Former Khmer Rouge supporter gives talk at Cambodian high school

Gunnar Bergstrom (second right) stands in front of Siem Reap’s Angkor Wat in 1978 during his visit to the Cambodia.

On Monday 12 September 2016, Swedish Gunnar Bergström visited a Cambodian high-school to tell them about the mistake he made almost 40 years ago supporting Khmer Rouge.

Gunnar Bergström is a 65-year-old Swede who back in the 1970’s belonged to a leftist group from the Swedish friendship association with Cambodia. In 1978, this group made a visit to Cambodia while the country was run by the Maoist Khmer Rouge under Pol Pot. The group decided to take the trip to Cambodia since reports of Khmer Rouge brutalities had just began to flow out of the country, and Gunnar Bergström had a mission going there. He believed that the reports were only CIA propaganda, so he was hoping to discredit them as fabrications of the U.S. and other Western countries, and prove that the Khmer Rouge was an upright group of freedom fighters who had liberated their nation from being oppressed by capitalists. When Mr. Bergström returned to Sweden, he praised the Democratic Kampuchea government which he had just visited.

However, Gunnar Bergström would soon learn that his thoughts did not match the reality. Just a few months after his visit to Cambodia, Pol Pot’s regime collapsed, and the scale of the cruelties people had suffered compelled the Swede to reverse his previous support. Since then, Mr. Bergström has spent a lot of time apologising for his mistake, resulting on a ‘forgiveness tour’ back to Cambodia in 2008. When he visited the Cambodian high-school on 12 September 2016, he, according to The Phnom Penh Post, once again confessed that he had been blinded by “Maoist glasses” and a desire for a successful communist nation to exist in the world. But, different from his visit in 2008, he focused more on the historical events that led to the Khmer Rouge’s rise, and on the need for people to learn from the past.

About Maria Jønsson

Maria Jønsson is a journalist trainee working at ScandAsia from 1 August 2016 till February 2017.

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