Korean defectors find new life bittersweet
September 25, 1996
Web posted at: 11:35 P.m. EDT (0535 GMT)
SEOUL, South Korea (CNN) -- Some North Korean
defectors are sharing glimpses of the lives they left
behind through the theatrical group Omani, which means
'mother' in their native dialect.
In part of the play, audience members can ask
questions about their shrouded northern neighbor, and
listen to songs popular in a country few outsiders
"People here have been told so many lies that many
still think North Korean people are all red, and that
they know nothing except their leader, Kim Il-sung,"
said actor Kim Kwang-wook.
"That has always made me mad. But during the play as
people ask questions and we answer as honestly as we
can, I see the audience change their way of thinking."
In the past, defectors served as important tools for
the South in the propaganda war with the North. During
elaborate press conferences, they would talk about the
unbearable conditions they left behind.
Half a century after the Korean War, the Cold War
still grips on the Korean peninsula. But with South
Korea's growing affluence and communism's diminishing
threat, the propaganda need has virtually evaporated.
Financial support for the growing number of defectors
has been drastically reduced. A psychiatrist who has
interviewed a number of defectors found finances can
be a real problem.
"Their knowledge, their school education in North
Korea cannot be used in South Korea," said Dr. Jeon
Woo-taek. "So they have ... difficulties in their
making money, in their job selection and their job
But what may be even more difficult to bear is the
emotional pain which comes with having fled their
homeland on a one-way trip.
"You have this open scar in your heart, so much guilt
about leaving my brothers and sisters, and my parents
behind, and loneliness," said the actor, Kim.
"Before this play, I would come home after work and I
would be alone, and thoughts about North Korea would
come, and I would become so lonely."
Choi Ju-hwal, a former North Korean colonel, left
behind a wife and three children. He still sees them
in his dreams, but believes they have been sent to
prison camps because of his defection.
Some observers believe such harsh realities lead many
North Korean defectors to find comfort in religion.
Kim Shin-jo, a defector who had been sent to
assassinate the South Korean president in 1968, became
a missionary and has written books on how he found
inner peace in Christianity.
"These young people call me, and say, 'I want to see
my mother,'" said Kim. "They made the decision to
defect spontaneously. But once they get here, the
emotional conflict is too heavy to bear, so many are
lost. Some start to drink to forget."
In capitalist South Korea, defectors from the North do
find affluence and freedom, but they also find it
comes at a heavy price.
Correspondent Sohn Jie-ae contributed to this report.
© 1996 Cable News Network, Inc.
All Rights Reserved.