8 January 1979: People’s Republic of Kampuchea Established

On 8 January 1979, the day after the People’s Army of Vietnam (PAVN) took control of the capital city of Phnom Penh, the pro-Vietnamese Kampuchean United Front for National Salvation (KUFNS) established the People’s Republic of Kampuchea (PRK). Heng Samrin was instated as the chief of state and Pen Sovan as general secretary of the Kampuchean People’s Revolutionary Party.

KUFNS, a communist group dissatisfied with the Khmer Rouge regime under Pol Pot, had developed strong ties with the Socialist Republic of Vietnam and the Soviet Union. As such, the new PKR government maintained its close relationship with both allies. Soon after its formation, on 18 February, the PRK signed a twenty-five-year Treaty of Peace, Friendship and Cooperation with the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. Despite failing to secure a United Nations endorsement, 15 Eastern Bloc states and pro-Moscow developing countries followed Vietnam in recognizing the new PRK regime. In turn, the regime’s symbols, slogans, ideology, military uniform and insignia largely copied the Soviet-style aesthetic.

Largely supported by the Cambodian population after the atrocities committed under the Khmer Rouge regime, the PRK began rebuilding the country. This included re-establishing the state bureaucracy, re-instating Buddhism as the state religion and once again empowering academics and intellectuals. They also sought to rebuild the state’s intelligentsia by sending skilled Cambodians to study in Soviet Socialist Eastern Bloc countries. Movie theatres re-opened showing films heavily focused on communist propaganda as a motivating force in the reconstruction of the country.

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