Saturday, October 27, 2012

Norodom Sihanouk - A Rock Star King

Bruce Ryder
You read Philip Gourevitch's piece on Cambodia's King Norodom Sihanouk in The New Yorker 

And you just know that Mr Gourevitch doesn't know who he is talking about.

It is obvious he has never met King Sihanouk.

In person.

Cos Gourevitch is a bright person.

And had he met Sihanouk we'd know about it.

Cos Sihanouk tends to make an impression on people.

This is no boasty, braggy, access thing.

It's just because Sihanouk was a pretty unique act.

Just look at all the profiles:

The boy-king, pampered, mercurial, playboy, erratic, Oriental , artistic and all the saffron robed exotica.

Everyone struggling to deal with the fact, to articulate in some way, that Sihanouk was the real deal.

Cos Sihanouk was the real deal.

"The Fantasy of King Sihanouk."

That's what the New Yorker says.

And that is actually what Gourevitch seems totally ignorant of or oblivious to.




Sihanouk had no arms or money.

He didn't rape his people.

He wasn't a kelptocrat.

He worked for his supper.

A scam artist maybe.

But an artist.

He hustled on behalf of Cambodia.

Not always perfectly.

But let's take the worst of what Gourevitch throws at him:

Distorting quite a few facts along the way, the big accusation is that Sihanouk is largely responsible for the Khmer Rouge's genocidal rule.

But had he checked, Gourevitch would have easily seen that history is already robbing him of the potency of that polemic.

Julio Jeldres, Sihanouk's biographer, tells us of Sihanouk's expressing his concerns about the Khmer Rouge to Chou Enlai in 73.*

Sihanouk was seeking support to neuter them.

But Chou Enlai had the Gang of Four to worry about.

And the Yanks were not listening.

The Yanks!

The New Yorker piece is written as if the Americans played no role.

There is no sense that the post Killing Fields Khmer Rouge occupied the UN seat down the road.

And no sense of the pressure that was put on Sihanouk to deal with them.


Sihanouk is a lesson in a man who dealt with pressure.

He had a lot thrown at him.

Even for one born a God-King

A collision of centuries, superpowers and virulent ideologies.

He dealt with them all.

Mao to Mitterand, Tito to Nehru, Ceaucescu to Ho Chi Minh, Nixon to de Gaulle.


With Cambodia's well being as his aim, all Sihanouk had at his diplomatic disposal was spectacle.

The Fantasy of King Sihanouk.

Pure Fantasy.

Think Jagger at Altamont singing Sympathy For The Devil.

Then think amateur hour.

Cos that's what it was compared to this 89 year king's never-ending tour.

And despite being born to absolutism.

And the country's history of it.

And the region's propensity for it.

Sihanouk had a  appreciation of the artifice of what we now call human rights.

Here's a senior Red Cross Official who had dealings with him.

With the Khmer Rouge's Ieng Thirith.

And with Hun Sen.

"The only one who has listened and then delivered in terms of Geneva Conventions and all that jazz, was him," the Red Cross official said, speaking of Sihanouk.

"With him we did at least release all political prisoners that were (known to be...) in jail when the SNC took over," he added, referring to the Supreme National Council, the reconciliation grouping of Cambodia's warring factions pending the outcome of UN brokered elections.

And yet Gourevitch laughs at Sihanouk's belief that history had no place for dishonesty and lies.

"It seems impossible that Sihanouk really believed that, " Gourevitch wrote at the end of his New Yorker piece.

But it's entirely possible.

Cos Sihanouk knows history will be kind to him.

He'll get kudos for the hours telling the peasants what Mao or Tito had just said to him.

Way out there.

Where he was only thing that came from the sky that didn't bring death.

A one man shock and awe band.

Helicopter largesse in a water buffalo world.

Norodom Sihanouk.

Samdech Euv.


You were.


Rock star.

Catch King Sihanouk and all the other dramatic, mischievous and militant pieces of verbal and visual art in the critically acclaimed collection of digidelic delight 'I Love The Internet' here:

Thursday, October 18, 2012


* If anyone has any further tales to add, drop them in the comments box. Ta. K

Apart from death threats left on journos windscreens, my favourite piece of CJ slime was the Pat O Connor/Pat O Connor affair.

CJ's election agent is busted double voting early in the day.

It's panic stations...for the Soldiers of Destiny..

So the CJ/FF plumbers are called in.

'Who will rid me of this troublesome fact?'
old syphillitic snake eyes asks*

Paddy Public - those that matterd, those who voted in CJ's constituency - must be kept in the dark.

PJ smirks.

'There's an idea, keep them in the dark. Sure they are only a gully away from a dark hovel,' PJ said,

 "Do you know what's great about my long arms? I can pat myself on the back! Pat...pat...what sort of fucking eejit is he getting caught!" PJ added.

Back in those pre-digital, smog shrouded days, rumours didn't travel like wildfire, they puttered across the city on chubby mopeds driven by two stroke madmen.

The press delivery boys.

And the plumbers tailed them.

As the two strokes dropped the bundles of Herald and Press, the plumbers bought them up en masse.

But RTE?

The TV?

The wireless?

The Blue Shirts and Stickies will  wreak havoc.

'It will be all law and fucking morality,' CJ spat with venom.

So guess what?


The local ESB sub power station meets with an accident.

No news.

Those who had still to vote were kept in the dark.


And this is the bit that says everything in case you think everything had not been said already.

...around midnight, with CJ victorious, a van pulled up outside the local FG HQ.

The back doors opened.

And bundles of 100s and 100s of papers were kicked out onto the street.

All in a potent gesture of fuck you.

It made me think the most judicious move might be to take a jaunt to the far side of the world.

*if Bob Woodward can do a little historical mind reading and dialogue 'recall' -why can't I?

Tuesday, October 16, 2012


King Sihanouk with the Khmer Rouge's Khieu Samphan and Ieng Sary. Pic by Roland Neveu

Cambodia's King Norodom Sihanouk, while being many things, was way more exceptional than the dilettante he is so often accused of being.

Only those with a truly spurious view of the world can believe that you can have a political career of that length and breadth by being a mere poseur.

In Sihanouk not alone did centuries collide but ideologies at their most virulent.

Privileged and pampered aside, he survived through sheer brilliant perseverance.

He was there with them all. Mao, Deng, Suharto, Nehru, Nixon, Kissinger, Ho Chi, Daddy Kim.
He was a star of the non aligned movement.
Then there was Maggie and Ronnie and then Mitterand.

He seemed thrilled to share the cavalcade with Mitterand.

Then there was his son who should have won the first election in 93

But Hen Sen had the guns.

And the Khmer Rouge, withering on the vine, were seduced by Hun Sen before they could be reactivated by Hun Sen's co-prime minister and son of Sihanouk, Norodom Ranariddh.

Hun Sen won.

He bought up the Khmer Rouge mainstream.

As the hardline imploded with murderous vengeance.

Here's the inrtrepid Nate Thayer on that tragi-comic end.

Press cluster fuck on Sihanouk's return to Phnom Penh. Pic by Tim Page 

So the billionaire communists won over the socialist leaning royalists.

And Sihanouk retired to play a PR monarch role as father of the nation.

The country was finally at peace and had the stability of the tyrant.

There was no real room left for Sihanouk to move - and he was getting old.

So he bailed - leaving progress to 'tooled up' neo-liberalism.

 And he went back to making movies.

Pretty crap.

But still, he made movies.

And he played sax.

And sang.

In very many languages.

And wrote endless letters to journalists who had aroused his ire or interest.

Who was sometimes a buffoon.

Who was always engaging.

Who lived a life packed full of more drama and intrigue than any script would deem credible.

Who was a feudal lord - a divine King - in a country where AKs and bicycles were still 40 years after his coronation the only sign of the modern world.

Out in these centuries old villages WW111 was fought by puny proxy.

One thing that came from the sky that didn't bring death.


Helicopter largesse in a water-buffalo world.