Former pro-North activist talks about change of heart

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Former pro-North activist talks about change of heart

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Former pro-North student activists were deeply connected to Pyongyang and their influence has cast a shadow over politics until now, a former member of the underground groups said in an interview with the JoongAng Ilbo.

Koo Hae-woo, a researcher at the private think tank Korea Institute for Future Strategies, said he used to be a hard-line, pro-Pyongyang student activist during the democratization movement in the 1970s and 1980s. He said he feels that most former activists haven’t changed their positions on North Korean affairs.

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Koo Hae-woo, who converted from pro-Pyongyang ideology, discusses pro-North activists. By Ahn Seong-sik

“Although I turned away from the North’s juche (self-reliance) ideology, I think it took about 10 years to totally rid it from my mind,” Koo said.

“At the center of the problem is the Workers’ Party of North Korea. And the ideology of a person never changes easily.”

When it came to some members of the opposition Unified Progressive Party, criticized for their public remarks in favor of the North Korean regime, Koo said that the former pro-Pyongang activists are still working among the South Korean liberals, including the UPP and the main opposition Democratic United Party.

“The former pro-North activists who once operated behind-the-scenes in the party have now appeared before the public, moving to the center of politics,” Koo said.

He was one of 20,000 students who were members of the so-called “Group for Independence, Democracy and Unification,” known as a secret organization that was in active contact with the North Korean regime.

The group’s members were arrested on charges of violating the National Security Law in 1990, and Koo was sentenced to two years and six months in prison at the time.

Koo said that members denounced the U.S. government because they believed that the U.S. allowed South Korea’s dictatorial administration to commit the May 18 Gwangju Massacre.

“When the Korean Air flight was blown up by North Korean spies in 1987, Pyongyang ordered us to condemn the incident as a ‘plot of the U.S. CIA and the South Korea’s national intelligence agency,’ through a North Korean state radio station,” Koo said. “We believed that was the truth.”

“We spread Pyongyang’s propaganda nationwide,” Koo said. “An Hee-jung, the incumbent governor of South Chungcheong provincial government, was a member of an anti-U.S. student group and directed the work.”

After being released in 1994, he went to China and met some North Korean officials and workers there, realizing the reality of the failed state.

In 2000, when the historic inter-Korean talk was held, the SK Group assigned him to a business negotiation with North Korean officials. He took a business trip to Pyongyang in June 2001. At the time, Koo said a North Korean official told him, “Comrade Koo, the ‘dear leader’ Kim Jong-il wants to see you,” but he rejected the invitation, saying “I don’t have anything to negotiate with him anymore.”

During the negotiation with the North, Koo said, “You have to think about your regime if you indeed want to live independently.” A North Korean official threatened, “You son of a bitch, we won’t let you leave Pyongyang.”

“Those former pro-North activists strategically create suspicions,” Koo said. “We need to think about how they create and spread the suspicions and whether the North Korean Workers’ Party is behind the move or not.”
By Kang In-sik [heejin@joongang.co.kr ]

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