On April 27, the historic inter-Korean summit was held inside the Peace House in the truce village of Panmunjom. President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un discussed the main agenda: the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, establishment of the peace regime, and improvement of inter-Korean relations.
Their meeting paved the way for peace on the Korean Peninsula. They met again a month later. North Korea and the U.S. are also expected to meet. With hope and fear, there are some HUFSans who have studied North Korea with deep interest. The Argus met three members of the HUFS North Korea Research Club and listened to their stories.
Hwang Si-eun Dept. of Korean Studies ‘17
Woo Dong-hun Division of Economics ‘17
Kim Ji-woo Dept. of Czech and Slovak Studies ‘18
The Argus: Could you please introduce HUFS North Korea Research Club?
Hwang Si-eun (Hwang): Hello, I am the president of the HUFS North Korea Research Club, the only academy studying North Korea at HUFS. We aim for an unbiased view toward North Korea and study about their society, culture, politics and economics and so on. Furthermore, we prepare various events to introduce North Korea to HUFSans as much as possible.
The Argus: What activities are you doing specifically?
Hwang: There are three regular activities: news sharing, announcing academic topics, and meeting to plan campaigns or events on and off campus. We also have time to review books dealing with North Korea once a month.
As an event for HUFSans, we invited lecturers who escaped from North Korea to the “TongTong Concert” on April 12. Recently, a North Korean human rights photo exhibition including small talks with North Korean defector Kim Hye-sook was held from the end of May at the K-Zone in Global Campus. It has drawings based on the stories in political prisons and realistic photos photographed by foreign journalists who visited North Korea.
The Argus: How did you plan the “TongTong Concert”?
Hwang: I checked and found that North Korean defectors had never visited HUFS and given a lecture. Fortunately, I was able to invite two North Korean defectors from the Citizens’ Alliance for North Korean Human Rights (NKHR), the first and oldest non-governmental organization (NGO) in the world that introduced the human rights issues in North Korea.
At the concert, the lecturers talked about their lives in North Korea and in South Korea with HUFSans. They continued to the stories of various topics such as changes in the inner atmosphere of North Korea and North Korean foods. Unexpectedly, quite a number of foreign students visited and even left thankful comments.
The Argus: How did you join the HUFS North Korea Research Club?
Hwang: My middle school was selected as a supporting school for North Korean refugee adolescents. I served as the club president to support and help their school lives and have continued to do volunteer work since graduation to help North Korean defectors.
However, I was disappointed that many university students did not pay enough attention to the people who had escaped from North Korea. Since there were not any related clubs or activities at HUFS, I established the HUFS North Korea Research Club with the initial members.
Woo Dong-hun (Woo): When I was a high school student, every weekend I watched the TV program “Now On My Way to Meet You,” in which North Korean defectors appeared. Actually, I was not aware of my interest in North Korea at that time.
Then I attended the lecture “North Korean Politics & Society” of Professor Kim Hyeong-ki last year. I could actively participate in the lecture utilizing the knowledge I had gotten from the TV program.
To keep studying and interchanging about topics on North Korea, I had been looking for union clubs, but I could not find any. Then when I saw the poster for the HUFS North Korea Research Club, I joined without hesitation.
Kim Ji-woo (Kim): Since I wanted to contribute to the unification, I had prepared to enter the Department of North Korean Studies. Although I am studying Czech-Slovak language right now, I am still interested in North Korea because most Eastern European nations including the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic were once communist countries like North Korea.
The Argus: Do you think some aspects are veiled by general issues?
Kim: The media is exposing the one-sided aspect of North Korea or North Koreans as well as the stories of North Korean defectors. Of course, there is some truth, but we should not forget the fact that North Korea has other normal aspects. North Koreans are also the same people like us, so the problem is the social system, not the general public.
Woo: People are now interested in denuclearization and expect peaceful relationships. I think we need to raise awareness about North Korean human rights violations.
Hwang: The reason we continue to focus on North Korean human rights is because those are the fundamental values of humankind. However, some North Korean are still severely disenfranchised at this very moment.
The Argus: What do you think about reunification?
Woo: I am quite positive about reunification. South Korea has many restrictions stemming from the divided state. South Korea is not different from an island right now and does not have any natural resources. Also, in the past few years, the economic growth rate of South Korea has stayed between 2 to 3 percent, which is quite low. I think reunifying may ultimately lead to economic growth.
Kim: People complain that South Koreans would have to make sacrifices, but it is a pity that this perception exists not only among the South Koreans but also among the North Koreans. I do not think it would be a one-sided sacrifice.
Hwang: I agree. We cannot estimate the reunification costs as of now. Between the national defense expenditure and unification costs, I think reunifying will be positive in the long term.
The Argus: What are your future plans?
Hwang: We are going to conduct an event showing the documentary “The Jangmadang Generation.” One of the North Korean human rights organizations, Liberty in North Korea (LINK), made this film by interviewing North Koreans from the generation that suffered a severe famine called the Arduous March in the early 1990s.
Additionally, we are planning to go on a field trip to Panmunjom, the demilitarized zone (DMZ), or the War Memorial of Korea during summer vacation.
Woo: I would like to study the history of North Korea steadily through the activities of the HUFS North Korea Research Club. I think I should know about the history and social systems of North Korea to understand North Koreans.
The members of the HUFS North Korea Research Club foremost remarked on the lack of human rights of North Koreans. They dream of a society where everyone’s human rights are ensured. No matter where you are from, changes by individuals have powerful potential to effect society at large.
By You Seo-yeon and Han Byeong-ji
Associate Editor and Staff Reporter of National Section