Blaming the defectorsAs a war of nerves over North Korean defectors dispatching propaganda leaflets across the border is getting heated, South Koreans’ attacks on the defectors are also getting out of control. It all started with a statement Thursday by Kim Yo-jong, sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and first vice department director of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party. Denouncing the defectors’ dispatch of balloons with propaganda leaflets to North Korea, Kim Yo-jong demanded “South Korean authorities enact a law banning such a stupid performance by trash.”
North Korea’s pugnacious remarks did not stop there. In a massive rally in Pyongyang, North Koreans shouted an eerily combative slogan: “Let’s tear the defectors, who are traitors and human trash, apart once and for all!”
More alarming than North Korea’s mobilization and incitement of its people for political purposes is the condemnation of North Korean defectors by lawmakers of the ruling Democratic Party (DP) and pro-North civic groups in South Korea. Their attacks on defectors shock us. Rep. Kim Hong-il — a DP lawmaker and son of the late president Kim Dae-jung, renowned for his Sunshine Policy — mentioned the need for the government to cast suspicion on the real motive of the defectors’ sending of leaflets to the North. A member of a pro-North civic group linked their dispatch of leaflets to the need to receive public donations and subsidies from the government. “For them, it simply serves as a means to make money,” he said. Since there is no evidence to back up his claim of potential misuse of the money, these kind of attacks obviously went too far.
Rep. Yoon Geon-young, who is close to President Moon Jae-in, said, “Such an act [dispatching leaflets] by North Koreans who fled their own country will certainly provoke North Korea.” Such remarks suggest the ruling party looks down on the defectors. In fact, the defectors are de facto refugees who fled to escape human rights abuses and persecution by the Kim Jong-un regime.
The Moon administration tends to disparage North Korean defectors because they trouble inter-Korean relations. But their leaflets have played a key role in helping North Koreans understand fundamental differences between the two systems, as seen in a myriad of confessions by defectors who decided to defect after reading the leaflets.
The government and DP lawmakers must not disapprove of North Korean defectors or their leaflets. They can debate the efficacy of those leaflets. But reviling anyone for their eagerness to let North Koreans learn the truth cannot be allowed in a democracy.