[FOUNTAIN]A guiding light fades awayOn the last day of December last year, a leader of the ethnic Korean minority in Russia quietly drew his last breath. His name was Marx Han, age 76. Although not very well known among the general public, he was a scholar who walked a distinct path that covered the turbulent slopes of the birth of the Cold War, the Korean War, Korea's policy of engaging the Communist bloc and ultimately the demise of the Soviet Union and the East-West divide.
The debut of Kim Il Sung's North Korean regime placed Mr. Han's previously ordinary life on a rocky road interlocked with the woes of modern history on the Korean Peninsula. The Soviet government dispatched a group of experts to North Korea to teach the Russian language and erect the theoretical platforms of Marxism and Communism. Mr. Han served as a member of that historical team.
Upon his return to Moscow after several years in Pyeongyang, Mr. Han took up a position at the Communist Youth University, teaching the tenets of Marxism. His comfortable and secure life was shaken to the roots with Seoul's hosting of the 1988 Summer Olympic Games and President Roh Tae-woo's policy of reconciliation with the Communist bloc.
Stunned by the images of Korea's economic success beamed worldwide during the Olympics, he provided unabated support to the expanding South Korean community in Russia.
South Korea's new inroads into Moscow were a mixed blessing for the ethnic Korean population there. As their initial efforts at adjusting to the North and South Korean presence in Russia waned, ethnic Koreans began to split into pro-North, pro-South and neutral factions. Many senior leaders of the ethnic Koreans lamented the division within the local community, mirroring the division of the Korean Peninsula, and tried vigorously to mend the rifts, with scant, if any, success. As leaders who could influence both sides faded away one by one, the rift among Koreans grew deeper.
Mr. Han served on the Advisory Council on Democratic and Peaceful Unification, a South Korean government entity. But he never spouted anti-Pyeongyang rhetoric, actively contributing to aid programs for compatriots in the North and in Russia as co-chairman of the Korean Sharing Movement in Moscow. He sympathized with no side of the divided groups.
The loss of Mr. Han seems even greater since no one has been found to continue his work.
by Kim Seok-hwan
The writer is a JoongAng Ilbo editorial writer.