Controversy Stirs over Kim Monument at PUST

[imText1]Pictures confirming that a monument to Kim Il Sung, known as a “Yeong Saeng” (“eternal life” in Korean) monument, has been erected within the confines of Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST) have been obtained by The Daily NK.

The monument stands 20 meters tall, with the “Kimilsungia” flower sculpted in relief on the bottom. The vertical structure displays an inscription, “Great Leader comrade Kim Il Sung is with us for eternity”.

Following the PUST completion ceremony last year, controversy has been stirred by the monument, not to mention rumored changes to the university structure.

Yeong Saeng monuments are a type of monument erected throughout North Korea upon Kim Jong Il’s decree for the purposes of idolizing Kim Il Sung. Similar monuments, with identical inscriptions, are situated not only in big cities such as Pyongyang, but also in smaller towns and villages, although naturally the scale of the monument differs from place to place.

Ordinary North Koreans are “encouraged” (meaning coerced) by local authorities to pay an annual tribute at their local monument, either on the anniversary of Kim Il Sung’s death (8 July) or on his official birthday (15 Apr).

The erection of the Yeong Saeng monument within PUST had previously been reported by persons who visited the university last year for its completion ceremony. PUST also now features a research institute that specializes in the “Juche” philosophy, according to reports.

Such apparently pro-regime activities have aroused concern among academics and experts who fear that the initial prospects for the university as a forum of sorts for strictly academic inter-Korean exchange are dwindling.

Controversy surrounding the issue continues in part because most of the funding for the construction of the university came from donations from Christians in Korea and the United States. The actual construction fees for the monument and research institute remain undisclosed, though reports say that more than 40 billion KRW has been spent thus far in the lead up to the school’s opening.

In 2006, the South Korean government contributed 1 billion KRW from the Inter-Korean Cooperation Fund to purchase construction materials to be used in building student dormitories.

An official from the Northeast Asia Foundation for Education and Culture, or NAFEC, which pioneered the school alongside the North Korean Bureau of Education, did not respond directly to interview requests for this article, calling it “inappropriate” to talk to the press.

An official from the South Korean Unification Ministry was prepared to comment, however. He said, “North Korea’s stance is that PUST cannot be an exception when a Yeong Saeng monument can be found in practically all of North Korea’s educational facilities. NAFEC says has not filed a request for the monument to be torn down, as construction fees for the monument came out of the North’s own pocket.”

[imText2]The Unification Ministry official added, “The government’s policy is that the school must be run in accordance with the state’s founding principles. If the Yeong Saeng monument becomes a propaganda tool aimed at outside visitors, we will readily respond.”

PUST was expected to open early April, but a definitive schedule including an opening date has yet to be announced. Revisions to its curriculum and staff are cited as reasons for the delay.

On a related note, other reports suggest that the North requested the right to select half the faculty, making its demand after the school’s completion ceremony had already been held and despite initially agreeing to a plan to exclusively reserve those positions for Korean and foreign experts.

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