French Psychoanalyst Draws Up Mental-Health Profile of Pol Pot

In every human being, there must be a degree of believing in oneself in order to succeed in life, but in some revolutionaries, such as Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot, an excessive amount of self-love stripped them of their humanity, according to French psychoanalyst Jean Artarit.

“When Pol Pot said that buffaloes are better than people because at least they work without complaining, we’re seeing such an instance,” Dr. Artarit, a Paris-based psychiatrist who has examined the accused and their alleged victims for tribunals, said on Monday.

Khmer Rouge leaders Nuon Chea, left, and Pol Pot pose for a photograph in western Cambodia in 1986. (Reuters)

In a Wednesday evening conference in Phnom Penh, Dr. Artarit is set to explain why he believes Pol Pot had narcissistic personality disorder, a condition named after Narcissus, a hunter in Greek mythology whose beauty was such that he fell in love with his own image.

Narcissists deny their origins and any role their parents might have played in their lives, Dr. Artarit said. “There is nothing before them…. These are people totally into self-generating. They don’t owe anything to anyone.”

Born to a family of well-off farmers with a relative at the Royal Palace, Pol Pot would portray himself in a 1978 interview to Yugoslav journalists as being from a poor “peasant family,” which was pure invention, Dr. Artarit said.

Narcissists tend to need another person in which they can reflect themselves, he said. “The narcissist core, the perverse core I would say, was Pol Pot and Nuon Chea.”

Their logic was that, since others hated them and were about to kill them, they had to kill first, Dr. Artarit said. “Huge megalomaniacs…they were this terrible couple of persecutor-persecuted.”

The Khmer Rouge regime Pol Pot headed oversaw the deaths of 1.7 million people during the mid-1970s. Pol Pot died in 1998, while Nuon Chea, 90, the regime’s second-in-command, is on trial at the Khmer Rouge tribunal in Phnom Penh. Found guilty in one trial, he is awaiting the verdict in a second.

Dr. Artarit was in charge of psychiatric services at the university and public hospital Bichat-Claude Bernard in Paris. For more than 25 years, he was called upon to testify in court about his examinations of victims and perpetrators. A frequent visitor to Cambodia, he has attended the Khmer Rouge tribunal numerous times.

In 2009, Dr. Artarit wrote a book in which he psychoanalyzed Maximilien Robespierre, a French Revolution leader who sent scores of people to the guillotine in the late 18th century.

He is now working on a similar book about Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge regime that is scheduled to be published next year.

Conference: 

When: Wednesday at 6 p.m.

Where: Royal University of Fine Arts, #72 St. 19, Phnom Penh

A question-and-answer session will follow the conference.

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