Khmer Rouge and Generation Gap

By Vanly Keomuda

©Emanuele Faja/2012/Licensed under CC-BY-NC-SA 2.0

Have you ever got into an argument with your parents or grand-parents just because of a random conversation? Have you ever felt like your opinions don’t align with your parents no matter how much you try to explain yourself? Have you ever wonder why? This is probably because of the generation gap.

The generation gap is the differences in opinions, actions, beliefs, and interests between an individual from one generation to another. These differences tend to cause a misunderstanding and miscommunication between the older and younger generations. The reason for this gap between generations is normally because of rapid changes in society, particularly with the advancement of technologies and the influences of globalisation.

Unlike in other society, the generation gap in Cambodia context is broader not only because of the advancement in technologies and telecommunication, but also because of the differences in background; that is, the tragic history that the older generation has been through. The Khmer Rouge regime, the tragedy of Cambodia’s history, has shaped the older generations’ view of the world because of the trauma and the emotional scars that the regime had left on each of the survivors.

How do older generation view the world?

From the survivors’ point of views, the experience from Khmer Rouge regime has left them with insecurity and trusting issues. As I recall from all the history lessons, and the story that elder people love to tell, the society in Khmer Rouge regime was built on mistrust and everyone was put on surveillance by the people around them. Finding people that you can share your confidences with is rare at that time. People, at that time, were likely to report on their neighbours in exchange for little rewards. Because of the type of society that was back then, the survivors of the regime were left with the trusting issue and view the post-Khmer Rouge society the same way as it was back then. It is hard for them to put their trust and confidence back in the new society after the many years of isolation and self-dependence.

Besides the consequences of trust on the older generation, changes and globalisation are also not in the favour of the elders. If you ask your parents or grandparents about their thoughts on the flow of foreign culture in Cambodia, they would say that it is a bad thing.

The reason for this is because the last time that the western ideologies and cultures were introduced to Cambodia, the country ended up in absolute turmoil that ended up with the Pol Pot’s regime. From that experience and history, it is hard for the old generation to be optimistic about the presence of foreign culture in Cambodian society.

What do the young generation think about their society?

For the young generation in the late 20th century and 21st century, like myself, the story of the Khmer Rouge regime is just a horror story and another historic story that they learn in the history class. For this reason, the horror pictures of the 1975 regime is unimaginable and even sound sceptical to most of the young generation. Because the young generation is not haunted personally by the past, their view of society seems to be more optimistic.

Being born when the country is in the period of peace and stability, insecurity and trusting issue are not the problems. People from the young generation are more open about themselves and seem to put more energy in the spirit of cooperation. Young people are trusting their friends, their partners, and working together as a team to achieve their mutual goal without the fear of defection. Furthermore, the spirit of teamwork and collaboration are being encouraged in classroom as well as working environment, thus creating an environment for trust among the young generation.

Not only are the people of young generation are more open to each other, but they are also opening up to the flow of foreign culture into the country. Young people are more eager to learn and experience different cultures of different societies, while the advancement of global telecommunication and social media allow them the opportunity to communicate to people across the globe. To the young generation, the acceptance of globalisation and foreign cultures are the ways that allow Cambodia to learn and improve upon our rigid and conservative traditions and mind-set. For the young generation, they see change as an improvement for the better, which should be embraced and accepted.

How should we bridge the gap?

Because of the major differences in the social conditions that the two generations have been through, closing the generation gap is a challenging task that needs to be done over a period of time. Communication is the key for that gap in generation; that is, both generations should talk and try to see the world from each other’s eyes. The old generation should learn to accept the positive changes that are happening in Cambodia and try to overcome the trauma and the scar that are impacts of a horrific history.

As for the young generation, instead of regarding the past of the older generation as a forgettable past, they should reflect and learn from the history, which would allow them not to follow the same path. Just like the phrase “One man’s past is another man’s lesson.”

Views expressed here are those of the author’s and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of UNICEF.

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