South Korean publisher releases memoirs of North's founder
A South Korean publisher released North Korean founder Kim Il Sung’s memoirs for the first time, without seeking government approval, sparking controversy domestically.
The first volume of the memoir, “Reminiscences: With the Century,” was first released by the North’s ruling Workers' Party publisher in 1992 to mark the 80th birthday of Kim ll Sung, the grandfather of current leader Kim Jong-un. There are eight published volumes of "With the Century," including two released after Kim Il Sung’s death in 1994.
They are claimed to be the autobiography of Kim, though authorship is disputed. The books cover events from Kim’s birth in 1912 and his childhood to his activities in the anti-Japanese armed struggle until the liberation of the Korean Peninsula from Japan’s colonial rule in 1945.
Local publisher Minjok Sarangbang released the eight-volume set on April 1 exactly as they were published in the North, without changing a word.
The set is currently sold at both online and offline bookstores for around 280,000 won ($250) through the Korean Publishers Cooperative, comprised of 800 local publishers. The memoirs are translated in around 20 languages and are easily available overseas.
This is the first time Kim Il Sung’s memoir has been formally published in South Korea, though it was not the first attempt.
There were attempts to publish the memoirs here in the 1990s, which were faced with backlash because the books were accused of glorifying Kim and containing factual errors. The publisher who tried to release the memoirs after Kim’s death in 1994 eventually came under investigation for allegedly violating the South Korean National Security Act. The publishing company’s office was raided and its head arrested.
The publisher this time could also face similar controversy.
North Korea claims that the anti-Japanese armed struggle that began in the mid-1930s was centered on Kim and does not recognize any other activities. Historians and experts have criticized the books for distorting facts.
Minjok Sarangbang is headed by Kim Seung-gyun, who serves as a chairman of a Seoul-based association supporting inter-Korean civilian exchanges and also runs a trade company supplying North Korean publications, including the state-run Rodong Sinmun, to local specialty institutions.
Kim on Wednesday during a phone call with the JoongAng Ilbo said on the memoir publication, “We decided to publish it because it is necessary to introduce the anti-Japanese movement from the left-wing, and history should not be concealed.” He said he received the material from North Korea as an institution that deals with special publications and inter-Korean trade.
“Because it’s been 30 years since leader Kim Il Sung died, I believed there were no more issues related to security,” said Kim. “I am aware that there is controversy, but the memoirs cover from when Kim Il Sung was young until the anti-Japanese movement era. We did not receive authorization because publication is a right guaranteed by the Constitution.”
The South Korean Supreme Court in August 2011 determined that Kim Il Sung’s memoirs “With the Century,” published by North Korea for external propaganda reasons, counted as “anti-state expression” under the National Security Law. The memoirs, having been determined as anti-state propaganda material, were therefore effectively banned in South Korea.
The law stipulates that support of antigovernment organizations or its members can be sentence to up to seven years of prison.
Publications from North Korea need state approval before they are brought into South Korea.
However, the Unification Ministry said that there had been no prior discussion with the ministry on the publication of the book. It said that it will review the publication process before deciding to take any action on the publisher.
A Unification Ministry official told reporters Thursday, “The publisher in question did not consult with the Unification Ministry on the publication of 'With the Century,’ nor did it apply for government approval before bringing in the material for the purpose of publication.”
The official added, “We will look into issues including how the books were published and consider the measures that we can take.”
BY JEONG YONG-SOO, CHUNG YEONG-GYO, SARAH KIM [firstname.lastname@example.org]