[FOUNTAIN]Like the Jews, North Korea sees diaspora“By the rivers of Babylon, where we sat down, there we wept, when we remembered Zion.” The Euro-dance group Boney M’s 1978 hit, “Rivers of Babylon,” is a contemporary Christian song that delivered a serious story in a simple, cheerful reggae rhythm. It is based on a historical event from the Old Testament, the exile of the Jews.
Some 26 centuries ago, the Babylonian conqueror Nebuchadnezzar had to invade Jerusalem three times. He first captured it during an expedition to Egypt. He returned twice more to suppress rebellions. Following the practice at the time, the Jewish leaders were enslaved by the invaders, and the Jews chanted a song of nostalgia by the rivers of Babylon as they yearned for Mountain Zion in Jerusalem.
Settled in Palestine, the key spot in world history, the Jews suffers aggression by powerful neighbored for millennia and were conquered and destroyed several times. But their unique homing instinct toward Jerusalem made them keep coming back to Zion. The founding of Israel in 1948 was a dream come true after more than 2,000 years. On July 27, 200 more French Jews returned to Jerusalem, and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon warmly welcomed their homecoming.
Despite their scattering, the Jews persistently kept their ethnic identity. The spread of the Jews outside of the Palestine region is called the diaspora, meaning “the dispersion of Jews.” Before the Jewish slaves were taken to Babylon, the history of the diaspora could be traced to the exile to Assyria and to Joseph, who settled in Egypt before Moses’ exodus. Despite its tragic beginning, the diaspora had positive elements. It brought religious unity and strengthened the Jewish influence around the world. A crisis was an opportunity.
A major Korean diaspora took place in the early 20th century, when the country was annexed by Japan. About a third of the 20 million Koreans may have left the Korean Peninsula. Now, about 6 million ethnic Koreans are spread around the world. The newest form is the North Koreans’ rush to defect; the cause is not a foreign invasion but an internal conflict. The mass inflow of North Koreans to the South is likely to accelerate the 21st century-version of the Korean diaspora, with a difference. Seoul is their Jerusalem.
by Oh Byung-sang
The writer is the London correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.