Decolonization brought forth an era of leaders who held their own citizens in a not so democratic “hero worship” and who could capitalise on the cold war by projecting greater power than they really had. The non aligned movement in the 1960s was exactly the personification of such larger than life characters, each of them having the ability though the combination of their colourful personalities, their willingness to flirt with both superpowers and their hero worship at home linked to decolonization.
Makarios of Cyprus was one them: there are people who might not know where Cyprus is but they know Makarios.
The last and most wily just past away today, managing to cheat death up until today. You could never pin King Sihanouk down: was he a plaything of the west, a die hard communist Khmer Rouge, a playboy, or an extravagant leader who wasted his countries resources on grand movies while the Vietnam war was spilling over in Cambodia? The
truth is that he was all of the above and none of the above at the same time.
Trained by France he was diplomatic enough to accept Japan's terms during the Second World War while not looking like an enemy of the victorious allies. He brought independence to Cambodia while remaining an ally of France, and he undermined democracy by becoming prince for life while bringing the first elections.
He brought in China and North Vietnam in the country after huge pressure to create alternative supplies to the Vietnam conflict. Instead of building an army to fend off a conflict he spent significant time on his hobbies of directing films and jazz.
He made Hollywood type movies in Cambodia about the glorious past of his lineage while people where in dire living conditions. He made a city after his name. At the same time although basking in privilege and extravagance he made public announcements of the greatness of Maoism (remember Makario's a head of an Autokefalous Church, claiming to be a socialist?). Prince Shianouk increased the influence with China while suppressing the left in his country and while he was still part of the French alliance! He claimed that that was the only way his country could stay out of the increasingly brutal and globalized Vietnam War that was raging all around Cambodia.
Expelled and replaced by a pro west regime, the fate of Cambodia as a brutal side show of the Vietnam was ensured.
Bitter, Prince Sihanouk supported the Khmer Rouge, the most brutally genocidal regime, and was critical in their early success in recruiting fighters. Meanwhile he was living in a palace build to him in North Korea in isolation but in extreme decadence, having jazz parties and watching the movies he created. He entered with the Khmer victorious, only to stand helpless as the Khmer launched a policy of mass extinction and death of over 1.7 million dead Cambodeans. Prince Sihanouk never blamed himself for this tragedy he helped create and would work with the Khmer again to allow him to wield influence.
His desire to be on the centre stage meant that being a glorified pawn of the communist Khmer Rouge was not going last. He was quickly deposed from all ceremonial dues and was not shot due to his global presence, and he sought refuge in China and North Korea. Despite that he was instrumental in maintaining Khmer Rouge power in the UN after they were expelled from the country by Vietnam and became financially supported by the USA who wanted to contain Vietnamese expansion.
He was brought back as a ceremonial head in 1992 when the Khmer guerrillas were effectively defeated diplomatically. In another turn he then created a party that supported in a coalition the Vietnam backed leader of the party Hun Sen. Yet he chose to abdicate in 2004 as he felt his given the role was too restrictive under the autocracy and new “hero worship” created towards the true leader of Cambodia, Hun Sen. He once more caused a storm as there was no abdication procedure in the fragile constitution created after the peace agreements.
Here they are all leaders of the decolonised world, the last of them meeting them in death.
BELGRADE, YUGOSLAVIA: Delegations' chiefs pose 05 September 1961 at the end of the conference of the unaligned countries in Belgrade. (Fron R to L: Josip Broz Tito (1892 - 1980), president of Yugoslavia, Prince Hassan ibn Yahya (1908 - 2003), permanent representative of Yemen in the UN, Prince Norodom Sihanouk of Cambodia, Saeb Salam (1905 - 2000), Premier of Lebanon, Aden Abdullah Osman Daar, president of Somalia, Ibrahim Abboud (1900 - 1983), president of Sudan, Sheikh Ibrahim Suwaiyel, minister of Foreign Affairs of Saudi Arabia, Archbishop Makarios (1913 - 1977), president of Cyprus, King Hassan II of Morocco (1929 - 1999), Sirimavo Bandaranaike (1916 - 2000), Premier of Ceylon, Habib Bourguiba (1903 - 2000), president of Tunisia, Ahmed Sukarno (1901 - 1970), president of Indonesia, Osvaldo Dorticos Torrado (1919 - 1983), president of Cuba, Kwame Nkrumah (1909 - 1972), president of Ghana, Gamal Abdel Nasser (1918 - 1970), president of the United Arab Republic of Egypt, Emperor Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia (1891 - 1975), Sardar Mohammad Daud Khan (1909 - 1978), Premier of Afghanistan, Modibo Keita (1915 - 1977), president of Mali, Jawaharlal Nehru (1889 - 1964), Premier of India, Hashim Jawad (1911 - 1972), Minister of Foreign Affairs of Iraq, King Mahendra Bir Bikram of Nepal (1920 - 1972), Youssef ben Khedda (1920 - 2003), president of the provisional Algerian government, Louis Lansana Beavogui (1923 - 1984), Minister of Foreign Affairs of Guinea, Cyrille Adoula (1921 - 1978), Premier of the government of Democratic Republic of Congo, Antoine Gizenga, vice-president of the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo, U Nu (1907 - 1995), premier of Burma). AFP PHOTO (Photo credit should read AFP/Getty Images)
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