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[Op-Ed] Former North Koreans Speak Out

Posted June. 18, 2009 08:14,   


They saw the same bamboo spears they saw as children. The red flags were the same. Sixty years ago, communists from North Korea took the lives of their families mercilessly with bamboo spears or through kangaroo courts.

They had to leave their hometowns with nothing and came to South Korea to survive. They helped the South rise from the ashes of the Korean War to become one of the world’s most advanced economies. Yet they saw again bamboo spears and red flags in the center of Seoul. Choi Myeong-sam, 84, the head of an association of North Koreans who fled to the South before and during the Korean War, finally took the initiative. He issued his group’s first declaration representing the eight million people who came from the North over the past 60 years.

“We can say nothing but the word ‘gloomy’ because we know better than anybody else what the reality in North Korea is like,” Choi angrily said. “If the Miracle on the Han River is the regression of democracy, is the third-generation power succession of the Kim Il Sung dynasty the progress of democracy?” He added, “Sixty years ago, those wearing armbands praised Kim Il Sung as a general but branded (then South Korean President) Rhee Syng-man as a traitor, murderer and pro-Japanese collaborator. Those holding red flags now refer to Kim Jong Il as chairman of the (North’s) National Defense Commission, while cursing the democratically elected (South Korean) president with words I cannot even say with my mouth.”

Unless directly experienced by oneself, it is hard to imagine what it feels like to be unable to go back to one’s hometown. South Koreans complain of the heavy traffic around major holidays, but they can never know how much former North Koreans miss their hometowns. What infuriates them the most is that their beautiful hometowns have turned into nuclear bases. That is why they urged a stop to all aid to the North until Pyongyang gives up its nuclear program despite the toll the suspension will have on their brethren in the North.

Those who came to the South alone with nothing yet earned a fortune are realistic enough to believe only what they see and what they have in their hands. They were well aware that the “sunshine policy” would not get the North to give up its ambition of communist reunification of the peninsula, but could not express their thoughts out loud. Certain political groups, university professors, and pro-North Korea organizations are now taking to the streets in broad daylights to support of the Kim Jong Il government. To this, Choi asks, “Is this what we get after all the efforts put in to protect liberal democracy and market economy that has built today’s Republic of Korea?” People on the streets, it is now your turn to answer this question.

Editorial Writer Kim Sun-deok (yuri@donga.com)