Almost three years after the Communist takeover of Cambodia, the National Bank in Phnom Penh is a heap of ruins. Safe deposit boxes lie apparently untouched beneath piles of rubble. Nobody seems to care whether they contain money or not.
A party of four Yugoslav journalists just back from Phnom Penh - the first foreign reporters other than Chinese or Vietnamese to visit Cambodia since the Communists came to power - found that like everything else associated with the regime, money has simply ben abolished.
"In Cambodia," wrote Maroje Mihovilovic in the Zagred Daily Vjesnik,"there is no money, no post, no television, no public transport, no telephone exchange, no university."
Phonm Penh, once a beautiful, French-accented city with a population that by 1975 had been swollen by refuges from the war to more than 2 million, has been reduced by Cambodia's new rulers to a village of less than 20,000,
The city's imposing villas and mansions are inhabitated by soldiers and peasants living squatter-style amid their chickens and other animals.
Much personal property has simply been abandoned. Mihovilovic wrote: "In the countrywards of many houses, one sees ruined furniture and the shell of cars. The outskirts of the city are like automobile graveyards."
Dragoslav Ranchic of the Belegrade paper Politika reported: "At Phonm Penh airport lie the remains of Lon Nol's American airplanes. Turning to rust, they are evidence of a war, but also of a change in a attitude towards the past and traditional values." Lon Nol led the U.S. backed government defeated by the Communists.
There is only one store in Phonm Penh. Open two days a week, it serves the diplomatic crops - Cambodia has relations with China, North Korea, Albania Cuba Egypt, loas and Yugoslavia. Scotch whicky, American butter, and French wine are still on the shelves - and payment is strictly in U.S. dollars.
SOMe of the houses still have television antennas - even though no television programs have been broadcast in Cambodia for three years. The main medium of information is the radio station. The Voice of Democratic Kampuchea, which broadcasts news, directives, and commentaties interspersed with revolutionary music.
Despite official claims that illiteracy has been all but eliminated there is little to read. A newspaper, "The Revolution," is published three times a month and a magazine even more irregulary. Even the classical Marxist texbooks have not been published and the national library is neglected and littered with old furniture.
Claimimg that the cities are breeding-grounds for parasites, the new rulers have put all their efforts into developing the countryside. Pol Pot, the Cambodia premier and Communist Party secretary, said in a two-hour interview with the Yugoslav journalists;"We evacuated the cities to solve the food problem and to give the nation confidence in the revolution. Confidence would have been lost if people had died from starvation in the cities."
He also said that the "American imperialists" had a plan to create chaos and disorder in Phonm Penh following their withdrawal.
The new order in Cambodia is based on the village and in particular on two social units - the agricultural cooperative and the mobile brigade. Together these provide the engine of the country's economic development. The journalists visited the Leay Bou cooperative in the southern Takeo Province, made up of about 000 people. Mihovilovic said that life there was totally communal: "Property such as bicycles, sewing machines, domestic animals are held in common. Each cooperative has a clinic and an elementary school. everything is done communally - from eating (in huge communal halls) to bringing up children."
Members of the cooperative receive no money; they are paid approximately a kilo (2.2 pounds) of rice per day and a pair of black pyjamas a year. New wooden houses are being built in the village.
The journalists found no shortage of food in the cooperative they visited. Cambodia is in any case a rich agricultural country; apart from rice, there has always been plenty of fruit and fish.
The mobile brigades are composed largely of young people working in teams of up to 20,000 people. The brigades travel from one construction project to another, staying in a single place only during the rainy season.
According to the Yugoslav reports, enormous efforts are being invested in building dams and dikes to increase rice production and thereby strengthen Cambodia's self-sufficiency.
Workers in the mobile brigades, who included former Buddhist monks and school children, said they worked from 6 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. and again from 1:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. in the evening. They have three rest days a month but those are mainly taken up with political eduction, they said.
For Mihovilovic, the social organization of modern Cambodia is symbolized by rice and spades. "Rice supports the cooperative, which is the basic social and economic unit, while spades are foundation of the mobile brigades, which are one of the counttry's most important economic instruments," he wrote.
The Yugoslavs do not appear to have raised the controversial question of the hundreds of thousands of people believed to have been killed by the Khmer Rouge shortly after their victory. The only allusion to such massacres was made by the Politika correspondent, Ranchic, who said: "We were inclined to believe the statement of our guides that the class enemy has been relatively quickly eliminated in Cambodia."
It is clear, however, that the system established by the Khmer Rouge is an efficient method of social control. As Ranchic explained: "The cooperative is a complete social organization. To exist, a man must live in a center where food is distributed. To eat, he must work. Since there is no money, is virtually impossible to survive outside a cooperative."
Who runs Cambodia is still shrouded in mystery. Mihovilovic noted that the Communist Praty is still organized as if it were an under ground movement.
"Today the party has a name, a secretary (Pol Pot), a small circle of leaders - no more than 10 of them. But ordinary party cadres still opearte is total secrecy. At the grassroots, ever who belongs to the party is kept a secret, or at least it was from us," he wrote.
The journalists did, however, man age to uncover a few personal detail about Pol Pot himself. Telling them that they were the first foreigners to hear his biography, he said he was born the son of a peasant and lived in a pagoda for six years studying to be a buddhist priest.
He received a technical degree from secondary school and won a schoolarship in France where he joined a leftist student movement and was eventually expelled from school for neglectedhis studies, he said.
From 1954 to 1963 Pol Pot lived in Phonm Penh, using the cover of history teacher at aprivate school for illegal activities. He was named acting secretary of the Cambodia Communist Party in 1962 following what he desribes as "the secret liquidation of the prevoius secretary by our enemies."
Pol Pot left Phnom Penh to join the guerrillas in 1963, the same year he was elected permanent secretary by the second party congress, and did not return to Phnom Penh until five days after the Communist takeover.
The Cambodian leader also dropped a clue as to why Yugoslavs were among the first foreign journalists allowed into the new Cambodia. As a young student in 1950 he spent a month working on the Belgrade-ze-gred 120;highway as a member of a youth brigade.