|▲ Im Soo Kyung, entering the DMZ after the Pyongyang Festival (Kyonghyang Newspaper) |
When Im Soo Kyung arrived in North Korea, she was wearing a faded gray, short-sleeved t-shirt, and beltless jeans. 30 minutes after her arrival, she held an official press conference in a hotel's second-floor auditorium. It was a novel experience for me at that time, and I will attempt to organize my thoughts and memories of that press conference.
I pretended that I was a Korean-American reporter from the U.S. and entered the press room. I taped the conference with a video camera and even asked Im Soo Kyung some sensitive questions.
(An unedited version of the author's tape is available)
The first question I asked was, “According to the foreign news service, South Korean authorities banned any trips to North Korea and any other international travel - how were you able to use the airport to leave the country? And where did you stay and whose help did you receive in order to arrive safely in Pyongyang?”
Im Soo Kyung answered confidently, “Even though the South Korean government strongly restricted flights, I didn't have much trouble leaving the country, and after I arrived in Tokyo, Japan, I spent a few days thinking about what to do next. However, I told myself that I had already made a decision to leave so I needed to follow through. That's why I went through East Berlin and arrived here by plane."
"I love South Korea"
A (North) Korea Central Broadcasting representative asked next. “You must have had some trouble with the National Security Law - can you tell us a bit about that?"
“Of course the National Security Law applies to me. I faced legal problems in coming to North Korea, first, in having escaped to enemy land, and second, because I've met with you all, I am benefiting the enemy. I have also seen the Rodong-Shinmun. which is a crime itself.
When I return to South Korea, I will be charged with infiltrating enemy territory (here, all of the reporters burst into laughter), and when I return, I will definitely be arrested. I have only one mother country, and the place I was born in is South Korea and I love South Korea. That's why when the festival ends, I will return to where my parents are."
"We said that even if we went to Pyongyang, we would not participate in any political activities. and the Minister of Unification said that if that is the case, then it should be all right to attend the festival. However, the government and Democracy Right Party(the predecessor of the Grand National Party) and Roh Tae Woo(former president) were against it, which made me realize how anti-reunification they were.
I believe that the South and the North must overcome their ideological differences, based on the historical 7.4 joint statement which encouraged the 3-point program for unification. In order to do this, we must fully understand North Korea. She then shouted, "The mother country is one!"
Someone asked her to explain South Korean students' desire for unification.
“The students of Cheondaeheop (the predecessor of Hanchongryeon) laid their bodies down on the hot asphalt and shouted everyday for the North and South students to meet at Panmunjom to debate reunification, but the Roh Tae Woo administration arrested about 8,000 students and even though there were about 20,000 students who came out to Yonsei University, if there had not been mass arrests, there would have been more students."
"We are valiantly fighting with the government, how is Pyongyang fighting?"
She then continued, "As long as the students of both the North and the South continue to express their desires for reunification, it will surely happen one day. We are enthusiastically fighting the government. and though I don't know how the Pyongyang students are fighting, as long as both the North and South students work together, independent peaceful reunification will be accomplished.”
Im Soo Kyung's hands and wrists were covered with wounds due to the many people who reached out to her on the streets of North Korea. She barely escaped the welcoming crowds and waved her bandage-covered hands freely.
In South Korea, Im Soo Kyung was a "pro-Communist", making her a target of the government, but here in North Korea, the crowds gathered in droves and madly welcomed her, and she seemed greatly touched by this.
“I did not know that the North Korean brothers' desires for reunification were this high. All of the South Koreans want reunification except the current administration and the U.S. army. Even now, at the slightest mention of reunification, the Roh Tae Woo administration reacts angrily," she said.
At first, when she enthusiastically mentioned that she loved South Korea and would return there, I admired her for maintaining the pride of an educated South Korean student, but when she began disparaging the Roh Tae Woo administration, I became greatly disappointed.
"The Pyongyang sun rose and set with Im Soo Kyung"
The Chochongryeon (the pro-North Korean residents’ league in Japan) reporter then signaled that he wanted to return to Japan and show the Chochongryeon students the evidence that Chosun (Korea) would once again be one.
Im Soo Kyung ended the press conference by singing the Cheondaehyeop marching song.
The attendees were so exhuberant that it seemed that as soon as Im Soo Kyung and the North Korean students put forth a joint statement about the prospects of reunification, reunification would occur immediately.
Even in front of hundreds of thousands of people, Im Soo Kyung did not waver, displaying amazing authority as a South Korean college student. The Pyongyang sun rose and set that day based solely on what this one South Korean student, Im Soo Kyung, had to say.
Afterwards, for nearly a week, the Pyongyang Central Television repeatedly aired scenes from the interview. I was caught on camera for a time as well, so that everyone in the hotel, including those in the hotel shops and restaurants, thought I was an American reporter and greeted me as such.
‘On July 1, 1989, at the 5∙1 stadium, normal citizens began entering at 3pm with Im Soo Kyung entering slightly later, waving the Cheondaehyeop flag to the shouts and applause of 150,000 people. She took a moment to greet Kim Il Sung in the front and then marched proudly around the stadium. It was as if the whole event was taking place for Im Soo Kyung alone.
In conclusion, it was the 1988 South Korean Olympics that triggered the North Korean youth festival. However, this only led to North Korea sinking deeper and deeper into poverty. Upon completion of the festival, North Korea suffered a large economic blow.
On this day, the cargo ship Mangyungbong arrived in Pyongyang carrying vast quantities of goods from Nigata, Japan. Hundreds of people from Chochongryeon sold food from temporary tents. In Jangmadang, and around Kwangbok Street, the newly built apartments housed people of many colors who had come from across the world. People in Pyongyang danced and stayed up all night, reveling in fun.