“NK Intellectual Solidarity (NKIS)” has decided to have a formal promulgation ceremony for its founding on the 24th, accompanied by a commemorative academic symposium.
The number of defectors currently in South Korea is approximately 15,000. Among them, around 600 have graduated from four-year colleges and have had professional work experience. This number may increase in the future, and around 100 defector intellectuals are organizing NKIS.
The organization, which is anticipating its official launch after two years of preparation, is being led by Professor Kim Heung Gwang.
[The following is a transcript of an interview with Kim Heung Gwang]
- We congratulate you on the founding of the organization. What kind of an organization is NKIS?
The organizational goals of NKIS are first, to spread awareness about the reality of the North Korean regime and society to South Korean people, second, to research the process of reunification and realizing democracy in North Korea, and finally, to prepare and develop a vision of a future North Korean society.
- Can you introduce yourself?
I graduated from Kim Chaek University of Technology and completed both Research (the equivalent of a Masters degree) and a Doctorate. I gained the title of National Doctoral Degree.
Subsequently, I served as a professor in a provincial computer technical college for 11 years. From 1993 to 2003, I worked as a computer lecturer at the Communist College. In the North, my major was Computer Operation Systems; so naturally, I worked on research projects and as a college professor in that field.
I escaped from the North in 2003 and entered South Korea in 2004. Now, I am working as a professor in the Graduate School of Information Security at Kyonggi University. I am also working as a researcher at the Institute of North Korean Studies.
- There are many defector organizations. What was your reason for wanting to start a new one?
Formally, we held the inauguration on June 27th of this year, but started preparing two years ago. While working on supporting the settlement project for defectors with the Association for North Korean Defectors, there were several points facing defector intellectuals in South Korea which earned my sympathy.
Notably, some defector intellectuals are talented and highly ambitious, but the opportunity for them to demonstrate their skills is slim in South Korea. I have seen a former female scientist who was a researcher in the North but now works helping the elderly at a social welfare organization, and another former college professor who pumps gas.
I feel that there is the need to work together with other defectors for common information, efforts and goals. I feel the sense of duty to actively participate in the task to spread the reality of the situation in North Korea.
Several intellectuals agreed that an organization was needed to accomplish our goals. So initially, I began to build experience participating in workshops and lectures three or four times a year and gradually started developing the preparatory projects and establishing the organization. We had a sponsor's meeting early in April and had an inaugural meeting on June 27th with experts in not only the scientific and technical fields but also in the humanities and the social sciences.
- With rumors of Kim Jong Il's health circulating, several scenarios have emerged regarding North Korea's future. What do you think will happen?
I have a slightly different interpretation from others. I heard from friends who worked at the Longevity Institute for Kim Jong Il in North Korea that there are 50-70 doctors in charge of Kim Jong Il, checking his body parts and organs on demand.
Kim Jong Il was diagnosed as having had a stroke this time, but this was supposed to be prevented by proper check-ups from the Longevity Institute doctors. The process of a stroke is supposed to unfold gradually over a period of time, so Kim would appear to be suffering from a more serious ailment.
If there is no health ailment, his absence from the September 9th commemoration could be seen as a tactic. The United Front Department of the Workers’ Party must have made several calculations about the South Korean media's probable reaction. Such a ploy might be seen as an attempt to intercept public opinion regarding Kim Jong Il's possible absence.
- If Kim Jong Il does not have any serious ailment, what will happen to North Korea?
Kim Jong Il seems to have the ambition of resurrecting North Korea.
There's a saying among North Koreans that, "We thought Communism would come to us if only we worked hard, but it has passed already." People also say that, “It is hard to have good days like 1960s and 1970s.”
The period which North Koreans regard with nostalgia is the era of Kim Il Sung's rule. So Kim Jong Il must want the citizens to eat fully at least once during his rule. He wants the citizens themselves to shout "Hail to the Dear Leader" and not upon his command. As a ruler, he still has political ambition.
Thus, Kim Jong Il seems to believe that North Korea's planned economy has not failed, but still has potential. The planned economy restrains overconsumption and overproduction. It also stresses the effective allocation and use of natural resources and with a progressive plan such as computer systems, distribution, and provisions, success can be achieved.
Financial resources are the most important factor in this plan. Once these are in place, he seems to think that the planned system can be adopted. I wonder if one of the scenarios Kim Jong Il is thinking of is operating an economy which adds the market economy to a planned system.
I heard this through our Communist College professors at the Market Economy Research Center of the National Economic Institute. They claim that North Korea's economy has not completely failed and are under the mistaken impression that such a plan is achievable.
- Then how do you see that financial resources can be prepared?
Currently, North Korea is trying to extract compensations from members of the Six Party Talks with the threat of nuclear weapons. The reason why North Korea has been making sacrifices one-step at a time in negotiations with Japan is to garner over 10 billion dollars in compensation. Just as it received much compensation from South Korea in the last decade, it thinks that Japan will also reward it richly.
Also, North Korea thinks that it has the ability to conduct the talks and the negotiations well. North Korea has confidence in its ability to maneuver the negotiations. Once it receives significant financial support from the negotiations, and if the planned system fails afterward, then it is scheming to implement partial reforms like China or Vietnam as the last resort.
- From your perspective, do you think that Kim Jong Il really knows about the economy?
He does not know (the economy). He studied economics, but when looking at his commands, they pertain to politics, culture and arts, society, and organizations, not economics. He can probably make trivial comments such as "this is good" or "this is not good," but he is a layman in economics.
With regards to economic policy, he has aides, secretaries, and clerks. The IT (informational technology) area was overseen by Professor Kim Yong Nam of Kim Chaek University of Technology, and the economy has been overseen by experts such as Vice-Chancellor Ryu Si Hyun.
The number of such people is countless. Professor Kim Yong Nam was chosen as Kim Jong Il's IT aide while teaching in the Kim Chaek University of Technology's computer engineering department as a research professor. He recently assumed the role of advising Kim on the national IT development policy and providing documents regarding the current situation in global IT. Such scientific aides are each affiliated to the Party's organization guidance department.
- To what extent do North Korean citizens know about Kim Jong Il's personal life and his children?
The North Korean citizens do not know anything about Kim Jong Il's personal life. I only got to know through outside radio broadcasts.
People know a certain amount about Kim Jong Il's children. They know Kim Jung Nam and know that Kim Jong Il has a daughter. Field guidance films are called documentary movies, which record Kim's field visits. The movies feature a beautiful girl who accompanies Kim and she is known to be his daughter.
I have seen Kim Jong Nam in person once. I had gone to the Koryo Hotel's coffee shop in Pyongyang to meet my uncle in 1991. Kim Jong Nam was also there. Before he came, someone affiliated with the coffee shop prepared seats for several people. When Kim Jong Nam walked in, everyone in the shop stood up. That is when I found out that he was the son of the dear leader.
However, I did not know at the time that Kim Jong Il had three sons. Afterwards, the Guidance Department is supposed to have adopted the expression, "Let us set up a business system for brethren Kim Jong Cheol”. From 1999 to the late 2000, there were talks circulating about Kim Jong Cheol from the Party to the provincial party to the Communist College, where I was.
Then, news about Kim's wife Ko Young Hee spread. She was called "Pyongyang's mother." Her name was not used, only that designation.
- With Ko Young Hee's death, the succession of Kim Jong Cheol, who is not receiving any support from her, is unlikely?
There were many talks about the possible successor; from Kim's perspective, the worldly Kim Jong Nam seemed like a good choice, but I cannot help but wonder whether Kim Jong Cheol, who is in the Guidance Department of the Party, may be the successor.
When talks about the successor issue became widespread after 1999, Kim Jong Il gave a decree halting even official discussions. When the successor issue came up again, it was decreed that the incident would not be forgiven.
Further, it is clear that if Kim Ok, Kim Jong Il's female secretary, had not supported Kim Jong Cheol or Kim Jong Woon, she would have earned the wrath of Ko Young Hee and she would not have lasted.
Fujimoto, who wrote the book "Kim Jong Il's Cook," said that Kim Ok and Ko Young Hee were very close, but the former probably did not have a choice.
Moreover, in 1998, there was a motto, "Our beloved brethren (Kim) Kyung Hee." 1997 and 1998 were the most difficult years for North Korea, and such a slogan originated from Kim Jong Il's escort bureau performing arts college. The children at the school sang songs with the motto and the scene of them reciting poems circulated via tapes at the time.
The fact that Kim Jong Il's younger sister Kyung Hee was praised in that way indicated a push for her husband Jang Sung Taek, but such slogans have disappeared since then.