Flower Indeed: Lim Su-Kyung and the Bigotry of the Korean Left

For several days, I’ve hoped to find time to write about the new hit TV show in South Korea, “Now on My Way to Meet You,” featuring (and humanizing!) photogenic North Korean women:

Each woman also entertains, some by singing and dancing. Others perform comedy skits, including several who mimic North Korea’s iconic, stern-faced female TV newsreader.

But the ending turns sad as the women send video messages to family members back in the North. Everyone in the studio sobs as one woman tells her father, held in a North Korean jail, how she can’t forget the way he smiled when she visited.    [….]

The emotional public response has taken them by surprise.  One guest, Shin Eun-ha, even has her own fan club.  “I wept for the first time in 10 years, along with my husband,” wrote one female viewer. Another said the show had persuaded her and her husband not to divorce.  [Reuters]

More here, video here.

I love this story on several levels (my wife also does a wicked impression of a North Korean anchorwoman).  So often, South Koreans perceive North Koreans in the way Europeans perceive Roma (aka Gypsies) — as feral vagabonds who can never quite be brought into their circles of trust, whether socially or economically.  The greatest barriers to reunification will be psychological  — mutual stereotyping, tribalism, and exploitation.  And when we see the views of some in Korea’s political left — including one who was elected to the South Korean National Assembly by a majority of one district’s voters — you get a sense of how difficult unification will be.

Allow me to introduce Lim Su-Kyung, who in 1989, before it was routine for South Koreans to visit the North, defied the warnings of her own government to attend a youth festival in Pyongyang.  The North immediately made a propaganda superstar out of her, dubbed her the “flower of unification,” and even granted her an audience with Kim Il Sung.  Last April, Lim got herself elected to the National Assembly as a representative of the main left-wing opposition party, the Democratic United Party.

In Seoul recently, Baek Yo Sep, a 28 year-old a North Korean defector, university student, and human rights activist recognized Lim in a restaurant, where she was drinking with some advisors.  Baek asked Lim to pose for a picture, Lim agreed, and all seemed to be cordial until one of Lim’s advisors insisted on deleting the pictures.  Somehow, the soju set free Lim’s inner Mel Gibson, and showed us the worst of the Korean Left’s bigotry toward their oppressed brothers and sisters:

According to Baek […] Lim made the comments to him on the 1st at a restaurant in Seoul, saying, “Defectors who have no roots should just shut their mouths and live quietly in the Republic of Korea. Defectors with no idea should not talk back to a Republic of Korea National Assembly lawmaker.”

[….]

In the process, Lim also heavily criticized Saenuri Party lawmaker Ha Tae Kyung, who used to be a pro-North activist himself, saying, “You work with that Ha Tae Kyung right, on that North Korean human rights stuff? Ha Tae Kyung that turncoat I’m going to kill him with my own bare hands.”  [Daily NK]

Different papers offered different accounts of the incident, all of them ugly:

According to the North Korean student who happened to meet Representative Lim in a restaurant last Friday, Lim began to lash out at him when he told her that a waiter had deleted photos taken with Lim from his cell phone, as ordered by Lim’s aides. (See story on Page One.) Lim allegedly responded to the defector by saying, “You are doing the weird things, dubbed a fight for North Korean human rights, with Ha Tae-keung, right? Ha is a son of a bitch betrayer and I will kill him with my hand .?.?.” Ha is the president of Open Radio for North Korea, who became a lawmaker for the ruling Saenuri Party in the last April legislative election.

When the defector rebutted Lim’s violent language by saying, “Who betrayed whom? Do you mean Representative Ha and us, North Korean defectors, betrayed the murderer Kim Il Sung [founder of North Korea], whom you called ‘your father’?”

Lim reportedly kept shouting, “You stupid turncoats!”  [Joongang Ilbo]

Full disclosure:  Ha Tae-Kyung is a friend of mine.  Ha, a disaffected ex-leftist, was imprisoned by the old right-wing regime for possession of pro-North Korean literature.  He later became disgusted by North Korea’s human rights abuses and oppression, and by the willful blindness of his fellow leftists toward those abuses.  He became a human rights activist, founded Open News, which publishes clandestine reports from North Korea and broadcasts them back into North Korea, and was also recently elected to the National Assembly.

Baek quoted Lim as denouncing North Korean defectors as traitors and having “no roots.” She also vilified Rep. Ha Tae-kyung of the ruling Saenuri Party, who had once worked with Lim in the 1980s, as a traitor for his conversion to an anti-Pyongyang activist, Baek said.

Lim was also quoted as saying she will “kill the traitor (Ha) with my hands.”

[….]

As the traitor remarks drew strong criticism, Lim offered an apology Sunday, claiming in a statement that she was referring to only Ha as a traitor for joining the conservative ruling party, and that she never meant to describe defectors as such.

On Monday, Ha accused Lim of lying and demanded she sincerely apologize again.

“Rep. Lim holds hostility toward North Korean defectors and thinks of defectors as traitors,” Ha said. “But she said in the statement that she never called North Korean defectors traitors, but she said I am a traitor just because I joined the Saenuri Party, not because I engaged in a human rights movement helping defectors.”  [Yonhap]

Lim later apologized.  Her own party took no disciplinary action against her, although her party’s leader said that lawmakers should be more careful about what they say (as in keep their bigotry hidden from view lest it embarrass other politicians).

Oddly enough, Lim seems to have escaped the current scandal over two other alleged North Korean sympathizers in the National Assembly.  Unlike those other individuals, Lim appears to have been duly elected, and Lim is a member of a “mainstream” political party.

Maybe when Korea finally does unify, some sympathetic South American dictator will allow people like Lim Su-Kyung to live out their wretched lives in an isolated compound on some remote scrap of unused farmland.  Maybe Venezuela.

4 Comments

  1. Though I haven’t commented before, I regularly follow your blog (discovered through cross posts at Witness to Transformation). Alongside the immense substance of your work, you are a great writer which is something the cause of NK human rights greatly benefits from. Whilst the circumstances are quite different, the analogy to current day European prejudices against the Roma is unfortunately quite accurate. The biggest difference is the Roma will never be integrated (for both positive and negative reasons) whilst North Korean refugees perhaps could be within a generation, provided Lim Su-Kyung doesn’t become the next president.

  2. Josh – I don’t think Chavez of Venezuela is long for this world. He has not looked well in his last few public appearances. Maybe Kristina Kirchner of Argentina would give the South Korean lefties a home…anything to put a thumb in the eye of the gringos.

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