[FOUNTAIN]Defectors key to restoring basic rights

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[FOUNTAIN]Defectors key to restoring basic rights

In September 1977 when over 4,000 East German defectors had fled to West Germany that year, a West German federal court made a notable ruling concerning lawsuits over assisting defections.
“Assisting defection” was classified as helping East Germans come to the West in return for a fee, similar to so-called planned defections to Korea. Two West Germans sued defectors for refusing to pay fees after successfully coming to the West, and the other defector sued the helper to get back 9,000 marks after the escape failed.
The court ruled that the contracts were not against the social code of good will since they helped East Germans. Assisting defections were not illegal.
East Germany was furious by the decision. At the time, East Germany punished defectors for “fleeing the republic,” and called assisting defection as “anti-state human trafficking.” First, they demanded West Germany stop helping the defectors. Moreover, they tightened border security, which had virtually disappeared after the signing of a transit traffic agreement.
They shut off routes they thought were used by the defectors. Because of prospering exchanges and cooperation, many East and West German people and cargo passed over the border. When East Germany tightened control, complaints increased.
West Germany cracked down on groups and individuals assisting defectors, but the efforts were half-hearted. The court legalized the act of assisting defections. It did not lead to a sudden surge in defections. The figure was around 3,000 to 5,000 annually until 1987. Some 11,000 East German spies were working in the West.
Since the end of World War II until right before unification, 4.6 million East Germans came to West Germany, including legal immigrants and defectors. However, the West German government was consistent, considering freedom to choose and change residences a basic right.
Recently, the Korean government announced that planned defections would be discouraged. However, it should not be treated as illegal act. Just as the West German court had ruled, planned defections might be a solution to help the North Korean citizens retrieving their basic rights. Hopefully, the government’s true intention is not to appease Pyongyang.

by Ahn Sung-kyoo

The writer is a political news deputy editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
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