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Diaspora conference to shed light on forgotten pains of divided nation

Diaspora conference to shed light on forgotten pains of divided nation

Posted December. 16, 2019 07:48,   

Updated December. 16, 2019 07:48


A total of 357 North Korean college students studied in East Germany from the year 1952 when a first batch of 37 students arrived in East Berlin to the year 1956. However, Pyongyang prematurely brought back 40 students in 1956 and ordered all students studying in East Europe to temporarily return to the North to receive political ideology training. Amid this situation, 11 students escaped to West Germany through West Berlin in a mass exile incident.

An international academic conference will take place to shed light on stories of people that have been left out from the recording of inter-Korea’s official history, while going beyond the standpoint of ideology and people. Sogang University’s Transnational Institute of Humanities is hosting an academic conference “Translational North Korea: Forgotten memories and history from the bottom” at Kim Dae-geon Hall at the university in Seoul’s Mapo district on Monday and Tuesday.

The theme of the academic conference is “diaspora” concerning the division of Korea. In his presentation entitled “Anti-imperialistic heroes: war orphans and students who went to East Germany,” Prof. Lee Yu-jae of the University of Tübingen in Germany focused on everyday situations that happened when North Korea started exchange with socialist brethren nations in the 1950s.

According to the presentation, North Korea sent some 24,000 war orphans, 5,000 students, and 7,800 workers to those countries to pursue various purposes in the 1950s. When Pyongyang noticed that war orphans it had sent to East Germany were influenced by decadent European lifestyle and ideology that ran counter to the proletariat class, when they returned to the North after study, it started repatriating them.

There were no exceptions for its students who fell in love with or even married East Germans. “Most East German women were not allowed to go to North Korea to follow their North Korean husbands or boyfriends,” Lee said. “The reality cruelly made them separated families.”

Jong-Yeob JO jjj@donga.com