Ein mörderisches Erbe
by Kerstin Kohlenberg
DIE ZEIT
16.03.2006
translated by Stefan Ehrentrau

“… in contrast, Tharum Bun will remain in Phnom Penh. And maybe Tharum Bun is really all the future Cambodia has. He is 23 years old and gentle like a girl. He wears black flip flops, jeans and a short-armed shirt, like everybody here. He stands out in only one regard: Tharum is always on time.

Right now he is sitting in an internet cafe, taking a sip of water that the owner has provided for free and which foreigners deliberately never touch. On his right hand a novice monk googles while on his left an English tourist checks the game results of Arsenal London. One hour costs 2000 Riel – 50 Cent. Outside creaks Phnom Penh’s dense moto traffic, hoarse horns scream for attention, because he who doesn’t listen will have to feel. The only apparent traffic rule says: the strongest wins.

The country’s first blogger dreams of a journey around the world

The other day they stole Tharum’s second hand Honda right in front of him. This equals more than two monthly salaries, 700 Dollar, and Tharum earns well in his computer job with an aid organization. He pay’s his sister’s tuition fees; the other five siblings still go to school or assist their father. The parents were involuntarily married under Pol Pot, apparently they made the best of it. Together with grandma they now live on 50qm, above the father’s small photo shop with the big and colorful Konica billboard at the noisy Monivong Boulevard.

Tharum is a nerd, as his likes are called in American schoolyards. One who got his school fees paid by a French family, who already at high school worked for aid organizations where he learned English and ambitions. One who has studied economics yet still only thinks of one thing: computer and technology. Who never had a girl friend and who prefers tea over beer. Tharum is the bright side of the aid networks. He succeeded in climbing up and wants to catch up with the rest of the world. Tharum dreams of being Phileas Fogg and of traveling the globe like him. He would not mind a couple of days more than 80. As of now Tharum is still traveling virtually. He is Cambodia’s first blogger.

The slim boy is one in 10 percent of Cambodians who speak sufficiently English to be able to use Computers, since there was no software in the national language Khmer. Only 25 in 10000 Cambodians use the internet, according to estimates by the International Telecommunication Union 2003. Cambodia’s internet use is the lowest in all of Asia. The organization that employs Tharum is currently translating open source software – free software – in Khmer. Microsoft is not interested in the tiny market of Cambodia, where nobody can afford legal software anyway.

The English and American newspapers Tharum reads on the internet would be way too expensive to purchase in Phnom Penh. He himself reports on the internet about his life, knowing that he cannot write everything. His country is held together by a thick layer of silence. The transfer of land to Vietnam through president Hun Sen is taboo. Corruption is taboo. The illegal businesses of politicians are taboo. Those who break the walls may experience what happened to the organization Global Witness, which was banned from the country following its reports about the involvement of politicians in illegal logging.

Because blogging has just arrived in Cambodia, there is hardly any censorship yet in this area. The wave of arrests initiated by president Hun Sen in previous months was each time a reaction to comments on the radio or during public events. Despite the fact that article 41 in the Cambodian constitution guarantees freedom of expression.

Tharum is the future and he wants the past to be judged in public court at last. “We have to be able to thrust our courts again. Otherwise, how can we learn that justice prevails and not just the strongest?”

He surfs on his blog www.tharum.info. The internet-connections in Phnom Penh are not any faster than those in the provinces. Here, too, the computers are old, skillfully connected and loaded with illegally copied software to the point where they seem to struggle from that burden alone. Everything takes ages.

Tharum looks at the post in front of him. It dates from the day when the trouble with this American named Graham started, who came up with the idea of euthanasia-tourism in Cambodia. His logic was simple: Cambodia needs money. Tourists have money, the elderly more than the young. Cambodia needs work, age care has the potential to create many jobs. The memory of torture and Pol Pot is still fresh – which other country can better understand the offer of a painless death, Graham thought. A prohibition did not exist. Nobody in Cambodia has thought about voluntary death. At 30 dollars per months Graham rented a web-site from Google and named it “Euthanasia in Cambodia”. Nobody noticed it. Then a lady from England died and Graham reported the suicide to the police. The Cambodia Daily reported, the police investigated, the governor had cafes closed – because the other foreigners with their guesthouses feared for their business.

Tharum’s post is the polite comment of a polite Cambodian, who points out that Cambodians are still in the process of learning basic human rights and that the discussion about the right to assisted suicide is truly premature around here. His comment was printed in the Cambodia Daily. Tharum is very proud of that.

By now, Grahams web site is online again. Charges were never brought. The press does not report anymore, tourists still come, business flourishes and freedoms are limitless again. Everybody does what he likes. Until he gets in the way of somebody stronger. The worst thing that can happen to Cambodia.

Publishing this part of six-page news documentary is consent by the author of the newspaper, ‘DIE ZEIT.’

What have people their says about this news?

Translator’s note:

The article’s style is difficult to capture in the translation since the author plays with words in a way that makes sense only in German. You will have noticed that the article is very long. You will find that the author has gotten some aspects wrong, such as ‘president’ Hun Sen. I started with the paragraph where she mentions you the first time. In my view, you should ask the author for a full translation. Since she reports intimate details of your life you are entitled to at least know what she publishes about you. Indeed I think she should have asked for your consent prior to publication.

In essence, the article starts with a description of the last Khmer Rouge stronghold at the Thai border that reports an encounter with Pol Pot’s secretary Tep Kunnal, who is still living as a free man and takes care of Pol Pot’s daughter who is spoiled and maintains a privileged lifestyle. Neither the secretary nor the daughter has many regrets for what Pol Pot did to Cambodia. Their privileges are possible only because the secretary is still well-connected to Cambodia’s political elite and to Tep Kunnal in particular. The author also reports an encounter with a young aid worker who expresses her frustration about the challenges faced aid organization. However, she will soon start a new job in Bangladesh.

This is where the translation starts, suggesting that in contrast to this lady you will stay in Cambodia. My reading of this article is that among the various characters the author encounters in Cambodia, you are the one that embodies the country’s hope and future while the others stand for Cambodia’s dark past and the regretful present. The reference to Kep Tunnal’s arrival in Malay at the end of the article refers to the first paragraph and sort of closes the cycle. However, the article is fairly open to interpretation.

On May 12, 2004, the very first page of this journal was written. From today on I am taking a vacation, perhaps a long one. So do not expect a new update.