&#91SCRIVENER&#93Why silence about the enslaved?

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[SCRIVENER]Why silence about the enslaved?

When you live in South Korea, it is easy to believe that the lucky Koreans on this side of the Demilitarized Zone are, with a few notable exceptions, indifferent to the suffering of their brothers and sisters across the border.

If this is so, it's not for lack of ability to empathize. For when you scratch the surface of any life here, you find many stories of wracking agony. In my time, I've met people who've survived massacres, who have not seen their own children for 50 years, who spent decades in southern prisons for supporting the other side and who have escaped the North, leaving families they know have been punished. This anguish is in some degree or other known by the whole population.

Why, then, if there is such emotion connected to North Korea, do we not witness moving candlelight vigils for the millions of kids up north, stunted by malnutrition and shivering through the numbingly cold weather we had last week?

Why, in its nostalgic desire to recreate the Red Devils gatherings, does the young generation latch on to the issue of U.S. forces, rather than that of North Korean forces? Does it not tighten one's fist to know that just a few miles north, fellow students can be imprisoned for reading Time magazine? Don't they care that, while they are on average a foot taller than their grandparents, North Koreans are shrinking in physical stature? And ?the big question that foreigners are asking -- why are they unconcerned about North Korea's nuclear weapons?

Just asking these questions makes me wonder if, one day, free North Koreans will wave American, not South Korean flags.

To be fair, the government is in the process of developing points of leverage with North Korea where once it had none. It makes sense to believe that hammering away at human rights would be counterproductive at this stage, because the North would simply close off those contacts. That fear explains why authorities at Hanawon, the orientation center for arrivals from North Korea, ask defectors not to talk to reporters.

We could argue the wisdom of this approach. Japan, by comparison, put the issue of kidnappings at the top of the agenda and waited until Pyeongyang was desperate enough to address it. But this may not be so easy for the South Korean government, which doesn't want to risk another 50 years of animosity.

But that still does not explain why private South Koreans do not make more efforts to protest against the northern regime. Do they feel it is unfashionable, a sort of right-wing, anti-sunshine, old generation thing to do? Have they heard so much over the years about North Korea that they are immune?

Or is it that they feel powerless and that protest would be futile, even counter-productive, given the government's position? I suspect it is a mixture of all of these, but primarily this question of powerlessness.

Koreans in general are acutely aware of the realities of power. They know the wisdom of smiling at an enemy when he's standing up, and kicking him once he's down. The man in question is, of course, Kim Jong-il, whom we respectfully refer to as Chairman Kim because it's possible he practices his English by reading this newspaper.

When there's a power shift, such as when China starts welcoming refugees into Manchuria, and people sense the chairman is struggling, we may witness much more aggressive anti-North protests here.

But those protesters-to-be have it wrong. They should not be looking to the source of power. They should be articulating their support for the powerless, their brothers and sisters across the border. Let us not be fooled by the posture of people ruled by fear and think that northerners are all one happy family.

When the fear is removed, they will be the most grateful to those here who spoke out.

* The writer is managing director of Merit/Burson-Marsteller and author of "The Koeans." He is a member of the JoongAng Daily Ombudsman Committee.


by Michael Breen
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