”I have always been dedicated to my homeland. I try to give happiness, some prosperity, and education to my people. I want my country to be independent, always independent. I have to defend my convictions as a patriot and as a national leader. I have done my best, but as a human being I cannot be perfect, nobody is perfect.”
Norodom Sihanouk was the head of state of Cambodia numerous times. He is more commonly known as Samdech Euv in his homeland, meaning father prince. Sihanouk became king in 1941 upon the death of his maternal grandfather, King Monivong. After the Japanese occupation of Cambodia during the Second World War, he secured independence from France. He abdicated in 1955 and was succeeded by his father, Suramarit. His political organization, Sangkum, then won the general election that year and he became prime minister. He governed it under one-party rule, suppressed political dissent, and declared himself Head of State in 1960.
While officially neutral in foreign relations, in practice he was closer to the communist bloc. The Cambodian coup of 1970 ousted hum and he fled to China and North Korea, forming a government in-exile and resistance movement. He returned as a figurehead after the Cambodian Civil War resulted in victory for the Khmer Rouge in 1975; playing a theatrical role that intended to reassure Cambodians that in his person, there was some kind of connection with a better past and therefore a bridge to a better future. During his lifetime, Sihanouk was also a film-maker, journalist, editor, and impresario, as well as being a dominant politician for more than 60 years.
Sihanouk’s portrait is in several of Cambodia’s banknotes, including the latest 5000 riel that came into circulation in 2017. It features the late monarch in a beret, as well as a naga head –a divine race of half-human half-serpent beings that reside in the netherworld (Patala) and are symbols of abundance and fertility. On the reverse is an image of Kampong Kdei bridge in Siem Reap province.