My Visit to Korea
by Harpal Brar (Editor, LALKAR; Chair, Society for Friendship with Korea)
Between 15 and 22 June, in my capacity as the President of the Society for Friendship with Korea (SFK), I visited the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) at the invitation of the Korean Committee for Friendship with the British People (KCFBP). The occasion for my visit was provided by the Mass Gymnastic and Artistic Performance Arirang, staged from April to June in the May Day Stadium in Pyongyang (of which more later on) to mark the 90th anniversary of the birth of the legendary comrade Kim Il Sung. April to June are the best months to visit Korea, for during this period it is at its beautiful best - warm but not too hot, and resplendent with flowers in bloom in a multitude of colours. They are also the months when the people of the DPRK celebrate the birthday of Comrade Kim Il Sung (15 April) and the founding of the Korean People's Army (25 April), as well as mark the beginning of the Korean War (25 June). This year was particularly important, for it marked the 90th anniversary of Kim Il Sung's birth, the 70th anniversary of the founding of the Korean People's Army and the 30th anniversary of the three principles of national reunification propounded by Kim Il sung, not to mention the 2nd anniversary of the North-South Joint Declaration (15 June).
During my short stay I had meetings with responsible officials of the KCFBP and was taken to important places connected with the Korean people's struggle for national liberation and socialist construction. What appears below is a very brief report of my visit and the impressions that my short trip to the DPRK left on me.
My visit commenced with a welcome dinner hosted by Mrs Hong Sun Ok, one of the vice-chairpersons of the KCFBP. During this working dinner we had ample opportunity to discuss matters of mutual interest. Cde Hong explained to me the stance of the DPRK on a whole range of issues, including especially the question of the reunification of Korea and the army first policy initiated by Cde Kim Jong Il, General Secretary of the Workers' Party of Korea (WPK) and the Supreme Commander of the Korean People's Army (KPA). For my part, I explained the SFK's stance on these issues, assuring my Korean host of our full support for the just demands of the Korean people, namely, that US imperialism must withdraw its occupation troops from the southern part of the Korean peninsula and let the Korean people - North and South - proceed with the peaceful reunification of their country without outside interference.
The following day (Sunday 16 June), I was taken on a visit to the Pyongyang metro, the Arch of Triumph, the Tower of the Juche Idea, the Monument to the Party Founding, and to the birthplace of the late Cde Kim Il Sung at Mangyondae. The efficiently-run Pyongyang metro, in addition to being the most important transport artery, is a work of art, each of whose stations is a monument to the DPRK's struggle against imperialism and an exhortation to socialist construction. If the magnificent Arch of Triumph stands as a monument to the Korean people's successful struggle against Japanese imperialism, 150 metres high, the Tower of the Juche Idea, from the top of which one can get a panoramic view of Pyongyang and the countryside beyond, proudly proclaims to the whole world the ideas of independence and self-reliance, which were so assiduously inculcated into the Korean people by their great leader, Comrade Kim Il Sung.
Mangyongdae Old House, the birth place of Cde Kim Il Sung, is maintained as a national monument, visited by thousands of Koreans, as well as foreigners, every day. This modest house, with its meagre furnishings, provides a clue to the grinding poverty into which Kim Il Sung was born. While lacking in material comfort, the Kim family were possessed of a burning hatred of imperialism, a passionate patriotism and an ardent desire to liberate Korea from the yoke of Japanese imperialism. Kim Il Sung was fortunate to have been born into a family with a very long revolutionary tradition. Not only his parent, but his grandfather and great-grandfather too were revolutionaries. It was Kim Il Sung's great grandfather who in 1866 organised the peasantry around Pyongyang in resisting and sinking the USS General Sherman, which had sailed up the river from the sea that separates Korea from China. The Commander of the General Sherman had sailed as a show of force and made arrogant demands. The Korean people gave this representative of the US a fitting rebuff - a foretaste of what US imperialism was to experience on a far greater scale over eight decades later during the Korean war. Kim Il Sung left this modest house at the young age of 12, vowing to return to it only after Korea's liberation, which is precisely what he did.
On Monday 17 June I visited the Grand People's Study House, the WPK Founding Museum, the Revolutionary Martyrs' Cemetery, the Korean Revolution Museum and the Suk Island Historical Site. The Grand People's Study House is much more than a library. This huge complex with 400 rooms houses several million books and holds regular lectures, well-advertised in advance and attended by large numbers of workers and students, on subjects ranging from science to literature, music and the arts. The Workers' Party of Korea Founding Museum is situated at the foot of Haebang Hill in the Central District of Pyongyang. It was here that the WPK was founded on 10 October 1945 under the leadership of Kim Il Sung. It was here too that the Central Committee of the WPK was based from October 1945 to late 1948. Two large rooms, used by Kim Il Sung as his offices, one of these lined with shelves containing the works of Marx, Engels and Lenin as well as Kim Il Sung's own writings, and a larger meeting hall, are preserved in their original state as a permanent reminder to the Korean people that they owe their victories to the banner of Marxism-Leninism, the leadership of the WPK and the wise guidance of Cde Kim Il Sung. Approximately 100 metres west of this Museum there stands a house, in which Kim Il Sung and his fellow revolutionaries lived after their triumphal return home following the liberation of Korea and the defeat of Japanese imperialism.
As for the Revolutionary Martyrs' Cemetery on Mount Taeson, here lie buried more than 100 revolutionary martyrs who sacrificed their lives in the cause of the emancipation of their motherland from Japanese imperialism. As these fighters never lived to see for themselves their beloved and beautiful Pyongyang cleared of all foreign aggressors, their graves on Jujak Peak at Mount Taeson have been endowed with their busts, their gaze poignantly fixed on Pyongyang.
The Korean Revolution Museum, occupying more than 50,000 square metres, is home to a huge meeting hall, two projection rooms and about 90 exhibition halls, thematically divided into sections dealing with the anti-Japanese national liberation struggle, the democratic revolution and the first stage transition period, the Fatherland Liberation War, the struggle for laying the foundations of socialism, the effort for all-round socialist construction, and the foreign policy of the DPRK under the leadership of the WPK.
The historical site on Suk Island is the place where Cde Kim Il Sung met patriotic representatives from the south of the country in an effort to thwart the plans of US imperialism to divide the country. This beautiful site now serves as a recreation ground.
We wound up our day with a visit to the May Day Stadium for the Arirang performance. This truly enchanting and moving performance, staged by approximately 100,000 participants, including famous Korean artists, as well as students and children, has to be seen to be believed. National in form and internationalist in content, a wonderful mix of music, dance, projected pictures and laser illumination, in which gymnastic displays and dance performances imperceptibly merge into each other, the Arirang represents one of the highest artistic achievements of humanity. Arirang, consisting of four Acts, divided into 10 scenes, is based on an ancient and sad Korean story. It has been suitably revised to fit the life of modern DPRK where children are happy and people's lives are getting better through their arduous work. The only thing that really saddens the Korean people is the continued division of their country forced upon them by US imperialism and its army of occupation in the southern half of Korea. The Arirang production, with great skill, ingenuity and artistic finesse, vividly portrays these aspects of Korean life - their struggle to build a prosperous, independent, socialist and reunified motherland. The May Day Stadium, with 150,000 seats, was filled to capacity. At the end of this performance even people not given to displaying emotion were moved to giving the performers an ecstatic standing ovation lasting several minutes.
On Tuesday 18 June we started with a visit to the Fatherland Liberation War Museum. Mainly devoted to the successful epic struggle of the Korean people in defeating US imperialism and its satellites, including British imperialism, who waged a genocidal war of aggression against the DPRK from 25 June 1950 to 27 July 1953, the museum, with its 80 exhibition halls, also contains some displays relating to the anti-Japanese revolutionary struggle. There is on display documentary evidence showing beyond a shred of doubt that US imperialism meticulously plannned and carried out its plan for this cruel war with the aim of subduing the North thus refuting the myth of north Korean aggression and the US merely coming to the assistance of the southern victims of this alleged aggression. The US war of aggression claimed the lives of 4 million Koreans and during this war, US imperialism committed unbelievable atrocities, in the face of which even the cruelties practised by the Nazis on their victims pale into insignifiance. The Korean people suffered enormously, but in the end, under the leadership of the WPK and the brilliant command of Marshal Kim Il Sung, the indomitable will of the Korean people prevailed. US imperialism, fought to a standstill by the Korean people, with fraternal material help from the Soviet Union and Chinese People's volunteers, forced US imperialism to sign the armistice agreement on 27 July 1953, with the US general signing the agreement complaining that he was in the unenviable position of being the first US general to sign a document to end a war which the US had not won. The heroic exploits of the Korean people under extremely difficult circumstances are well portrayed by the exhibits in the museum, the highlight of which is an enormous panorama depicting the valiant battle waged by the KPA to liberate Taejon.
We kept up this theme of the Korean people's struggle against US imperialism by a visit to the US spy ship Pueblo, which was captured by the DPRK sailors in North Korean waters in January 1968. The Johnson administration, claiming that the vessel was a civilian ship carrying out research in international waters, threatened retaliation and an all-out war against the DPRK unless the vessel and its crew were released immediately. The DPRK, insisting that the Pueblo was a spy ship caught red-handed in its waters, threatened counter-retaliation and an all-out war against any US all-out war. In the end, 11 months later, after the crew of Pueblo had openly confessed to being spies and the US had offered an unconditional apology, they were released, while the spy ship is moored in the river near Pyongyang as a memorial to the Korean people's struggle against US imperialist provocation. I was honoured to have been shown round this vessel by one of the sailors who took part in its capture back in January 1968.
The following day, Wednesday 19 June, we went to the Sinchon County to visit to Sinchon Museum, wherein are on display the barbarous crimes of US imperialism. During a short period of 52 days, US imperialism slaughtered 35,000 Korean men, women and children, representing a quarter of the County's population. The visit to the Sinchon Museum reminded me of my visits to the Saxenhausen and Buchenwald Nazi concentration camps. Anyone who has visited this museum cannot fail to be convinced of the crimes that imperialism, especially US imperialism, is capable of committing in its lurid frenzy. Further, on comes out of the place convinced that the Nazi beasts of yore had nothing to teach the present-day US imperialists in the field of committing the most wicked and fiendish crimes against humanity. The truth is that US imperialism has taken over from Nazi Germany and the present-day US imperialists are the direct descendants of Hitlerite beasts. On 20 June my hosts took me to Kaeson for a visit to the village of Panmunjon, the world-famous venue of the protracted armistice talks during the US war of aggression against Korea. The buildings where the armistice talks were held and the truce agreement signed have been preserved in their original state. Panmunjon sits right in the middle of the demilitarised zone (DMZ) along the Military Demarcation Line (MDL). In complete violation of Article 1 of the Korean Armistice Agreement, the US has fortified the southern half of the DMZ and uses it as a base for its continued daily provocations against the DPRK. Further, just south of the MDL, the South Korean puppet authorities, at US instigation, have built a concrete wall, 5-8 metres in height, stretching all the way across the 240 km long DMZ, with the aim of physically partitioning the Korean peninsula from east to west and providing US imperialism with a pretext for stationing thousands of its aggressor troops, armed with the most sophisticated conventional armaments as well as weapons of mass destruction, on Korean soil where they have no right whatsoever to be. The entire imperialist media, which used to shriek at the sight of the Berlin wall, have been, and remain, characteristically silent about this hideous concrete wall, which divides Korean fromKorean. A visit to Panmunjon is enough to make one realise the correctness of the DPRK's Army First policy, initiated by Cde Kim Jong Il. Without a people's army, the people have nothing. In view of the fact that South Korea has been turned by US imperialism into an armed encampment and a launching pad for renewed aggression against the North, the survival of socialism in the DPRK is solely dependent on the latter's ability to defend herself and give a fitting rebuff should US imperialism dare to embark upon its mad schemes of launching a new war.
On the way back to Pyongyang we stopped to have a quick look at the beautiful Three-Charters Monument. On the last day of my stay, we paid a visit to the Museum of Culture and the location of Feature Film Studios. The former has a huge number of displays portraying the contribution of Cde Kim Jong Il to the development of Korean films, drama and opera, his tireless efforts to reproduce in artistic form some of the writings of Comrade Kim Il Sung and other revolutionary writers. The latter, sprawled over an area of 1 million square metres, is a permanent location for making films, complete with North and South Korean streets, a Japanese, a US, a European, as well as several other streets. As my hosts jocularly remarked, I had travelled through several countries without a passport.
In the evening we went to see the Pyongyang Circus, with its breathtakingly daring display of artistic and gymnastic skills. Not since the Soviet era Moscow Circus have I seen anything like this.
Before closing my account of the places I visited, I must make a brief mention of the visits to the Changgwang Kindergarten, Motanbong High Middle School, General Hospital of Koryo Medicine, and the Pyongyang School Children's Palace on the afternoons of 18 and 19 June. The facilities available to the Korean people and their children in the field of health provision and school are truly excellent. As for kindergartens and schools, even middle class parents in the imperialist countries would be envious of the facilities available to the children of the Korean workers and peasants, with the only difference that whereas those middle class parents, who send their children to private schools, pay hefty sums of money, the Korean children receive these facilities absolutely free of charge. The atmosphere at the Korean schools, the relations between teachers and their pupils, the happy faces of the children, their serious attitude towards learning and very high cultural and scientific achievements, have to be seen to be believed. There is not a trace of racism or national chauvinism among these children, who treat foreigners as respected and loved guests rather than as objects of suspicion, contempt or derision. Apart from teaching them the usual sciences and humanities, schools in the DPRK put a tremendous effort into the physical and cultural development of the children, as if guided by the principle: healthy minds and healthy bodies. Each school is in a position to put on gymnastic, dance and music performances of an exceptionally high standard. The pleasure one gets from an encounter with the students in the DPRK's schools is nothing short of exhilarating.
On the last evening of my stay, I hosted a dinner in honour of my hosts from the KCFBP, Mrs Hong Sun Ok, one of the Vice Chairpersons of the KCFBP, who had been kind enough to see me twice before, was unable to attend owing to other important engagements. Similarly, Mrs Pak Song Ok, Secretary General of the KCFBP, whom I saw briefly before her departure for Australia, was unable to be present. However, I was pleased to welcome Mr Kim Yong Ho, also vice-chairman of the KCFBP and Director in the Europe Department of the Korean Committee for Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries, as well as Mr Paek Chol Ho, Executive member of the KCFBP, who acted as my guide, Mrs Ju Ok, member of the KCFBP, whose language skills made it possible for me to converse with people in the places I visited; and Mr Jang Dok Gil, the ever punctual and excellent driver. This partly social evening provided, as had my earlier meetings with Mrs Hong, an excellent opportunity to exchange view on a number of issues of particular concern to the Korean people. During this evening, as indeed on earlier occasions, I made particularly clear the support of my organisation, the Society for Friendship with Korea, for the just demand of the Korean people that US imperialism withdraw its 37,000 aggressor troops and all its sophisticated weaponry, nuclear and conventional, from the southern half of Korea and let the Korean people, North and South, negotiate with each other the mode and details of the reunification of their country without outside interference. Pending the withdrawal of US forces, I expressed the SFK's full support for the Army First policy of Comrade Kim Jong Il, for it is plainly clear that imperialism, as it has no regard whatsoever either for human life or the national sentiments of the oppressed people, understands the language of strength and force alone.
As Britain was one of the satellite countries of the US that waged a 3-year long war of aggression against the Korean people under the false flag of the United Nations, in which 4 million Korean people lost their lives, I offered a sincere apology on behalf of the SFK and the British working class for the role played in this dirty war by British imperialism. I expressed the confidence that a future socialist British government would, in addition to apologising for the crimes committed by British imperialism against the Korean people, go a long way to providing material assistance by way of recognising the wrongs done by Britain against them, achieving genuine reconciliation between the British and Korean people.
For his part, Mr Kim expressed his thanks for the support given by the SFK to the cause of Korean reunification as well as for the socialist DPRK. I was glad to hear from him that the DPRK had successfully weathered the serious problems caused by the disruption of trade relations, consequent upon the collapse of the USSR and the eastern bloc of socialist countries, not to speak of the imperialist blockade and the five consecutive years of drought followed by flooding. Particularly heartening to hear was the fact no one had died of starvation, contrary to the scare stories of mass famine deaths in the DPRK which the imperialist print and electronic media spread with a view to precipitating the collapse of the DPRK. What is certainly true is that the Korean people had to face hunger. However, being like members of one large family, the Korean people shared their short supplies, in the process looking after the most vulnerable sections of the population - children and old people. Unlike capitalist societies, where food shortage on such a scale would provide small sections of the population with an opportunity for food hoarding, profiteering and gorging, while the masses started starvation in the face, with millions driven prematurely to the grave, socialist North Korea, to the credit of its leadership and people, dealt with this grave economic crisis in a humane and dignified way and came out of it fighting.
What struck me during my visit to the DPRK was the fierce patriotism (not to be confused with narrow nationalism or chauvinism) of the Korean people and their pride in the democratic and socialist achievements of their country, their burning hatred of imperialism, especially US imperialism, and their ardent desire for the reunification of their country, which has been forcibly divided by US imperialism for half a century; and the unity between the leadership and the people. The Korean leadership loves and cares for the interests of the Korean people, and the latter genuinely love their leaders. The late Comrade Kim Il Sung, with his legendary exploits against Japanese imperialism, his generalship during the Fatherland Liberation War against US imperialism and its satellites, his stewardship during the democratic stage of the Korean revolution, his guidance in the years of socialist construction, his role in the founding of the KPA, the WPK and the DPRK itself, his tireless efforts in the cause of Korean reunification, is deservedly revered by the Korean people, to whom he is their Great Leader. It is impossible to speak of modern Korea without speaking of Kim Il Sung. He had, through his long revolutionary and arduous struggle, come to symbolise and become a representative spokesman of the anti-imperialist, democratic and socialist revolutionary struggle of the Korean people to such an extent that he can correctly be credited with being the chief organiser and architect of the Korean people's victories. Following as he is in the footsteps of his predecessor, Comrade Kim Jong Il is increasingly respected more and more by the Korean people.
I would like to express my sincere thanks to my Korean hosts for the warm hospitality and welcome they accorded to me. It is impossible for me to thank everyone by name, for innumerable people were helpful and kind to me at every site I visited. However, I would like to mention by name the three responsible officials of the KCFBP - Mrs Hong San Ok, Mrs Pak Song Ok and Mr Kim Yong Ho, along with Mr Paek Chol Ho, my guide, Mrs Ju Ok, my interpreter and Mr Jang Dok Gil, our driver. Without their tireless efforts it would not have been possible for me to gain such an understanding of the DPRK as I did from my short stay. I thank them all from the bottom of my heart, for they made me feel at home and infected me with their disarming charm, courtesy and genuine hospitality.
In conveying the greetings of my hosts to the members of the Society for Friendship with Korea, I would like to pass on the following specific suggestions for continued future co-operation between the British and Korean peoples:
1. More and regular visits by British people, be they members of the SFK or not;
2. Help in securing and sending to the DPRK catalogues of technical publications;
3. Organisation in Britain of meetings on important dates in the Korean revolutionary calendar and sending messages of support or greetings on these occasions, in particular, marking 25 June and 27 July by way of expressing solidarity with the DPRK;
4. Help in establishing contact between the Kim Il Sung Technology University and a similar institution in the UK;
5. Facilitation of a visit by a school children's art troop of 20-25 children under the age of 16 to visit the UK, and perhaps other European countries, with a view to putting on artistic performances.
Lalkar calls upon its readers to help the SFK in furthering the cause of solidarity and fraternity with the Korean people.
Any body willing and able to help the SFK please contact either Lalkar or the SFK, Box 9135, London W3 6DG.
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