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[Opinion] Juche Disillusions

Posted November. 13, 2006 07:00,   


1986 was the turning point for the student activist movement in Korea. Five documents published that spring, including the “Kang Cheol Letters,” were the cause. These essays, written by Kim Yeong-hwan using the pen name “Kang Cheol,” then a Seoul National University Law Department student who entered the university in 1982 and was directing the labor campaign of younger students in Bupyeong, Incheon, immediately pushed the National Liberty (NL) branch into the mainstream of student activist movements.

The ideological aiming point of the movement, which originally sprang from the anti-dictatorship democratization movement but was wavering between Socialism and Anti-Americanism in the 80’s, focused on the Kim Il Sung Juche ideology due to the influence of “Kang Cheol.”

The “Kang Cheol Letters” have their ideological roots in the 1982 document titled “On the Juche Idea,” officially authored by Kim Jong Il, but its concise, strong, and articulate style helped it play a crucial role in the spreading of the Juche ideology. Kim Il Sung, then leader of North Korea, read the Kang Cheol Letters and was so impressed that he had it translated into English, Japanese, Arabic, and Spanish and distributed it worldwide. Having caught the attention of North Korea, “Kang Cheol” was contacted by a North Korean spy, and after joining the Workers’ Party of North Korea, went to North Korea in a submarine in 1991 to meet Kim Jong Il.

However, his visit to North Korea caused him to part with the Juche ideology. What he saw was a “dead society.” It was a system in which the independence and creativity of human beings emphasized by the Juche ideology was completely destroyed. North Korean scholars of Juche ideology repeated stale theories during their debates with Kang Cheol. After distancing himself from North Korea since then, he finally converted in 1996, declaring, “The North Korean government is opposing the people. As revolutionaries, we must fight for the people.”

Mr. Kim, who has been fighting for the democratization of North Korea since then, defined the Ilsimhoe incident as “being caused by the anachronistic delusions of foolish student activists who blindly followed North Korea.” He criticized the blindness of the followers of Juche ideology who adore the North Korean regime even when it has become known worldwide that its leader drinks wine worth five million won and focuses on nuclear development when millions of its people are starving to death. Call it the sequel written 20 years later, the “New Kang Cheol Letters,” if you will.

Heo Seung-ho, Editorial Writer, tigera@donga.com