I’m currently reading a book called “The girl with seven names” by Hyeonseo Lee, a North Korean defector, who later went back to the border with South Korea to help smuggle her mother and brother out of the country too.
Reading the book will never give anyone a true idea of just how things are in North Korea, but it certainly is an eye opener, one scene that stuck in my mind was how, when their house suffered a fire, Hyeonseo’s father ran back into the blazing house to save …. the pictures of Kim Jung Il. She relates in some detail how although she didnt feel any sense of sadness when The Great Leader died, she knew that she had to join in the national outcry of tears under fear of being suspected of being disloyal, even at her young age. Brainwashing of the most horrendous brutal kind imaginable.
Today whilst perusing the world’s news on various sources on the interweb, I came across a piece about impending reunion meetings between families separated for 62 years by the civil war in Korea. Tens of thousands of South Koreans applied for the meetings, but finally only 100 were chosen, and since the list was announced ten of the chosen ones have died and one is in a critical condition in hospital. These meetings have taken place sporadically since an agreement was reached between the two countries (still technically at war, as hostilities were only stopped under an armistice) in 2000.
The families will meet in North Korea, in a mountain resort called Kumgang, there are programmed to be three days of meetings, six hours in total, some played out in front of cameras and some private. There are many incredibly sad stories to be told, and I’ve added a few quotes from the BBC news website, to explain far better than I ever could:
“Lee Taek-gu is 89 years old and he will meet his sister who is 20 years younger. He last saw her when she was a tiny girl and he a young man who got on a boat to flee south, thinking he would come back after the war.
Since then, he has been writing letters to his parents knowing he would never send them because there is no postal service between the two halves of Korea. He wrote them as therapy for his grief.
He told the BBC he would simply thank his sister for being alive.”
“Mr Choi will meet one of his daughters this week. She was two when he last saw her and is 64 now.
“I am not sure if I will even be able to recognise her”, he said. “I don’t even remember how she looked as a baby”.
“Another person who will meet long-lost family is 87-year-old Kim Wu-jong, who lives alone in a small, run-down home in Seoul. He is poor and partially paralysed.
But he is overjoyed at the prospect of seeing his younger sister whom he calls “the flower and princess of my family”. They have not seen met since the Korean War ended in 1953.”
It is incredibly difficult to pass comment on what happens inside North Korea, the few visitors that get to visit are so tightly monitored that they see only what the authorities allow them to, but I cant think of many things more inhumane than this particular facet of their society. I’m sure after 60 years families on both sides have accepted the fact they will never see each other again, but then, to have a fleeting glimpse of those they left behind and know that it will be the last time you will ever see them is just so painfully cruel.