Prof., Dr. German Kim
Kazakh State National al-Farabi University
Chair of the Department for Korean Studies
WE AND THEY. Relations of Korean Diaspora in Kazakhstan with North and South of Korea
It is believed that Koreans in the Soviet Union were on friendly terms with THE Northern Koreans. However, in fact it was not like that. Certainly, on the official level the Soviet government rendered political, military and economic support to Pyongyang. The Soviet Koreans had little to do with it.
However, after the Second World War the Soviet Koreans found themselves drawn into political ambitions and games of the Stalin regime. In 1946 Moscow sent instructions to the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan to register all Korean communists, candidates to the Communist Party and Comsomol members, educated and speaking Korean or Chinese. On the whole in Kazakhstan 1 000 people were on the list. A special commission of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Kazakhstan was dealing with those chosen to be sent to the North Korea. Then they were trained and sent to Moscow. Going to Korea was considered to be a special business trip on the mission of the Central committee of the All-Russia Communist Party.
It will be possible to exactly determine how many Soviet Koreans were sent to work in the PDRK only after all the corresponding documents have been made available. Professor Suh Dae Sook believes that 427 Soviet Koreans were in the North Korea between August 1945 and January 1949. Lee Chang Sik gives approximately the same number. Hur Un Be in his research on the history of the PDRK writes that in January 1949 in the North Korea there were 428 Soviet Koreans. Thus, the figure of 427-428 seems to be real. It can be supported by simple calculations. It is enough to add four figures:1). 140-150 Soviet military men - Koreans who came in 1945, 2). 100 civil specialists sent in 1946-1948, 3). 110 family members of the latter and 4). Unknown number of the family members of the military, supposedly 100-150. If we also take into consideration the fact that some of the Soviet Koreans left the country together with the Soviet troops in 1948 or were called back to Moscow, we will get approximately the same number - 400-450 people. It is true that this figure includes members of the families. The number of politically active Soviet Koreans was smaller - 140-200 people.
The national cadres in Korea itself were very weak at that time and because of it the Soviet Koreans who had great party, governmental , managerial and cultural experience occupied important positions in Korea. Besides, the Soviet military administration tried to place their people everywhere . For such reasons the Soviet Koreans from the first days started to play a very important role in the political and military administration of the North Korea.
The Soviet Koreans participated in the Korean War of 1950-1953. Some of them were awarded the highest military award "Hero of the PDRK", some became generals of the North Korean Army. Soon after the war the majority of the Soviet Koreans were deported by Kim Il Sung Regime. Only several dozens remained and many of them suffered from repressions. Only very few, those really loyal to the Leader, remained in the North Korea and died there when their time came.
It should be noted that among the Soviet Koreans there was a small group of former citizens of the PDRK who had stayed in the Soviet Union upon graduating universities or after post graduate courses or contract work or those who had crossed the border. Most of the northern Koreans remained in Moscow after the 20th Congress of the Communist Party, at which Khruschev officially criticized the personality cult of Stalin. The relations between Moscow and Pyongyang aggravated. This group of non-returnees was composed of intellectuals. Later they began to play a considerable role in the Korean diaspora and national culture. Suffice is to name such as Hur Un Be, Han Din, Myon Dong Uk, Yan Von Sik etc.
After the personality cult of the "father of peoples" was exposed and because of the worsened Soviet-Chinese relations Moscow and Pyongyang kept at some distance from each other. In 60-70ies in Kazakhstan there were only several occasions on which some jubilee dates were observed, i.e. liberation of Korea, formation of the PDRK and even they did not involve the Korean diaspora.
In 1985 in the USSR perestroika started and in May for the first time a group of Soviet Koreans could go to the North Korea and during 12 days visited Pyongyang, Wonsan, Nampo, Gumgansan.
Three years later a considerable group of the Soviet people went to the South to take part in the Seoul Summer Olympics. Among athletes and coaches there were some Soviet Koreans. The Seoul Olympics opened the eyes of the Soviet people including Koreans and they realized that the South Korea was a dynamically developing country which had already achieved considerable economic success.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union the independent Kazakhstan established diplomatic relations with both Korean states. Besides official governmental bodies the Association of Korean Cultural Centers set up in 1990 began to play a very important role in the first contacts of Kazakhstani Koreans with the South and North.
At first the North Korea tried to compete with the South in establishing and developing ties with Kazakhstani Koreans. In 1989 three thousand textbooks and ABC books in Korean were sent from Pyongyang. A professor came from the North Korea who taught the Korean language at Almaty State University. Taekwondo instructor from the North Korea gave lessons in the national martial art to the young people of Kazakhstan including Koreans.
In 1989 Kazakhstan branch of the All-union Association for Promotion of Unification of Korea was set up, its activity was financed by the North Korea. During the first years of its activity the APUK made possible for Kazakhstani Koreans especially of the older generation to visit the North Korea. About 1000 people could visit the North Korea.
In September 1994 the APUK in Kazakhstan was re-registered and renamed - Kazakhstan Korean Association " Unity". This organization numbering several activists stuck to its pro-North Korean policy and got from Pyongyang textbooks and propaganda materials, Korean musical instruments, national dresses. Once every year a small group of Kazakhstani Koreans went to Pyongyang to take part in the celebrations of Kim Il Sung birthday called " April Spring"
The deep crisis of the North Korean regime of mid-nineties made Pyongyang close its embassy in Almaty and call back the diplomats. Thus the North Korea left no noticeable trace in Kazakhstan and did not influence the Korean diaspora.
The North Korean crisis brought about an avalanche of publications in the Russian press exposing personality cult and authoritarian regime of the two North Korean leaders and describing unbearable living conditions in the North Korea. Such materials quite often exaggerated the negative side. As a result we got a picture which did not correspond to the reality. Some articles were reprinted in the newspaper Kore Ilbo causing discontent among representatives of the older generation of the Korean diaspora who believed that it was a shame for the Korean people on the whole. At present in the Russian newspapers there are fewer of such exposing publications and in all probability it is connected with the attempts of Moscow to restore relations with Pyongyang.
As regards the South, from the very beginning of establishing diplomatic relations between Seoul and Almaty their relations were developing very fast, widening every year. Thousands of Kazakhstani Koreans were able to visit the South Korea and in turn thousands of South Koreans came to Kazakhstan.
The biggest South Korean companies such as " LG and "Samsung" have invested millions of dollars in the economy of Kazakhstan. Dozens of joint and Korean companies are acting in Kazakhstan where many Kazakhstani Koreans work. Many trading companies import from the South Korea all kinds of products from cars and computers to foodstuff and consumer goods. The Association of Koreans in Kazakhstan contributed to signing a number of mutually beneficial contracts between Kazakhstani and South Korean companies. In September 1999 the AKK contributed to signing an agreement on cooperation between the Karatal region , the head of which - Roman Kim was appointed at the recommendation of the AKK, and the company " LG- Almatyelectronics" The agreement envisages a number of interesting investment projects.
Teachers from the South Korea are teaching the Korean language at the universities and institutes of Kazakhstan. Dozens of South Korean students are getting education in Kazakhstan. All the students who learn Korean use South Korean textbooks and other learning materials from Seoul.
In 1991 the Center of Education of the Republic of Korea was opened in Almaty. Now it plays a very important role in the life of the Korean diaspora. Thousands of students, hundreds of teachers have taken language courses in the Center. Alongside with the educational activity the Center promotes the Korean national art, gives knowledge about history and culture of the Republic of Korea, holds various cultural events. The Center of Education has branches in many regional centers, big cities and other places with compact Korean population.
From 1991 Korean Christian churches began to appear in Kazakhstan, now their number is more than two dozens. The bulk of parishioners are Koreans but the doors are open for everybody. Many started going to the church not for the sake of religion but to be able to learn the Korean language and to communicate with people in an informal manner. If originally they were mostly people of the older generation who went to the church, now younger people also are interested in it.
During the past years in Kazakhstan there were many concerts, exhibitions, theatre performances, fashion shows and other cultural events organized by the South Korean side together with the Association of Koreans in Kazakhstan. Lots of people from the Korean diaspora took part in those events. The AKK organized and held a number of important socio-political, cultural and sport events, which were highly appreciated at the top level. At the celebratory meeting dedicated to the 60th anniversary of the stay of Koreans in Kazakhstan the president of the country Nursultan Nazarbaev emphasized the contribution of Koreans to the development of their motherland - Kazakhstan and very warmly spoke about his close comrades in arms from the Korean diaspora. The AKK held a number of republican festivals of the Korean culture and art, thousands of people taking part including those from the South Korea. The Embassy of the Republic of Korea has always supported such important and useful events.
In the middle of 1990 the number of South Koreans in Kazakhstan was over 1000, which led to the formation of the public organization called " Khanin..." uniting above all businessmen, pastors and students. Unfortunately from the very beginning the Association of the South Korean citizens and the AKK failed to establish close cooperation, each of them being busy with its own activities. At present there is a tendency of bringing those two organizations closer to each other which will lead to better understanding and contacts between the South Koreans and the Korean diaspora in Kazakhstan.
During the past ten years to Kazakhshan several times came teams from the biggest South Korean TV- and radio companies to shoot documentary films and series of programs on the history, life and prospects for future of the Koreans in Kazakhstan. In Almaty one can watch " Arirang" TV program in Korean and English.
Scientists and journalists have already written a lot of articles, published books about the Koreans of Kazakhstan. Several international scientific conferences on Korean Studies were held in Almaty and scientists -Koreans from Kazakhstan participated in scientific conferences in the Republic of Korea.
The relations between Kazakhstani and South Koreans have turned from official into direct, human and everyday contacts. There is a number of cases when such contacts led to marriage and family ties. If ten years ago a marriage of a South Korean and a Korean from Kazakhstan was kind of a sensation as they were so different regarding mentality, language and way of life, now no one is any longer surprised. One can say that Koreans from Kazakhstan and South Koreans have become very close. The image of the Republic of Korea as an economically developed country to a certain extend contributed to the high status of the Korean diaspora in Kazakhstan.
In the mid-90ies the South Korean small and medium size business companies got a permission to attract foreign workers mostly from developing countries of the third world. Citizens from Kazakhstan also got a chance "to work on probation" at the plants and factories of the South Korea, however among those willing to earn their living in Korea representatives of the Korean diaspora compose less than one third. The reasons for such unwillingness are different.
The Law on Foreign Koreans adopted in the Republic of Korea gives equal civil and political rights to all the immigrants who left the country after it had been officially proclaimed. Thus it does not include the Koreans of the former Soviet Union and China. However, one must admit that such limitation of rights was practically ignored by the Korean diaspora of Kazakhstan and other post-Soviet countries of Central Asia. The leadership of the All-Russia organization of Koreans ( Vasiliy Soh) sent a letter to the president of the Republic of Korea expressing their regret about exclusion of the Russian Koreans from the jurisdiction of the Law on Foreign Koreans. The question - " Do the Koreans in Kazakhstan want the rights equal to those of the South Koreans?" remains open. The answer to it is not simple as it is connected not only with the desire of Koreans themselves but also with the legislation of the Republic of Kazakstan, international law and terms of inter-governmental agreements.
It should also be noted that there are certain problems in the relations between us and the South Koreans. The thing is that some South Korean businessmen, professors and pastors using the dominating position in their surrounding are trying to impose their models of behavior and mentality to the Koreans in Kazakshtan. Korean companies in Kazakhstan introduce the order and rules which are typically Korean and which may sooner or later lead to a negative reaction on the side of the local personnel. Tense relations and mutual hostility on the personal level can pass on to a higher level.
We should not forget that we - Kazakhstani Koreans are blood brothers to the Koreans from the South and North but due to the historical destiny we are different from each other in mentality, psychology, habits and interests. We should know our common features and our differences, we should respect each other, we should support and assist each other, we should strengthen and develop our relations for the sake of the future!
Prof. Dr. Kim German Nikolaevitch, Head of the Department of Korean Studies Faculty of Oriental Studies Kazakh National University named after al-Farabi. Republic of Kazakhstan Almaty,480012, Imanova str.61a, Room 200;
Phone/fax: 3272-621345, mobile: 8300-7551494
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