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N. Korean defectors suffer identity crisis

Posted November. 24, 2000 15:18,   


With half a century of confrontation and antagonism between South and North Korea ushering in an era of mutual reconciliation and cooperation, the people who defected from the North now are experiencing extreme confusion in their identities.

It is generally viewed that the controversy over the statement by Hwang Jang-Yop, former secretary of the North Korean Workers` Party, is not merely concerned with his protest against the restrictions on his individual life but rather an expression of the sense of crisis facing the North Korean defectors. Here, the study is made on the substance and backgrounds of their identity crisis.

Identity crisis:

Since they defected from the North because of their dislikes of the system there, it is natural for them to criticize the Kim Jong-Il regime.

The question is that the Seoul government does not want to provoke the Pyongyang leadership. In this vein, the National Intelligence Service (NIS) this summer asked the North Korean defectors to refrain from criticizing the Seoul government`s sunshine policy of engagement with the North and the Pyongyang regime.

This is quite opposite to the past. Hence, they have lost standing in terms of ideological dimension, and, in a sense, they are rendered into lost orphans on the Korean peninsula.

To break through the deadlock, their anti-North Korean voices are becoming louder. In response to the government`s standpoint that North Korea is changing, the defectors countered in a recent edition of the "National Unification" bulletin that Pyongyang changed its overcoat but it has never abandoned a conspiracy to communize the whole of Korea.

Background for identity confusion:

The differences in the views on North Korea between the defectors and the Seoul government begin with how to evaluate the Kim Jong-Il regime.

The defectors are of the view that there is no reason for the North to change, as long as Kim Jong-Il¡¯s ruling is kept intact. Under the present circumstances, any food and medical aids to the North would be utilized for shoring up the Kim regime but not helpful to the impoverished people in the North.

On the contrary, the Seoul government is in a position that with such a Cold War and conservative logic, it is difficult to develop inter-Korean relations.

This conflicting views and compunctions are not originating from the ideological dimension but from the apprehensions that the inter-Korean rapprochement could endanger their economic footholds.

For instance, Hwang's income arising from his lectures arranged by the NIS has decreased to one-third, of late. If and when the two Koreas reconnect the Kyongui Railway and embark on direct trade, the defectors now doing business via China could loose their jobs.

Also, stressing the defectors, is their ever deteriorating living conditions. Some 70 percent of the North Koreans who defected before the 1980s have their own houses, but just 8 percent of those who came to the South thereafter own houses. In terms of unemployment rate, they record 60 percent, recording 10 times higher than the overall domestic jobless rates. In this way, their economic plight has also fueled their complaints.

Outlook and countermeasures:

For their worsening poverty, the government alone is not liable. From 1997, the government went all-out to relieve the refugees from the North with a comprehensive support program, including the legislation of a special law for their protection and settlement of living. Last year, the government expanded assistance plan with the increased subsidy for their livelihood. In order to increase their employment, the government is paying up to 50 percent of their wages to receive their employers.

But why haven't their living conditions improved considerably? Experts say that warm compatriot love is needed for them on the part of the South Koreans, in addition to the government aid. It is said that many North Koreans bolted from their work places, unable to overcome the cool attitude and alienation from the South Korean coworkers. And some pointed out that they lack the self-supporting capability, as a matter of fact.

Prof. Kim Young-Soo of Sogang University said in this connection that the present of the North Korean defectors is the future image of the North Korean people in the wake of the national unification.

"Embracing them as members of our society is the way of addressing their identity crisis and advancing the reunification," Kim said.