Is an Orwellian world only a stretch of the imagination? The former tutor of North Korea’s ruling family thinks not.
“North Korea is not an ordinary dictatorship—it is a religious cult,” Hyun Sik Kim told 200 audience members yesterday in a speech entitled “North Korea Inside Out—How North Koreans Think, What They Want, Why They Submit to Kim Jung Il.”
When asked what religion they practice, Kim said North Koreans say they study the teachings of Kim Il Sung, the country’s former president and father of its current leader, Kim Jung Il. He said North Koreans then ask in return, “Why should we worship foreign gods when we have our own Great Leader?”
“God is Kim Il Sung. Jesus is Kim Jung Il and the Holy Spirit is the Workers’ Party,” said Kim, who is now a professor at George Mason University.
Kim said North Koreans do not realize the extent of their oppression.
“There are no words for human rights and freedom in North Korea,” he said at the Center for Government and International Studies. “In fact, no such terminology exists.”
He cited the examples of celebratory “mass games,” in which hundreds of children gather in a stadium and form a giant mural by holding up colored cards.
He said the children consider this normal, and do not protest even though the practice lasts for hours without access to bathroom facilities and food.
One audience member, Jung Sakong ’10, said he had lived his entire life in South Korea.
“Yet only today did I realize how ignorant I was to the conditions in North Korea,” said Sakong, who is the political chair of the Korean Association, which helped organize the event.
Speaking for close to four hours, Kim traced the personal arc of his life—his professorship in North Korea, his tutoring, and his stint as a visiting professor in Russia.
His accounts drew both laughs and gasps from the crowd.
He recounted one occasion when he was tutoring Kim Il Sung’s nephew—“one boisterous youngster, not the most obedient type.” He said Kim Il Sung, who was trying to reform the national educational system, sat in the back corner smoking a cigar because he wanted to “observe the teaching scene.”
“I’d be sweating,” Kim said.
After working as a tutor, Kim became one of the leading figures in Korean national education scene. He then went to Russia to teach Korean, and he said his experience there led to a new understanding of the dark sides of the North Korean regime and to his eventual defection to the United States.
“His personal anecdotes really gave a face to what we read in the papers about the North Korean regime,” said Ian M. Miller, a student at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences focusing on East Asian regional studies.
Near tears by the end of his speech, Kim received a standing ovation from the still-packed auditorium.