Youth Group Asks to Stop the Department of Vietnamese Studies

Thel Thilen, a group representative from Siem Reap province. Photo supplied.

PHNOM PENH – A youth group filed a petition to the Ministry of Education and the Royal University of Phnom Penh (RUPP), asking to halt the establishment of the Department of Vietnamese Studies. They say Vietnamese studies are unnecessary and may indirectly insert “Vietnam’s ideology” into the Cambodian people.

About 10 people from different provinces gathered in front of the Education Ministry on Aug. 29 to file a petition along with roughly 5,000 testimonies, such as videos, pictures, reactions, and comments of people showing their unhappiness with the establishment of the Vietnamese department.

They came all the way from are from Siem Reap, Takeo, Kampong Speu, Kampong Chhnang, or Kandal provinces.

The opening of a new section at RUPP dedicated to Vietnamese studies, comprising a degree in the Vietnamese language for translation and another one for business communication, was announced on Aug. 16 by the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports. Since then, dissatisfaction among the Cambodian population has been on the rise.

Thel Thilen, a group representative from Siem Reap province, said he and the other members cannot accept the explanation of the Education Ministry, which claimed that the establishment of such a department is necessary for Cambodia and will benefit the country.

He added that Cambodian people living in Khmer Kampuchea Krom (the Southern part of Vietnam, which was once part of the Khmer Empire) have no full access to Khmer studies. Thilen, thus, said it reflects the abnormal bilateral relationship between the two countries.

“So, we are worried and we fear that Cambodia could be under indirect psychological and ideological control, and possibly reach [a form of] mental colonization,” Thilen said on Aug. 29 in front of RUPP. “According to history, the Vietnamese never gave benefits but invaded the country,” he said in reference to the Vietnamese occupation of the Cambodian territory from 1979 to 1989.

Thilen went on to say that Vietnamese studies can affect the culture as the language is a part of the culture. He stressed that Cambodia must be cautious when it comes to Vietnam: “they never give up their ambition of invading Cambodia,” he warned.

He told Cambodianess that the ministry had accepted the group’s petition but asked for time to review and consider their request. Then, the group proceeded to the Royal University of Phnom Penh to submit the same petition to the school, which was refused by the school representative.

Sam Sam Ol, RUPP’s chief of administration said that the school cannot accept the petition as it has been taken in by the ministry already. The school will be waiting for any order issued by the ministry.

“Generally, the school can’t accept any petition. The Education Ministry is the guardian, so everything is on the ministry,” he said.

Ros Soveacha, Education Ministry spokesman, said he cannot give comments on this issue.

Sam Um, another young representative from Takeo province, said that if no response is given within roughly a week, or if the ministry turns down their request, the group will continue to advocate and find another strategy. He said they are already considering submitting the petition to Prime Minister Hun Sen.

“We want to show our will. Since the news [of the establishment] was published, no youths have done anything about it,” said Um.

On Aug. 16, the Education Ministry revealed a plan to establish a department of Vietnamese Studies to enhance its bilateral ties with Vietnam and foster a deeper understanding of the neighboring nation in Cambodia's public higher education, which caused many public outcries.

The Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports has authorized the Royal University of Phnom Penh (RUPP) to found the Institute for International Studies and Public Policy (IISPP), a new unit in which a Vietnamese Department will be created, said Ros Soveacha, spokesperson of the ministry on Aug. 16 during the press conference of the five years achievement of the ministry.

On Aug. 19, the Education Ministry issued a statement to give additional details on this new department, saying the IISPP will be established in 2022, while Cambodia holds the chairmanship of the ASEAN. But a more precise date has yet to be published.

Prime Minister Hun Sen on Aug. 23 also said that the forthcoming launch of the Vietnamese language department will benefit the Cambodian people and further solidify ties between the two neighboring countries.

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