Anti-gov’t Students of Pyongyang in 1989

[imText1]As a defector I have been asked in numerous occasions since came to South Korea “Why isn’t there any popular protest in Pyongyang?” And I just answered, “Because the state’s violence and control were so cruel and extreme.” It would have been completely meaningless to explain to those who had never lived in North Korea about reality in the country.

In the last bastion of Stalinist regime, not only protesters and insurgents but also their entire family members are punished and sent to concentration camps, if not executed. Criticizing government in Pyongyang is not a matter of courage; it takes something more.

Despite such brutal dictatorship, there have been at least two cases of daring anti-government movement that I am aware of. Hwang Jang Yop, former KWP secretary and defector, testified about several college students who resisted against the totalitarian regime and were executed.

Another anti-regime activity occurred in 1989 in Pyongyang as I myself being an eyewitness. An unknown number of students put posters and disseminated leaflets criticizing the Kims. They argued that the regime to be a feudal one rather than socialism, and asked for a real socialist society based on Karl Marx’s teaching.

One day in September 1989, people gathered around Laklang Movie Theater in Pyongyang’s Laklang district. They were watching a number of posters on the theater building, titled “Our Fight.”

Posters read: “North Korea is not a socialist country. It goes contrary to Marx-Leninism. While people are forced to live in despair, only Kim Il Sung and party bureaucrats are well-fed and well being. We want a society in which everybody is equal.”

Writers quoted works of Marx and Engels. And based on original communist texts, they condemned the regime to be Kim dynasty rather than serving for proletariats. More surprising was bystanders’ reaction to the poster. It seemed nobody had tried to get rid of the obviously dangerous pieces of papers on the wall until security officers arrived. The reaction was interpreted as passive agreement by those who saw and read the posters.

Although the National Security Agency promptly started investigation, it was almost a year later in August 1990 when a group of suspected college students were arrested. All of them were students of North Korea’s most prominent universities including Kim Il-sung University, Kim Chaek Industrial University, Pyongyang Foreign Language University and Pyongyang Commerce College. Interrogators of the NSA were surprised by the suspects’ family background; most were children of senior officers in Korean People’s Army.

While the public was prohibited to read original Marxist books in libraries, the students were permitted to borrow the texts thanks to their parents’ high position. And shortly after, those young intellectuals seemed to have realized vast gap between Marx’s teaching and what was going on in North Korea in reality.

After a short, secret trial, they were shot to death. Soon rumors spread to tell how brave and defiant the students were during interrogation. And their story might be attracting other young hearts to fight for the country’s democracy even today.

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