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Remembering the Nation’s King Father on Commemoration Day

PHNOM PENH: The Kingdom of Cambodia commemorates the ninth anniversary of the death of His Late Majesty, King Father Norodom Sihanouk, on Friday. On 15 October every year, Cambodians pay respects to their national hero in front of his statue across from the Independence Monument. It’s a national holiday and one of the country’s most important.

The pandemic might mean that the event has been downscaled since 2019, but it is no less important. The full name of this holiday is the "Commemoration Day to the Royal Soul of His Majesty Preah Bat Samdech Preah Norodom Sihanouk, Preahmahaviraksat, King-Father of the Cambodian National Independence, Territorial Integrity and Unity".

Norodom Sihanouk was born in Phnom Penh on 31 October 1922. He became the King of Cambodia in 1941 after the death of his grandfather and became head of state in what was then a French protectorate. All that changed with independence in 1953, and then again in 1970, before the country descended into the dark years of the Khmer Rouge between 1975 and 1979. He was allowed to leave Cambodia and lived in exile in North Korea and China, but eventually returned in 1993 to help guide his nation as King into the modern Cambodia we know today.

Happy years followed, but all too soon for his people, he died of a heart attack in Beijing on 15 October 2012. The whole nation was in grief. They’d lost a beloved hero. EAC News spoke to one of the kingdom’s most highly-respected researchers, Huy Vannak. He is also the founder and president of the Union of Journalist Federations of Cambodia. He explains why Cambodians loved King Father Norodom Sihanouk so much:

“The commemoration day of the King is not just for the king but to tell people that you need to hold this kind of national spirit, solidarity, unity and keep holding this to respect not only King Norodom Sihanouk, our founding father, even our future leaders that have made a lot of sacrifices for the country…For our King Father Norodom Sihanouk, he has a lot of specialties in terms of a – as a leader, a charismatic leader. He is smart. He is talented. He is a musician. He is a composer. And more important thing – he is a king. He is a good politician. He is a good leader. He knows a lot of world leader. Like Charles de Gaulle, John Kennedy, Zou Enlai, Mao Zedong. All the leaders that he had made friends with. And it is good for Cambodians that he built Cambodia as a nation.”

One of the most important accomplishments King Norodom Sihanouk gave Cambodians was independence from the French. According to Vannak, the King Father was both icon and idol. Being a journalist during the King’s time, Vannak himself idolized the goodness of the King:

“I value his legacies a lot. He made no racism. Whatever he tried to do in the past to serve the interests of the Cambodia. But you know because of the cold war, because of the geo-political issue, the small country like Cambodia is hard to get away from the civil power and turn Cambodia into war and bloodshed. This started mistake. But what we need to learn is from the good side that we can learn from him.”

Vannak says, for him, King Norodom Sihanouk built the nation, transforming it from a poor country to a modern, independent state. Without independence, he says, it would have been like living in another home or not having a home at all.

PHOTO: AsiaPropertyAwards

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