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Behind the Scenes of Im Su-kyung’s 1989 Pyongyang Festival Visit

Behind the Scenes of Im Su-kyung’s 1989 Pyongyang Festival Visit

Posted October. 10, 2005 03:03,   


The behind-the-scenes story on North Korean college students who hailed Im Su-kyung, at the 1989 Pyongyang Youth and Student Festival (then a student majoring French in Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, and dubbed the flower of Unification) has been released for the first time.

Kim Hyeon-sik, 73, a former education professor in North Korea who escaped in 1991 and who is currently teaching at Yale University as a visiting professor, said last Saturday at the Yeonu Forum held for international cooperation in Fairfax, Virginia near Washington D.C., “My four students who met Im were forced to take part in a one-week program for weight gain.”

Students who were selected thanks to their good appearance were sent to an international hotel located in downtown Pyongyang where they ate meat, bread, apples, and milk to the point of vomiting for a week. This was a desperate countermeasure to hide their malnutrition.

Kim said that the students were coached to lightly clap when Im entered the stadium, and to clap hard when Im took the platform. If Im spoke positive things about Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il, the students were ordered to respond with big applause and cheering. Kim also added, “If Im’s speech criticized North Korea’s political system, they were ordered to frown simultaneously.”

Kim also introduced one interesting anecdote. To one student who didn’t wear socks, Im asked, “Why aren’t you wearing socks?” The student was embarrassed because this was an unexpected question. Students had only prepared answers about their majors, future plans, and names.

“The student was just staring at professors and party executives next to him without answering the question. As soon as a professor sent a sign that meant “relax and just answer, the student aggressively responded by saying, “Why did you ask me that question?”

“He might have misinterpreted the sign we sent,” said Kim.

At the end of his lecture, Kim said, “I wanted to tell this story to Im when I came into South Korea. But I couldn’t because Im was studying in the U.S. at that time.”

Seung-Ryun Kim srkim@donga.com