Institute for Corean-American Studies, Inc.
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[Editor's note: We gratefully acknowledge the special contribution with written permission to ICAS of Norbert Vollertsen. This article was originally appeared in The Wall Street Journal, August 27, 2003.sjk]
Some of these projects have failed, many of them have succeeded. But never could I have imagined that the most difficult part of creating an awareness of human rights abuses in North Korea would be to raise a voice in South Korea.
Here in Seoul, I get around 1,400 hate-e-mails per day. As a result of an e-mail campaign organized by South Korean students, my e-mail account is often sabotaged. I am caught in the middle of an Internet campaign titled, ominously, "How to get rid of Norbert Vollertsen." Suggestions include "Execute him," "Kill him" etc. People -- South Korean people -- shout and even spit at me on the street. My activities to help the enslaved people of the North -- such as my boat people project -- are sabotaged by South Korean intelligence. My telephone is tapped, and I have minders following me the whole day. All in all, although I'm here in Seoul, I feel like I'm in Pyongyang!
Yet for all the horrors I witnessed in North Korea, where I once worked for 18 months as a medical worker for Cap Anamur, a German aid organization, I was never beaten by the police -- not even in my last days there as persona non grata, just before my expulsion for the expression of pro-human rights views.
Here, in South Korea, I have been beaten by the police -- among others.
During our balloon-launching attempt on Aug. 22, a young South Korean (well-fed, wanting for nothing) attacked me, threw me to the ground, and escaped with a bundle of radios intended for his starving, destitute brothers across the border -- an assault carried out right under the noses of the riot police. Then I was attacked by the police themselves. One officer jumped on my twisted knee while I was lying on the ground. But even that was not as painful as the incident in March this year when some riot policemen kicked me in the groin while I was standing in the middle of their crowd during a protest in front of the Chinese embassy here in Seoul.
On Sunday, I was attacked by North Korean "journalists" at the World University Games in Daegu, while holding a peaceful press conference in front of the convention building there. The South Korean newspapers reported that I "exchanged punches with the North Koreans." In reality, I was standing on my crutches, still suffering from my injuries from the balloon-launch assault, and could barely stay upright. I was also wearing a neck-brace, and so was unable even to swivel my head to face my North Korean attackers.
Afterwards, the same newspapers called me an "extreme ultra-right-wing activist," even "fascist," which is ironical, given that I am doing what I am doing for the North Koreans mainly to atone for the shameful fascist history of my home country, Germany. The local government in Daegu apologized to the North Korean delegation for my "grave offence," and promised to punish me and get me expelled.
Mine is a small, insignificant story, a speck on a big canvas. Today, in Beijing, the so-called six-party talks begin -- talks in which officials from the U.S., Japan, Russia, China, and South Korea meet with counterparts from North Korea. To my consternation, the talks are only focusing on nukes. But the evil regime of Kim Jong Il is the real cause of all the military problems.
Kim Jong Il has to fight for survival like the leader of a religious cult -- he can only do so by blackmailing the world: "Feed me or I will kill you with my nuclear weapons." He will never abandon these weapons, his only real "security guarantee." (There is only one security guarantee for the starving children in North Korea: When there is no more security for Kim Jong Il and his evil regime!)
The only way to get rid of the nukes is to get rid of Kim Jong-Il, and the best way to do that is by creating an inner collapse of the North Korean regime started by a flood of refugees -- just as in the former East Germany. During the six-party talks, China can prove that it really deserves to be a member of the international community by opening its border to North Korean refugees and in this way become the "Hungary of the Far East."
In order to achieve this flood of refugees we first of all have to inform the ordinary North Korean people about the outside world. Because they do not have any access to foreign media they do not know anything about Western societies. They are brainwashed into believing that we are all homeless, drug-addicted, and depraved.
Because of this non- and misinformation there are no uprisings like those in former East European countries and no defections on a mass scale. That is why our project to send radios by balloon is so potent -- and why friends of Kim Jong Il in South Korea are determined to foil us.
Seoul is proving to be the real external obstacle to freedom for North Korea. Many people in foreign countries wonder about the general South Korean attitude toward Pyongyang, the increasing anti-Americanism here, and the perverse likelihood of pro-North Korean diplomacy by Seoul during the six-party talks and the whole nuclear discussion.
The truth is, South Korea is infiltrated by Pyongyang's agents. According to the NIS, the South Korean intelligence, there are up to 6,000 secret agents from North Korea operating in South Korea's establishment; and the main targets, besides the government, are the NIS itself, the military, the student organizations, the workers' unions -- and the media.
Until now I have been talking about human-rights violations in North Korea, and the need for regime change there. Maybe it is time now to talk about rights violation in the South too -- and even regime change as well. Basic civil rights, the freedom of speech and mainly the freedom of the press, are endangered by the current administration. The government of President Roh Moo Hyun is cracking down on critical journalists.
I will continue my activities in South Korea even though I feel more and more insecure in Seoul. (Recent attempts to intimidate me have included death-threats against my family in Germany.) In introspective moments I wonder if I will be expelled from South Korea, just as I was from North Korea. The irony should make me shake my head in disbelief. Instead, I redouble my small efforts on behalf of the people, the children, in the North.
Dr. Vollertsen, a physician from Germany, worked in hospitals in North Korea from July 1999 to December 2000. He is currently based in South Korea, where he organizes rescue and asylum efforts for escaping North Koreans.