[TODAY]The man at the wrong timeLuise Rinser is a pro-North Korean German writer. In her “Diary of a North Korean Journey,” published in 1983, she wrote her impressions of the North Korean leader Kim Il Sung as follows: “I recalled what Goethe said about Napoleon. Here is a human being. The same can be said about Kim Il Sung. Here is a man, a human being.”
Her comparison of Kim Il Sung to Napoleon was probably the highest praise he has been given by a Western intellectual. In his critical essay “Is history over?” published in 1995, Song Du-yul introduced these remarks of Rinser’s. He seems to have welcomed her assertion that the worship of Kim Il Sung is “religious idolatry or a Confucian, feudal, political, and cultural heritage in a society where there is no religion.” That was, to him, the way to approach the most esoteric part of the juche ideology of self-reliance.
Mr. Song saw the juche ideology as “critical self-awareness” that recognizes trends of the times, not an isolationism that ignores international trends. He approved of the comparison of “the head of the communist party” to the brain, which plays a critical role in humans, and the ownership of businesses by the state and the people to the one-party dictatorship.
But to avoid causing trouble, he did not directly express these opinions in his own words. Instead, he used others’ words, saying that someone, somewhere, had made these points.
He suggests seeing North Korea “inherently.” To put it plainly, his idea is not to see the North with prejudice or preconceptions beyond experience, from the outside and based on external criteria, but to see it based on the historic achievements the North Korean regime has accomplished. Quoting the “imminent critical method” of Emmanuel Kant, he asserts that we can see North Korea critically enough if we look into it inherently.
Acknowledging the prosecution’s charge that he joined the North Korean Workers’ Party in 1973, was appointed a candidate member of the party’s politburo in 1991, wrote pro-North Korean books and visited the North 22 times, the court sentenced him to seven years’ imprisonment.
He met Kim Il Sung in 1991, and, according to the intelligence authorities, received about $150,000 from the North. He wrote “a pledge of allegiance to General Kim Il Sung,” and when Kim Il Sung died, Mr. Song shed tears, holding the hands of Kim Jong-il, the dictator’s son.
Can this Song Du-yul, who affirmed the comparison of Kim Il Sung to Napoleon, be a border rider? Can his views on North Korea be both inherent and critical? The court’s decision to these questions was “no.”
Mr. Song airily left Korea 30 years ago. Why did he take the resolute step of returning home 30 years later when he had a clear record of praising North Korea? This is one of the puzzles of the Song Du-yul case.
I think his homecoming has something to do with the abnormal symptoms that are sweeping across Korean society now. There is a trend in our society that says there is no need to obey evil laws. For example, a government employees’ union and a teachers’ union publicly declared that they would violate the election law that forbids civil servants to support a political party in the legislative elections.
If Mr. Song were to be judged for his past deeds, it would be under the National Security Law. To Mr. Song and the organization that invited him, however, the National Security Law is not worth observing; it is just the detritus of the Cold War period.
Even Justice Minister Kang Gum-sil has made remarks that could be interpreted as taking violations of the law lightly. “Even if Professor Song is the candidate member of the politburo Kim Chul-soo, should we punish him?” she asked. Did this anomie, into which our society has sunk deeply, motivate Song Du-yul and his friends to return home?
A bad law is still the law. Mr. Song is paying the price for ignoring the principle that even a bad law should be obeyed until it is changed.
Since the Kim Dae-jung administration, sentiments in the younger generation and the government have been pro-Korean and anti-American; but on the other hand, Song Du-yul was sentenced to a severe punishment on charges of violating the National Security Law. This is a paradoxical and transitional reality of our society.
This may well have led the philosopher and sociologist ― who may have deep insight into social phenomena ― to make a confused decision. This may be why there is room for sympathy. His homecoming was too late and too early. If he reads his writings again critically in prison, he may find a way to recover from this situation.
* The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Young-hie