Democratic United Party lawmaker Lim Su Kyung, the so-called ‘Flower of Unification’ who took an unauthorized trip to Pyongyang for the World Festival of Youth and Students in 1989 as a representative of South Korea’s National University Student Council, made a big impression on those defectors old enough to remember her.
At the time when Lim visited the North Korean capital, the North Korean people still thought of South Korea as a military dictatorship with a very heavily controlled society. Defectors say that North Koreans were therefore deeply touched by the girl in her 20s who had risked her life to travel through a third country to visit them against her government’s wishes, all for the sake of unification.
Lim then amazed them with her looks and actions, too. She would make public statements very freely and without the aid of a script, something in stark contrast to the efforts of the stilted public figures they were used to. In addition, she did not sport traditional clothes, instead appearing in t-shirts and jeans with sneakers.
One defector from Hyesan who remembers the furore surrounding the visit explained to Daily NK today, “They said that Lim Su Kyung had risked her young life to come to North Korea through a third country. Perhaps it was because she looked cool, but people would all go to the places where they said Lim’s car would be passing by, all just to see her.”
“In North Korea public speeches were not normally made by women, but Lim made powerful speeches without any embarrassment and without a script,” the defector continued, adding, “To say she looked ‘cool’ really doesn’t do it justice.”
The North Korean people were apparently all also worried for Lim’s safety as she crossed the border back into South Korea at Panmunjom some days later, thinking that she would face either execution or life in prison at the hands of the regime in Seoul.
Indeed, some thought she might not even get that far. According to Choi Jin Han, who defected the North in 2011, “The North Korean people watched Lim Su Kyung going back down via Panmunjon live on TV. As she crossed the border at Panmunjom, we were worried that a bullet would come out of somewhere.”
“Many people were worried about her,” the defector went on. “It was not just one or two people who thought Lim might get shot and collapse.”
However, while Lim may well be popular with the regime in Pyongyang for her alcohol-fuelled comments about defectors in a Seoul restaurant on June 1st, she is now a good deal less popular with North Korean defectors themselves.