[INSIGHT]The man who lived on the border

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[INSIGHT]The man who lived on the border

I met the German sociologist Song Du-yul at a unification forum in 1996 that North and South Korean scholars attended. He spoke slowly, but there was a lot to consider in his words. He argued for an “innate approach” ― that North Korea should be judged only by the standards it had set for itself in its juche ideology of self-reliance. Asked if that were not just a defense of the Pyeongyang regime, he said that any regime should be judged by its own standards, just as the South should be judged against its ideology of liberal democracy.
Mr. Song often said he was on “the border.” He said that he championed a discourse between the contemporary internationalism here and the ethnocentrism of the North, a throwback to olden times.
After witnessing Germany’s unification, Mr. Song also called for a unification of North and South based on acknowledgement of the different systems, not on assimilation by one of the other. Song Du-yul, the philosopher, is on the border, mentally gray in a world of blacks and whites.
This philosopher suddenly turned out to have been a spy. He has disillusioned and disappointed the many intellectuals who had admired him. He could exist as a philosopher when he preached his “innate theory” and explained his position as that of a man “on the border.” However, when his hidden identity, as a member of the North Korean Workers’ Party, a Politburo member or perhaps a spy, was disclosed, his academic theories were revealed as camouflage. If he has belonged to the North physically and only his mind was on the border, his theories are nothing but fiction.
Many South Korean scholars who knew Mr. Song may have felt betrayed when they learned about his career as an active Workers’ Party member. Mr. Song denied till the last moment that he was Kim Chul-su the Politburo member, or that he had joined the party. He once filed suit against Hwang Jang-yop, the highest-ranking North Korean official to have defected to the South, for making those accusations. Mr. Song apparently admitted to all those charges during an investigation by the National Intelligence Service, but denied them afterward, before reversing himself again partially. We might have believed him if he had been tortured and pressured to make a false confession. But the present-day intelligence service is not the notorious body it used to be. The investigation was conducted by the book, and Mr. Song’s dodging and weaving is what has disappointed his former supporters.
Mr. Song has discovered belatedly that South Korean society is firm despite its seeming softness. The fact that the National Intelligence Service, which we thought was just wasting our tax money, had a great deal of evidence concerning Mr. Song also revives our trust in our national security capabilities. On the National Foundation Day, Oct. 3, more than 300 South Koreans went to the North for an event in Pyeongyang. Again last Tuesday, more than 1,000 people left to attend the opening of the stadium in Pyeongyang named after Chung Ju-yung, the Hyundai founder. In such a flood of North-South exchanges, there is no such gray man who sits on the border, leaving his body on one side and mind on the other.
Mr. Song should not hesitate any more. As the writer Hwang Seok-yeong advised, Mr. Song must tell the truth with the determination of “choosing death to live.” If he stalls, he could be expelled and spend the rest of his life abroad claiming that he was framed, but that would be another betrayal of the fatherland, and another delusion.
Mr. Song may have had no choice but to depend on the North during the bleak past. Society is pointing its finger at him, but should he show remorse, society is tolerant and magnanimous enough to accept him again. Mr. Song should use his “innate approach” on himself and give up the identity of Kim Chol-su for good. Only then will the tired body and soul of this man on the border find peace and rest.

* The writer is executive editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.


by Kwon Young-bin
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