOR PUBLICATION
AHRC-ETC-025-2013
July 2, 2013

They may look simple, but each stage requires considerable knowledge and understanding, and all five stages are interrelated and provide a formidable vision of nation-building.

1. Identity:
 People must think of themselves first and foremost as citizens of the nation; original identification with a tribe, region, or subnational group must cease.

2. Legitimacy:
 A government becomes legitimate and its rule becomes rightful when its citizens respect it, obey its laws and commands, and keep it in power.

3. Penetration:
 A government must reach out to all people everywhere on the land and
get them to follow and obey its laws and commands.

4.
 Participation: People need to participate, or have a say, in the affairs of the state and in
their government.

5. Distribution: 
Who gets what, when, how.
An article by Dr. Gaffar Peang-Meth published by the Asian Human Rights Commission
CAMBODIA: Understanding nation building
I owe this article to a number of Cambodian participants at the May 18 Cambodian Leadership Conference (CLC) in Tacoma, Washington, where I gave a keynote address on Building Leadership for Young Khmers, and two lecture-discussion sessions on political socialization and political culture. After the day-long conference, participants raised the subject of nation-building to discuss with me this topic, which they saw as a natural follow up to the day’s activities.
I was enthused about their interest, but felt somewhat hard-pressed to engage a topic to which, as a professor, I would allot no less than a semester of classes and discussions. I told them a few things about nation-building and state-building, subjects that piqued their interest. When one participant pushed for my return to Tacoma for further conversation, the leader of the Cambodian Women Networking Association, sponsor of the CLC, said decisively the CWNA would shoulder the project.
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CAMBODIA: New Year 2013: Opportunities for another 365 days to make a difference

Buddha says, “Each morning we are born again. What we do today is what matters most.” Suu Kyi told Burmese in their struggle for rights and justice, “Don’t just sit there. Do something!”

Buddha teaches mankind to do all good, avoid all evil, and purify the mind. He provides mankind with an eight-fold path to follow. Gandhi exclaimed, “Always aim at purifying your thoughts and everything will be well,” as he applied Buddha’s teaching to himself: “I claim to be a simple individual liable to err like any other fellow mortal . . . I have humility enough to confess my errors and to retrace my steps.”

Whereas Buddha preaches, “Pay no attention to the faults of others . . . Consider only what by oneself is done or left undone,” and, “It is easy to see the faults of others, but difficult to see one’s own faults . . . one conceals one’s own faults as a cunning gambler conceals his dice”, Gandhi explains: “I look only to the good qualities of men. Not being faultless myself, I won’t presume to probe into the faults of others.”

FOR PUBLICATION
AHRC-ETC-001-2013
January 03, 2013

An article by Dr. Gaffar Peang-Meth published by the Asian Human Rights Commission

CAMBODIA: New Year 2013: Opportunities for another 365 days to make a difference

Happy New Year 2013!
The New Year brings each of us a new beginning. What has happened in the past year is behind us; neither the good nor the bad can be erased. Instead, we confront 365 days of opportunity to demonstrate that we have learned from the successes and challenges of the year — of the years — through which we have come.

The past is a guide to the present, the present a springboard toward the future. We learn from the past to improve today. Men and women are capable of change. Those who study human behavior suggest ways to accelerate change in how we manage our day to day interactions and long term decision making.

Since humans are creatures of habit, we are likely to think and behave the same way as we have done in the past. We reproduce the old because it takes no effort to repeat what we have always done. Much of our behavior is on autopilot. Remember Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity as doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

Some Cambodian readers told me that they believe it to be a “safe bet” that their compatriots’ thinking and behavior in the next 365 days are likely to be the same as last year’s. A Khmer septuagenarian, a former instructor at the Khmer Military Academy, lamented that this very way of thinking is outmoded and unchanged from the patterns of behavior of earlier generations of Cambodians. It was he who sent me the poem, O Khmer oeuy Khmer, chous ach knong srae, which was the focus of my article in February 2012. The poem is about an ignoramus who does private business in the rice field and cleans himself with an ivy leaf. . . His ignorance is one aspect of the poem. The other aspect is Einstein’s definition of insanity. The septuagenarian wrote, it is “same old, same old for generations.” I am optimistic, however, that each of us has the capacity to change how we analyze and respond to people and events around us.

New Year, “new soul”? 

As Cambodians write to me, it is not unusual for them to blame the country’s political status quo on the absence of a Khmer Mahatma Gandhi or Aung San Suu Kyi. Were there such a person, they say, everything would be different. Does the alleged absence of such a leader justify the lack of effective progress in the Khmer struggle against Cambodia’s “kleptocracy”? It’s worth noting that both Gandhi and Suu Kyi embrace the philosophy and teaching of Gautama Buddha, the same principles in which nearly all Cambodians profess to believe, and that permeate Khmer society.
Continue reading “CAMBODIA: New Year 2013: Opportunities for another 365 days to make a difference”

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CAMBODIA: Khmer Buddhist New Year 2056 is time for Cambodians to spark effective change

FOR PUBLICATION
AHRC-ETC-012-2012
April 15, 2012

An article by Dr. Gaffar Peang-Meth published by the Asian Human Rights Commission

Talking about the need for political change in Cambodia gets “old.” I write aplenty in this space and elsewhere on the topic, yet Prime Minister Hun Sen and his ruling Cambodian People’s Party persists and keeps piling on more reasons why change must occur.

It’s obvious a lot has changed in Cambodia, especially the mirage of development and progress seen in images of bustling metropolitan cities with high rises, latest model cars, crowded markets and restaurants, camera-toting tourists. Cambodia is a paradise for foreign investors who compete for her markets and resources. This influx of capital accelerates change, but these are the sort of changes that should be taken only after deliberation and consideration of their potential impact. This broad-based review does not occur in Cambodia today.

The more things change
An oft-quoted proverb of French origin by novelist Alphonse Karr (1808-90), later quoted by George Bernard Shaw and others, says, “Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose,” or “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” Is this paradoxical?

I admit to being chagrined at reading a commentary by an editor of the Bangkok Post who in “Poor Cambodia not looking so ‘poor’ anymore,” (April 6) noted ironically that “billions of dollars in aid money” help make Phnom Penh visibly “clean” and “spotless” a la Singapore, “at least in those areas where (foreign) delegates (to the ASEAN conference) were either visiting or staying,” with “perhaps … the highest number of Lexus vehicles per capita” and “only three beggars” observed. “I personally don’t believe that the funding (from aid donors) ever reaches those Cambodians in real need in any case,” the editor writes, among other things.

Widespread concern among observers about the worrisome widening gap between those is confirmed by a longtime friend, a non-Cambodian professional with decades-long experience working with peoples in developing countries, who shared World Bank data that show the dramatic rise in economic inequality.

Continue reading “CAMBODIA: Khmer Buddhist New Year 2056 is time for Cambodians to spark effective change”

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Journey equality far from over

<B>A. Gaffar Peang-Meth</B>

The American journey in democracy that began with the election of George Washington in 1789 never stopped.

The founding fathers’ 1776 declaration, “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal,” saw America’s once-excluded blacks, women, and the young translate the framers’ vision into reality on Nov. 4 by electing the first non-white male to lead the once-white nation. Yet, the journey is far from over.

Democracy, from the Greek word “demokratia,” refers to a system of popular (demos) government (kratia), or government of the people — the “demos” govern. It operates through the rule of law, not of men, based on the principles of equal rights, equal opportunity, and equal treatment.

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