This is a blog dedicated to a personal interpretation of political news of the day. I attempt to be as knowledgeable as possible before commenting and committing my thoughts to a day's communication.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Choose Your Poison Carefully

"You have to ride a horse to know whether it's the right mount for you."
"I have tried, and the South is not for me. I want to go home to the North to reunite with my ex-wife and 16-year-old son."
"They [South Korean employers] called me names, treating me like an idiot, and didn't pay me as much as others doing the same work, just because I was from the North."
"In the North, I may not be rich, but I would better understand people around me and wouldn't be treated like dirt as I have been in the South."
Kwon Choi-nam, North Korean defector, Seoul, South Korea
A man watches a barbed-wire fence in Paju
A man at a barbed wire fence in Paju, South Korea, looking over into North Korea    Express

What is that old line about freedom, liberty, being more important than riches? On the other hand, home is where the heart is, isn't it? Where familiarity and the comfort of routine exists, where you know your neighbours and they know you, speaking the same cultural language, sharing social customs and traditions. So as far as Mr. Kwon is concerned, he resents being thought of as different from South Koreans, somehow lesser, not as intelligent, unworthy of regard.

That sense of social alienation is enough to convince this man who undertook a long, hazardous and painful journey away from his native soil that it was an effort wasted. Having escaped the nation of his birth ruled by an egocentric and dangerous dictator whom the military keeps in power -- and whom the people are taught from birth to venerate even as his regime prefers to use scarce national funding for weapons over food security -- he has decided to return.

He had crossed a river border at night, in 2014, crawled over a barbed-wire fence, walked through a Laos jungle to reach Thailand from where he was able to fly on to South Korea where a new life awaited him. His several years living in freedom in South Korea has failed to assure him that the abandonment of life in his country of birth had advanced his fortunes in any way. South Koreans were disappointingly inhospitable.

He missed his own, repressive country with its gulags and its threats against those like him who dared to flee that repression. But his experience as a "second-class citizen" in South Korea soured him. Where evidently he has forgotten, in his bitterness the third-class status he lived in a North Korea that arrests and imprisons any who dare criticize Kim Jong-Un, classifying them as traitors and sentencing them to life in prison or hard labour in the gulags.

Of the more than 30,000 North Koreans who left the North for the South since the 1990 famine, 25 have chosen to return to the North in the past five years. They are suspected by South Korean officials of being "repeat defectors", a classification given those who return to the North, possibly lured to China, and possibly kidnapped back to the North where the government uses them for propaganda purposes, creating scenarios where they speak of the "living  hell" they experienced in the South.

All defectors automatically become South Korean citizens on arrival in the South. And since it is illegal for any South Koreans to visit the North without especial permission of the government, anyone who attempts to return to the North is viewed as having contravened the law, and becomes a subject of suspicion. Mr. Kwon had made an attempt to return to the North but was detained and jailed in the South for several months.

He is busy trying a new tack, by becoming the second defector over the years to ask the South to repatriate him to North Korea. The two countries remain legally at war, given the agreed-upon armistice, so there is no legal formula by which Mr. Kwon's request to the South to extradite him to the North can be accomplished under South Korean law.

Mr. Kwon's experience with the South's hyperactive competitive capitalism failed to impress him and left him nostalgic for the regimented totalitarian culture he left behind in the North. In South Korea he went from farm to construction work but those physically demanding jobs failed to appeal to him. He then moved to Seoul, living in homeless shelters.

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