PM Defends Rules on Cultural Authenticity

Prime Minister Hun Sen speaks at annual meeting with artists on March 3, 2023. Photo: Prime Minister Hun Sen's Facebook

PHNOM PENH – PM Hun Sen has warned that cultural misconduct could tarnish the national identity after a well-known businesswoman criticized strict Culture Ministry requirements for her planned exhibition.

“Showing Khmer cultural art to the people and for the younger generation is a good thing but if the presentation is not in accordance with the rules, it is tantamount to destroying Khmer culture,” Hun Sen said on March 8 in audio posted on his Facebook page.

Jewels dealer Try Dana wrote on her Facebook page on March 7 that she would cancel a $10 million project promoting Khmer culture at the Angkor Sankranta in April because she was having a hard time getting permission to take two traditional and cultural photos in front of Angkor Wat temple.

“I spent my own money on the project just because I want to show and create memories for the next generation,” she said.

“But now I apologize to all Cambodians, not that I do not exhibit Khmer culture, but because the Ministry of Culture gives me hard times.”

However, the PM said cultural work went beyond simply showing the culture to the public.

Correctly adhering to cultural traditions' rules and regulations was paramount and a small mistake in displaying costumes or statues would harm the country's culture.

He said the ministry had told him that Try Dana’s project consisted of the king dragon nine-headed costume but this was not part of Khmer culture.

Importantly, the costume could not be different from the era in which the performance takes place.

If the performance is in the Angkorian period, the post-Angkorian period cannot be used.

“It’s scary that we have our true cultural identity but​​ we distort it by improper presentation,” Hun Sen said. “This can affect our own culture and that of our neighbors because of the similar culture of clothing.

“The requirement is not strict but for the public to comply with the law, which the Ministry of Culture has a duty to do.”

He said the ministry had a role to protect the ancestral culture and that a clear explanation must be distributed to Try Dana, monks, and the Cambodian people.

He instructed Try Dana to follow the instructions of the ministry, otherwise she could not do a cultural outreach project in preparation for Angkor Sankranta.

“I request that special attention be paid to the form as per the instructions of the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts.”

Following Hun Sen’s instructions, Try Dana shared the audio and accept the order.

The Angkor Sangkranta is an annual celebration that showcases Khmer customs, cultures, and the works of early Khmer artists through pictures, dances, games, and other traditional performances that reflect the lives of the people.

This year is the 10th anniversary of the event and will be held under the theme “Dream and Hope.”

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