Culture is a Source of Identity and Development

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

PHNOM PENH (Khmer Times) – Under the label “Cambodia: the Kingdom of Wonder,” Cambodia is promoting its tourism and national identity.  Culture and historical heritage are regarded as the bedrock of identity construction and sustainable development.
Three decades of civil war greatly destroyed Cambodian historical and cultural heritages.  Cultural elements were rooted out during the Khmer Rouge regime.  After restoring peace and stability in the early 1990s, Cambodians have struggled to reconstruct their identity.
Although  globalization hit  Cambodia particularly hard in the 1990s, cultural identity remains strong and vibrant, deep in the heart and soul of Cambodians.  National pride rests upon the concept of Khmer Angkor, although there is no standard definition of the term.
Historical and cultural meanings attached to the Angkor temple complex, Khmer language, Theravada Buddhism are the main sources of Khmer identity. Inter-generational knowledge transfers of family value, customs, and traditional rituals, help preserve cultural heritage. Culture is a key to social cohesion and a wellspring for social resilience.
Cambodian nationalist leaders always have linked their political platforms and movements with the distant glorious Angkor period. Angkor Wat temple has become the symbol of the Cambodian national identity and unity. Angkor is the soul and spirit of all Cambodians.
Angkor Sangkran, the annual cultural event, organized by the Union of Youth Federations of Cambodia to celebrate Khmer New Year, is an attempt to raise public awareness especially, among the young generation, of traditional Khmer cultural values and customs.
Angkor Sangkran needs to add more substance. It should expand its activities and programs to include public roundtables on Cambodian identity and cultural values, cooperation with other regional youth associations to promote cultural diversity, and implanting a culture of peace and tolerance.
Cambodias cultural heritage has attracted millions of international tourists.  Culture tourism accounts for 80 percent of Cambodia’s tourism. The tourism industry  generated $3 billion revenue last year.
At the the World Conference on “Tourism and Culture: Building a New Partnership,” Prime Minister Hun Sen stressed last week in Siem Reap the key role of culture in developing sustainable tourism and development.
“Culture tourism development will benefit community development, enhancement of local people’s living standards and local development,” the Prime Minister told tourism and culture ministers gathered from around the world for the opening session.
Culture is an enabler and driver in development. Incorporating culture into development policy promotes sustainable development, social inclusiveness, and cultural diversity. Development is not only about GDP and per capita income, but also social and cultural wellbeing and harmony.
Cambodia has comparative advantage in integrating culture into its development strategy. Cambodia has great potential to become a regional role model in promoting and integrating culture into regional cooperation for sustainable development.
A proposed National Consultation Group to promote Cambodia’s culture tourism should expand its scope to include culture tourism, cultural diversity, sustainable development, and creative industries.
This group’s policy recommendations should be integrated into the national development strategy. This model of linking culture with development can be applicable around the world.

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