[The Korea Herald] Sharing His Journey Through Music – North Korean Pianist Kim Cheol-woong

N. Korean pianist’s quest for musical freedom

North Korean defector, pianist Kim Cheol-woong delivers his story through music


Published : 2013-07-14 19:05
Updated : 2013-07-14 19:06

If music is a universal language North Korean pianist Kim Cheol-woong found perhaps one of its best uses.

On Saturday, Kim illustrated his spoken account of his journey in pursuit of musical freedom with a mix of compositions at a concert at Haechi Hall in Seoul, organized by the Citizens’ Alliance for North Korean Human Rights (NKHR), for which Kim is a cultural ambassador.

Kim, who comes from an elite North Korean family, entered the stage exuding modesty and a warm sense of humor.

In between playing a harmonious mixture of classical from North Korea, Western compositions, and his own sonata, he described episodes of his life after fleeing his privileged background.

He explained that his work in the North Korean human rights movement was motivated by his desire to bring people together through music. 

“We can help the cause by going out to the pickets, but that would not be the only way to help. I hope that I can bring a soft touch through my music,” he said. 

Kim, 39, was trained in classical music in Pyongyang from the age of 8, learning music that was rigid in technique and restrained in expression, heavily inclined toward North Korean propaganda. 

“When I was in third grade, I had to learn to play a song called ‘revolutionary army game,’” he told the audience. 

Like any maestro, when Kim plays, his fingers run across the piano keys in a synchronized dance. He described how he protected these fingers when the Chinese authorities beat him for 11 hours at a Beijing airport, by tucking them away firmly under his arms. 

“It was okay for my head to break, but I had to protect my fingers,” he said.

After school, Kim had gone on to study music at the Tchaikovsky Conservatory in Moscow. Upon his return to North Korea, he became the chief pianist for the State Symphony Orchestra, where he was to play only patriotic and military tunes for the leaders of the country. 

Pianist Kim Cheol-woong plays at a concert. (www.nkhrrescuefund.org)

One night Kim was reported to the National Security Office in Pyongyang for practicing a jazz piece by French pianist Richard Clayderman called “A Comme Amour,” for which he was asked to write a report of self-criticism. 

This created a deep dilemma for Kim. 

“I simply couldn’t understand why I had to write a self-criticism report, because I am a pianist, and I’m supposed to play the piano,” he said. 

His decision to leave North Korea was made because of the way artists were treated, and because he wanted to play the piano freely.

“On this earth, there is one country where you can’t sing the song you want to even though you have a mouth, listen to the music that you want to even though you have ears, and play the music that you want to even though you have fingers. That is North Korea,” he said. 

However, his journey to musical freedom after fleeing the regimented state was not easy. Crossing the Tumen River into China and coming to South Korea involved working as a servant for a Chinese family and being an illegal migrant in a Chinese logging camp. 

The first time Kim saw a piano again was in a Christian missionary church in China, which he described as “odd looking and very amazing at the same time.” 

“Out of the 88 keys, 50 did not make any sound,” he said. But Kim, who was so overcome with emotion, held on to the piano and cried. 

Today, Kim’s journey of musical freedom is still underway. 

He describes it in four phases: The first phase was learning the music, and the second followed with playing the music he learned under oppression in North Korea. The third was escaping this oppression and truly realizing his journey to musical freedom. 

Finally, Kim is in the fourth phase, where he is trying to play music at a certain level that creates a message of faith and peace. 

Since arriving in South Korea in 2001, Kim has gone on to teach music at universities, founded an arts organization for North Korean defectors, and become an advocate for North Korean Human rights.

“North Korea does not have a concept of human rights,” Kim explained. When he was first invited to a human rights forum, Kim realized that he could do more to spread awareness. 

“I want to let people know that there’s nothing wrong between North and South Koreans, there are just differences. Being different is very different from being wrong. Through music, I want to focus on the similarities.”

The concert is one of many fundraising events organized by NKHR to help North Korean defectors resettle in South Korea. The organization was established to offer cultural and academic support to young people and students. 

The concert was first conceived as a way of reaching out to the local community by combining two things that are internationally celebrated: music and storytelling. 

All proceeds raised will help refugee rescue efforts and education programs for young North Koreans. 

“Kim Cheol-woong is not only an accomplished musician, but he is also an engaging storyteller. It is very rare for North Korean defectors to be able to deliver their stories through music, so we are very happy to be working together with him,” said Lilian Lee, one of the NKHR Concert organizers. 

Reunification is a key aim for NKHR, one that Kim also advocates for extensively. 

One day, Kim believes his dream of being able to play with his friends from Pyongyang and South Korea together will come true. 

“Dreams are something that should be realized and must be realized,” Kim said with a smile on his face. 

By Astha Rajvanshi, Intern reporter

Credits to: 

[Donation] PLEASE GIVE GIVE GIVE — Help Reach the Dream of North Korean Youth (message from Citizens’ Alliance of NKHR)

Hello friends,
The GlobalGiving Campaign with NKHR’s education project has just launched and we would like to request your help in spreading awareness about the challenge. We have to raise $ 5,000 from 40 different donors (at least) until end of September to become a permanent member of Global Giving and offer other benefits which NKHR can’t right now, such as tax exemption for U.S. and Canadian donors. This is an opportunity for NKHR to reach out to broader range of donors, but for that we need to succeed in September Challenge (29 days left).
We would greatly appreciate your help in getting there.
Now, if you are interested, you could create your own fundraiser and link it with our project.
The volunteers who are promoting the projects take part in a competition for flight tickets, and
other prizes. For those of you in the States, you may wish to create some events in September and give the fundraising link to the participants.
Our Project name is Learning Freedom: Help Educate North Korean Youth
And here is the tool to link the project: http://www.globalgiving.org/dy/v2/fundraiser-new/type and create your own challenge to promote our project.
We will be forever greatful for your help in promoting our fundraiser.
Thank you and please let me know if you have questions.
Joanna Hosaniak
Deputy Director General
Citizens’ Alliance for North Korean Human Rights
10F, Gonghwadang bldg, 7-2 Chungjeong-ro 2-ga,
Seodaemun-gu, Seoul 120-012, South Korea
tel.82-2-723-1672, fax 82-2-723-1671

Article> “North Korean Refugees, can they play a key role in unification?”

Original Article from: http://www.ukoreanews.com/news/articleView.html?idxno=117

Check out http://www.ukoreanews.com –> with up-to-date news about refugees, North Korean human rights, etc. 

English Version:

In short, North Korean refugees are special minority absorbed into a population of 47 million in South Korea. As a by-product of the division between the North and South, they have hard time adjusting to South Korean society due to the gap of living standards, cultural differences, and different way of thinking.

Early in their introduction to South Korean society, they have high satisfaction due to incomparable political freedom, economic prosperity, and multifaceted support for settlement from the government and the community. However, as time passes, being forced to face the cold reality of competitive capitalistic society, their satisfaction rate drops significantly. The bigger the exposure, the lesser the satisfaction rate. Can these North Korean refugees stand as major players for unification? I think we should begin by understanding our stations and capabilities objectively and realistically.

▲ North Korean refugees begin at the almost same starting line in the South, but in their adjusting process, they fall roughly into three groups. ⓒ Lee Yun Kyung

Three Groups of North Korean Refugees
North Korean refugees begin at the almost same starting line in the South but in their adjusting process, they fall roughly into three groups. The first group of refugees are those who made successful transition either by their academic achievement, as entrepreneurs or securing employments in stable companies. They set their goals to be integrated into the mainstream of the South, grow out of preferential treatments, and realize their social values through education, building capacity and competitiveness; thus exercising positive influence on South Korean society. However, this group seems to be a tiny minority.

The second group are those who belong to and devote themselves to activist groups. They focus and work toward the democratization of the North and deserve some credits. But their unilateral struggle against the North without proper evaluation of their situation, capabilities, and skillful communication with South Korean Society results in poor recognition. Though they began with fanfare, the influence of their organizations dwindles with assertions lacking logic, poor management, and without necessary capabilities and skills.

Presuming to be the spokesperson of North Korean refugees through media before grasping their situations, they have negative influence on the society. Because of the lightness of their rash actions before prudent thinking and careful preparation, they contribute toward negative images of North Korean refugees and hinder their normal growth as freshmen of South Korean society.
The third group are those who throw out complaints in spite of receiving support for settlement from South Korean society. They point their fingers to the government for their failure to settle rather than to their lack of efforts. 60.2% of the total refugees do not have jobs and rely on government subsidy for basic livelihood. Some escape to third countries having failed taking root in the South. Quoting the data from the Department of Foreign Relations and Trade, The Korean Daily reported that 1,000 refugees have filed political asylum in Briton since 2004 and 70% of those possessed South Korean citizenship. There were 20 cases of false political asylum and deportation from Norway. According to the Department of Foreign Relations, in Briton and Norway alone, approximately 600 North Korean refugees with South Korean citizenship are stranded.

Three Characteristics of North Korean Refugees
North Korean refugees have tendency to overestimate themselves. For example, some demand their licenses acquired from the North to be acknowledged without reevaluation; some criticize South Korean society, self-deceived as if they were admitted to the reputable universities by their own merit, not by preferential treatment. They are unbecoming in the eyes of South Koreans who put out tremendous efforts to get good education and develop capabilities. Some with master’s degree and doctor’s degree who do not command any one foreign language, or cannot write any decent thesis, no doubt they mar the overall image of North Korean refugees.

North Korean refugees are highly self-assertive. South Korean scholars studying the North say, “The higher the position they held in the North, the more self-assertive they are to prevent any meaningful communication.” A staff at a NGO complains that even college students attending South Korean universities self-assert too strongly to communicate; they believe their thinking so absolute that they are not able to engage in conversation. Either out of tragic ignorance that only they know everything about the North or being too confident, they would not acknowledge what others have to say. It is especially true of those so-called intellect from the North.

North Korean refugees are emotional, short-tempered, and have difficulty to distinguish between their personal and official affair. Propaganda machinery of North Korea draws out loyalty to its leaders and the country by stirring up emotions and psyche. Having been brainwashed and raised up in such an environment for decades, North Korean refugees easily betray their feelings and are enraged in trivial matters. One cannot achieve anything led by emotions and rage.

Can North Korean refugees play a key role in unification?
Of course, not all North Korean refugees are like that. However, can North Korean refugees with these characteristics stand as agents for unification? North Korean refugees cannot become agents of unification, simply because they are from the North. Whether or not they could become agents of unification will depend on their preparation. When they study and develop capabilities for unification, work hard and are recognized in various areas, then as people who have experienced both societies, they can become agents of unification.

There are quite a number of North Korean refugees who self-proclaimed to be agents of unification. According to them, they can become agents of unification with experience of the North alone. Without efforts and preparation, they would rather remain as a roadblock on the road.
In order to overcome it, it is most important to build our capabilities. Without any preparation, there is nothing we can do upon returning to the North when unified. Even if we got education in the North, we’d better study again in the South and be approved our abilities. For democratization and human rights movement, it is imperative to develop our capacities to be able to persuade others with balanced and realistic logical theories and build national consensus.

Next, we have to be self-sufficient financially. We have to let go the idea that the government should and could take total responsibility until we successfully settle down; we have to set the goals, utilize maximum resources given and environment, and strive for economic independence.
There is a rising chorus that in the coming general election on April 11, we should elect our own who will represent 23,000 of us. Since he or she will take up the serious responsibility to be the spokesperson for 23,000 North Korean refugees and prepare the way for unification, it has to be someone who has proven qualifications and capabilities. It is high time to elect a North Korean refugee to the Parliament as a symbol of the North Korean refugee community. Excluding minors from 23,000, the number is a little over 10,000, which is too small to have a proportional representation. However, it will be meaningful to have our own voice.

Looking back, some erroneous actions of the senior members of our community resulted in mistrust and rejection of the general population. The time requires the appearance of a leader equipped knowledge and skills. Unconscionable politicians who would not shy away lies and falsehood in order to promote personal gains would cause more harmful consequences. That is why a leader should receive a thorough ethical scrutiny and be tested of competence.

Written by Kim Myung Sung,
Executive Director
Unification Vision Research

Translated by Katherine Koh,
Education Director
Arise Church, Los Angeles

< 저작권자 © 유코리아뉴스 무단전재 및 재배포금지 >

국문 버전: 

간단히 말해 ‘탈북자’는 대한민국 4천7백만 인구에 편입된 특수한 소수집단이다. 분단체제의 산물인 이들은 남북한의 생활 격차에 따른 문화적 이질감, 사고방식의 차이로 인해 남한사회 적응에 여러 가지 어려움을 겪고 있다. 

입국초기에는 남한사회에 대한 높은 만족감을 가진다. 북한과 비교할 수 없는 남한의 정치적 자유와 경제적 풍요로움, 정부와 사회의 다방면적인 정착지원이 탈북자의 만족도를 높여주기 때문이다. 그러나 시간이 흐르고 자본주의 경쟁사회의 냉정한 현실과 맞닥뜨리면서 탈북자의 사회만족도는 현저하게 떨어진다. 현실이 반영되는 만큼 하락한다. 이런 탈북자들이 과연 통일의 주역으로 설 수 있을까? 먼저 우리 자신의 객관적·현실적 위치와 역량을 아는 것에서 출발해야 할 것이다. 


▲ 탈북자들은 남한 사회에서 거의 동일선상에서 출발하지만 적응과정에서 크게 세 부류로 나뉘어진다. ⓒ이윤경(재능기부자)

탈북자 사회의 세 부류

탈북자들은 남한 사회에 오면 동일선상에서 출발한다. 하지만 적응과정을 거치면서 3부류로 나눠진다. 첫 번째는 학문적인 성공으로 사회의 인정을 받는 탈북자들과, 사업가로 성공하거나 안정된 회사에 취직한 탈북자들이다. 주로 성공한 케이스들이다. 한국의 주류사회 편입을 목표로 삼은 이들은 학업을 통한 실력향상과 특혜에서 벗어나 경쟁력을 높여 자신들의 사회적 가치를 실현해 가고 있다. 물론 남한사회에 긍정적인 영향을 주고 있다. 그러나 이런 이들은 극소수인 것으로 보인다.

두 번째는 주로 운동권에 속하거나 단체 활동에 전념하는 탈북자들이다. 이들은 북한의 민주화 실현에 초점을 맞춰 투쟁한다는 점에서는 긍정적인 평가를 해야 할 것이다. 그러나 자신들의 위치와 능력, 자질이 어느 정도 인지를 파악하지 못한 채 북한만을 바라보며 일방적인 투쟁만 하다 보니 자신들이 몸담고 있는 남한사회와의 소통에 서툴고 인정을 받지 못하고 있다. 논리는 없고 주장만 있는 단체들의 활동은 실력과 자질의 부족과 경영의 미숙함으로 처음 시작은 요란하나 갈수록 입지가 축소되고 있다.

이들은 자신들의 위치를 파악하기도 전에 언론을 통해 탈북자 사회의 대변인을 자처해 사회에 부정적 영향을 미치고 있다. 또한 깊이 있는 사고와 준비보다 행동이 먼저 앞서는 가벼움 때문에 한국 사회에 탈북자에 대한 부정적인 이미지를 심어주고 있으며, 사회 초년생 탈북자들의 정상적인 성장도 저해하고 있다.

세 번째는 남한사회의 정착지원을 받음에도 불구하고 불만을 쏟아내는 그룹이다. 그들은 사회정착의 실패원인을 자신들의 노력부족이 아니라 남한 정부에 돌리고 있다. 직업이 없이 정부의 기초생계비를 받고 있는 사람이 전체 탈북자의 60.2%에 이르고, 남한 사회에 뿌리를 내리지 못하고 제3국으로 도피하는 탈북자들이 그러한 사례다. <중앙일보>(2010.9.16)가 외교통상부 자료를 인용해 보도한 데 따르면 지난 2004년 이후 영국에서 망명을 신청한 탈북자가 1000 명이고, 그중 약 70%가 한국 국적 소지자라고 한다. 위장망명으로 확인된 탈북자 20명이 노르웨이에서 강제 추방된 사례도 있다. 외교부 추산에 따르면 오도가도 못 하는 처지가 된 한국 국적 탈북자가 영국과 노르웨이 두 나라에서만 약 600명에 이른다고 한다.

탈북자의 세 가지 특징

탈북자는 자기 자신을 과대평가 하는 경향이 있다. 예를 들어, 북한에서 받은 자격증을 대한민국에서 그대로 인정해 달라고 요구하는 경우나 특례로 대학에 다니면서 자신들의 실력으로 남한의 명문대학에 입학한 것처럼 자기분수를 모른 채 목에 힘을 주고 사회에 대한 불평불만을 터놓는 일부 탈북자들의 행태는 제대로 된 학력과 실력을 갖추기 위해 피나는 노력을 하는 남한사람들이 봤을 때는 실로 꼴불견이 아닐 수 없다. 제대로 된 외국어 한 가지 소유하지 못하고, 제대로 된 논문 하나 쓰지 못하는 일부 탈북자 석사, 박사들이 탈북자 사회의 전체적인 이미지를 흐려놓는 것은 두말할 것도 없다.

탈북자는 자기주장이 강하다. 북한을 연구하는 남한의 학자들은 “고위직 탈북자일수록 자기주장이 강해 소통이 어렵다”는 이야기를 많이 한다. NGO 단체의 한 관계자는 “대학에 다니는 북한출신 대학생들도 자기주장이 너무 강해 소통이 안 된다”고 호소한다. 자신들의 주장을 절대적인 것으로 확신하고 있어 대화가 전개되지 않는다는 것이다. 북한문제에 관해서는 자신들만이 모든 것을 알고 있다는 일종의 비극적인 무지 때문인지 아니면 지나친 자신감 때문인지 상대의 말을 인정하려 하지 않는 것이다. 특히 과거 북한에서 배웠다고 하는 어설픈 지식을 가진 사람들이 이러한 문제점을 많이 안고 있다.

탈북자는 감정에 약하고 공사구분이 잘 안되며 쉽게 분노한다. 북한의 선전선동은 국민의 감정과 정서를 자극해 영도자와 국가에 대한 충성심을 이끌어낸다. 이러한 환경 속에서 수십년간 세뇌교육을 받으며 성장한 탈북자들은 남한사회에서도 쉽게 감정을 드러내고 사소한 일에도 분노한다. 감정이 앞서고 분노가 앞서면 아무 일도 할 수 없다.

탈북자가 남북통일의 주역이 될 수 있을까?

물론 100%는 아니지만, 이러한 특성을 가진 탈북자가 통일의 일꾼으로 바로 설 수 있을까? 탈북자라고 해서 저절로 통일의 주역이 되는 것은 아니다. 탈북자가 통일의 주역이 될 수 있는지 없는지 여부는 본인들의 준비여하에 달려있다고 본다. 통일을 위해 학문적 수양과 실력을 쌓고 각 방면에서 열심히 노력하여 사회적으로 인정받을 때에야 북한과 남한 두 체제를 경험한 탈북자들이 통일의 주역이 될 수 있다.

스스로를 통일의 주역이라고 말하는 탈북자들이 적지 않다. 그들의 말대로 라면 북한사회의 경험만 갖고서도 통일의 주역이 될 수 있다는 뜻인데 노력과 준비가 없이는 주역이 아니라 통일의 골치덩이로 남게 될 것이다.

이를 극복하기 위해서는 무엇보다 실력을 키우는 것이 중요하다. 아무런 준비도 없이 통일이 되었을 때 북한에 돌아가 할 수 있는 일은 없다. 북에서 공부를 했더라도 다시 남한에서 제대로 공부를 해서 실력을 인정받아야 한다. 민주화운동과 인권운동도 현실적인 타당성과 균형을 갖춘 논리로 상대를 설득하고 국민적 공감대를 형성할 수 있는 실력을 키우는 것이 중요하다.

다음으로 경제적으로 자립할 수 있어야 한다. 국가가 탈북자의 성공적 정착까지 모든 것을 책임져야 하고 그럴 수 있다는 생각을 버리고 주어진 혜택과 환경을 최대한 활용하면서 목표를 정하고 경제적 자립을 위한 노력을 해야 한다.

오는 4월 11일에 실시되는 총선에서 2만 3천여명 탈북자들의 목소리를 대변하는 탈북자 국회의원이 나와야 한다는 목소리가 높아지고 있다. 탈북자 국회의원은 2만 3천명 탈북자의 목소리를 대변하고 통일을 대비해야 하는 막중한 임무를 띠고 있는 만큼 사회적으로 능력과 자질을 검증받은 준비된 탈북자여야 한다. 탈북자사회의 상징인물인 탈북자 국회의원을 선출하는 것은 현실적으로 절실히 필요한 시점이다. 물론 인구비례로 2만 3천여 명중 미성년자들을 제외하면 만 명 조금 넘는 수준으로 수적으로는 많이 부족하지만 그래도 우리들의 목소리를 대변한다는 데는 의미가 있다고 본다.

그러나 탈북자사회는 과거를 돌아볼 때 탈북 선배들의 그릇된 행동의 결과로 국민들의 불신과 외면을 초래했던 것을 상기하며 실력을 겸비한 능력 있는 인재의 등장을 요구하고 있다. 자기 개인의 영달을 위해 거짓과 허위도 서슴없이 허용하는 비양심적인 정치꾼은 또 다른 비합리적 현상을 낳을 것이다. 때문에 철저한 도덕적 검증과 실력을 인정받아야 한다.

김명성 통일비전연구회 사무국장

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Background of the Korean War

A Walk to Remember – The Korean War (6.25.1950)

Jee Young Lee (jenna_lee@missporters.org)

The upcoming June 25th marks the 63rd anniversary of the Korean War. This significant, yet horrific event of our history left generations of people with irrevocable agonies and losses. Thus, it is crucial that the deceased are commemorated and remembered for their bravery and sacrifice.

It was June 25, 1950. The first shots were heard on this peaceful Sunday at dawn, as Kim Il-Sung’s North Korean Communist troops invaded South Korea without notice. The surprise attack marked the beginning of the Korean War, which lasted three years from 1950 to 1953. After the North Korean army crossed the 38th border, the U.S. troops, led by General Douglass MacArthur, came to support non-Communist South Korea. With the support of the United Nations, MacArthur aggressively landed on Inchon, crushing the North Korean army. Upon his landing, he also recaptured Seoul; he went even further north, attempting to reunify Korea. The struggle for land between Communist Soviet Union and Anti-Communist American troops continued, even when the peace negotiations began in Kaesong in 1951. The negotiations took place in Panmunjom from 1951 to 1952, as each side refused to compromise. A peace treaty was finally signed in 1953 at Panmunjom, declaring the division between North and South Korea at the 38th parallel. The status of the country, if not worse, was the same as before the tragic war happened.

 The ramifications of the war are evident: the separated families, disconnection between North and South, and emerging hostility and distrust. As the war literature and art reflect, the painful memories of war have become ingrained in our culture. It is everyone’s responsibility to remember and preserve the chapter of Korean history that left us with tears, trauma, and resilience for the future.