Postscript: One Foot Out of the Shadows

[In the Shadow of the Sun]
Han Ki Hong, President, NKnet  |  2014-12-15 13:36

In May 2010 a call came into 111 Call Center, where the NIS, South Koreas state intelligence agency, accepts civilian reports of threats to national security. The caller asserted something very serious: that remnants of Minhyukdang, an underground pro-North Korea organization that had been active in the 1990s, had returned to their old ways.

Three years later, the report was found to be accurate. A serving National Assemblyman and former Minhyukdang cadre called Lee Seok Ki had, it was said, formed a new Revolutionary Organization. 130 members of this so-called RO had met at a location in Hapjeong-dong, Seoul during May 2013, a time of great inter-Korean tensions. There they had, the court would later acknowledge, discussed concrete means of fomenting unrest and overthrowing the South Korean state in the event of war. Seven men were convicted; appeals are ongoing.

The simple fact that this could take place in contemporary South Korea often comes as a surprise to Daily NK readers, most of whom have never been steeped in the Cold War milieu of the Korean Peninsula. Yet it is just the most recent in a long line of extraordinary tales of infiltration and espionage, as Zeitgeist Publishing House revealed in 2012 when it released Han Ki Hong's The Shadow of Progressivism". The book seized upon a moment in South Korean history, and was enormously successful. In this, the postscript to our exclusive series of excerpts, Daily NK finds out why.

In the mid-1990s, North Korea was engulfed in a ruinous famine. It was a period during which millions may have died. Certainly, the World Food Program (WFP) and UN Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) to whom the North appealed for food aid – estimate that hundreds of thousands of people perished as a result of food shortages. Hwang Jang Yop, a former Chosun Workers' Party secretary  and highest ranking official ever to defect to the South stated that according to internal North Korean documents, around 3 million people died as a result of starvation.

At the same time, following the death of Kim Il Sung in July 1994, the founding leaders office complex was transformed into what is now called Kumsusan Suns Palace. The transformation came at an estimated cost of $800 million, a figure high enough to supply the entire North Korean population with minimum corn needs for three years. This was the sacrifice made by the North Korean people for the dead Kim Il Sung. At the same time, Kim Jong Ils personal lifestyle and that of his family continued to be one of extravagance. 

In South Korea, the pro-North Korean Juche faction was able to ignore these facts in the beginning. Instead, they continued to praise North Korea for its resolute commitment to Our-style Socialism and declared simply, Its raining in Moscow, why do the North Koreans need an umbrella? In other words, the collapse of the socialist camp was nothing to do with North Korea.

However, because of the famine, thousands of North Koreans began to migrate back and forth to China, and some even reached South Korea. Through these people, a wealth of fresh information about the North became available. The actual state of the country and the lives of its people became clear for all to see, meaning that claims of exaggeration or fabrication on the part of the international community lost all their persuasive power.

Eventually, the pro-North forces in South Korea bowed to the inevitable and began to change. The leader of the National Democratic Revolutionary Party (Minhyukdang) and a man who had twice met Kim Il Sung in secret, Kim Yong Hwan began the process of disbanding his organisation. Others, like Ha Yong Ok, did not give up their lingering attachment to the North, instead opting to reconstitute Minhyukdang.

One of the reasons for the devotion of activists in the 1980s was that they had little more than North Koreas own propaganda to go on; there was very little information available on the country, except from official South Korean sources, which they could not trust. The result was that they looked upon North Korea with the naive eyes of a child, whilst the fact that the country was seen as such a taboo domestically made it all the more interesting. North Korean ideas, first among them Juche itself, were extolled as those of an ideologically great country. That the country was unapologetic in its anti-Americanism made it even more appealing to these young idealists, for whom America was nothing more than an occupying power in South Korea.

To them, North Korea was a country not without imperfections, but nonetheless victorious, a state organized according to great ideas. But as the 1990s passed and the 2000s begun, the internal situation in the country could no longer be seen through the prism of seemingly lofty ideals. North Korean refugees and aid workers had confirmed the ugly truth.

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