Trip to Sweden for the Opening of Exhibition


Trip to Sweden for the Opening of "Dinner with Pol Pot" Exhibition

Report Prepared by Kok-Thay ENG



The exhibition conducted by the Living History Forums of Sweden was launched at 4 pm of September 8, 2009. The opening was participated by approximately 200 guests, including members of the Swedish press, government officials from the ministry of culture, officials from Swedish International Development Agency, professors, students and members of the public. With the participation of the Swedish minister of culture, it is interesting to see how discrete her presence was. It was without the motorcade and blocking of roads as seen in Cambodia. If one had not seen her before, it was difficult to know that such a high-ranking official was among the crowd. Gunnar Bergstrom said that only several years ago that high-ranking officials working in the Swedish government buildings locating on the north side of Gamla Stan (Old Town) walked to work without bodyguards. This gave an impression that Sweden is a more socialist and welfare state than one thought.


Indeed Sweden has a very generous social welfare program that serves toward more equality among Swedish. This is probably a good example for Cambodia which is suffering from having vast socioeconomic gaps among its people. It is believed by some Khmer Rouge experts that one of the driving forces behind the Khmer Rouge revolution and behind the dedication of some Khmer Rouge revolutionaries was the vast gap between the rich and the poor, between the elite and the mass, between the royalists and ordinary people and between the urban and the rural. It seemed the Khmer Rouge attempted to close the gap, but their radical ways of doing it and their lack of conscience toward their fellow countrymen led to the destruction of the country. It was the one time that Cambodia attempted to achieve equality by revolutionary means, but failed dramatically.


The exhibition in Stockholm on Pol Pot by the Living History Forums is not an accident. Despite being far away from each other, Sweden has had a long history of relations with Cambodia since Sweden began to take interest in international humanitarian events, especially the anti-Vietnam War demonstration.  Sweden was one of the few countries which had some diplomatic ties with Democratic Kampuchea. In August 1978, a group of Swedish delegation of people from the "Swedish-Kampuchea Friendship Association" visited Cambodia. Gunnar Bergstrom was among the four people in the group. He and the other three members were allowed to have dinner with Pol Pot on the final day of their visit. They were one of the few foreigners to be invited to Democratic Kampuchea since the Khmer Rouge took power in April 1975.


The delegation was one of the few believers of the Khmer Rouge revolution. They had supported them before they visited Cambodia and it was very difficult for them to believe otherwise during the trip when the Khmer Rouge seemed to have arranged everything before they arrived. A Cambodian villager said, "The delegation won't see anything bad about the Khmer Rouge. The Khmer Rouge would give clothes to healthy people to appear before them and would arrange everything." Not being able to see Cambodia in a more gloomy way, Gunnar Bergstrom has been struggling to come to term with and to forgive himself for believing in such a monstrous revolution.


Although there are some pictures about communist revolutions elsewhere, the "Dinner with Pol Pot" was mainly about the Swedish delegation's visit and Sweden's relations with the Khmer Rouge. Being a psychotherapist who works in a rehabilitation center for drug and alcohol addicts, Gunnar decided in November 2008 to come to Cambodia for the first time since that haunting visit thirty years ago. For Gunnar this was a trip for closure, to show remorse and to ask for forgiveness from the Cambodian people. Gunnar wrote in 1979 in a Swedish newspaper recognizing his mistake for supporting the Khmer Rouge, but he had never apologized Cambodian people directly. In the his visit to Cambodia, Gunnar showed photographs he took during his visit in 1978 in a mobile and permanent exhibition and talked in front of Cambodian crowds in three seminars in Phnom Penh, Kampong Cham and Battambang when he spoke about his visit and apologized them directly.


Living History Forums and the Documentation Center of Cambodia were honored to have organized this visit. The exhibition at Living History Forums in Stockholm, Sweden, is another exhibition aimed directly toward the Swedish audience. It was an educational and moving exhibition. Unfortunately there have been some critiques among the Swedish press against the exhibition and particularly the Youtube advertising that Living History launched a few days before the exhibition. As a Cambodian and an outsider, I feel that the political debate about whether or not Swedish government should take initiatives in working on the atrocities committed in genocide and/or by communist governments, as Living History Forums is a government institution, could lead to an absence of recognition of the pain and suffering of the people going through the atrocities. This is exactly what happened in the case of Cambodia during the 1980s when the Democratic Kampuchea was recognized as the lawful government of Cambodia, representing the people they victimized at the United Nations. In retrospect it was indeed absurd.


Three members of DC-Cam staff, Kok-Thay Eng, Sirik Savina and Sayana Ser, were fortunate to be invited by Living History Forums to attend the opening of the exhibition along with Bou Meng and Vannak Huy. Bou Meng is one of the few survivors of the notorious S-21 prison of the Khmer Rouge in which approximately 14,000 people were murdered. Vannak Huy is a journalist from Radio Free Asia and the author of an upcoming book detailing the life and experience of Bou Meng as a survivor of S-21 prison. The five people took part in many talks after the opening. They also met with staff members of Living History Forums. Bou Meng was interviewed by Swedish Television and other members of the media. He also gave a talk about his paintings to a large Swedish audience. It was coordinated by Vannak Huy and interpreted by Kok-Thay Eng.


Professor David Chandler was also invited to the exhibition. He gave a talk a day before Bou Meng did about his knowledge regarding the Khmer Rouge, Cambodian history and sociopolitical situation in general. We were grateful to meet him in Stockholm. Kok-Thay Eng, Sayana Ser and Savina Sirik met the educational team, the oral history project leader and other teams at the Living History Forums. They were also lucky to visit the film school and Amnesty International office in Stockholm. In each visit they presented their works at DC-Cam and were briefed about the important works that those institutions were doing. We are very grateful to Eskil Frank, Erika Aronowitsch, Bosse Linquist and staff members of the Living History Forums for inviting us to the exhibition.




Exhibition Photos Here