[NOTEBOOK]A test for one man, and a nationFormer exile and scholar Song Du-yul is a self-professed “border rider.” He has defined “border rider” as a man who facilitates communication between two worlds. He added that it is a lonely being who does not belong to either side.
There is no way of knowing if he indeed was standing on the border, was lonely, and was endeavoring to create communication between the South and the North during his days in exile. Only his conscience would know.
Mr. Song has returned to his homeland after 35 years, and now is standing at a crossroads: imprisonment or freedom. Since his abrupt homecoming, he has been at the center of the media spotlight for the past month, and not because he was a star. The press has focused on Mr. Song because of the confusion society is going through over how we should deal with his return.
Where are our ideological coordinate s headed? Is Mr. Song a fugitive or a victim? What does he mean by “conversion?” What do his supporters mean by “scholar’s conscience?” The answers have yet to be found. The National Intelligence Agency and the prosecutors have been investigating, but their efforts have not yet resolved the debate. A lot has happened in the year 2003, but the so-called “Song Du-yul Report” is sure to make the “top 10 news stories of the year.”
But I began to feel that we should not have spent so much energy on him when I saw his Oct. 14 news conference. After all, he is not an honest man.
Even while claiming to “abide by the Constitution” and to “endure any inconvenience, punishment and pain,” he added that he would “live as a balanced border rider.” Because of that inappropriate comment, the news conference turned into a contradiction that we should have been spared from. Then he tried to justify himself, saying that he was repentant.
It was revealed that Mr. Song was no Lee In-mo, the unrepentant prisoner, nor Kim Hyun-hee, the former North Korean terrorist, nor Hwang Jang-yop, the highest-ranking North Korean defector. Mr. Lee was a worrier with loyalty. After being arrested by the South during an operation with the People’s Army of North Korea during the Korean War, he spent 34 years in prison, but refused to disavow his ideology. Thanks to the South Korean government’s pardon, he returned to his homeland in North Korea in 1993 at age 76.
Mr. Hwang was a true die-hard socialist who essentially outlined the frame of “juche,” or self-reliance. One day in 1997, he voluntarily walked away from his own brainchild and came down to the South, saying there is no socialism in a country where the people are dying of starvation. Ms. Kim, who was sentenced to death for having bombed a Korean Air flight, was pardoned in 1990. Her sincere confession, regret and repentance convinced South Koreans.
Regrettably, Mr. Song displays signs of neither loyalty nor repentance. Instead, he has tricked us. At first, he denied being a member of North Korea’s Workers’ Party. In the process of interrogation, he started to change his story. Now he has admitted that he was treated as a member of the Politburo. He denies all accusations, until he is confronted with solid evidence. Then he admits just so much. His attitude is no better than a low criminal’s.
He first said he did not know why he had to apologize. Now he often begs for forgiveness. He attempts to cover himself up, and when it doesn’t work, he asks for pity. He makes us wonder what makes him so brazen and shameless. We have become skeptical, and speculate about the context of his return.
Mr. Song is now an international stray. He declared he would give up his German citizenship and quit the Workers’ Party. Pyeongyang has been ignoring Mr. Song altogether since he headed to the South. If he is deported from the South, his security cannot be guaranteed. South Korea is the only place in the world where Mr. Song could spend the rest of his life. That is reason enough for him to come clean, confess the whole truth and ask for forgiveness. No one will accept a fake apology. We can only hope that Mr. Song acknowledges the situation. His unexpected homecoming is testing the entire nation as well as himself.
* The writer is social affairs news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Seok-hyun