Who Is Kim Young Hwan, a.k.a. “Steel”?
July 23, 2012
The following article appeared on page 21 in the June 2012 issue of NK Vision. Translation by NKnet intern Amy Hong.
Kim Young Hwan (49), who entered Seoul National University’s School of Law in 1982, was the first to introduce the Juche ideology to South Korean college students. He was the author of Letters by Steel (강철서신) and a crucial leader of the National Liberation (NL – 민족해방) faction of the student movement. In 1986, Kim organized the Save the Nation Student Association (구국학생연맹, or 구학련) which is regarded as “the first illegal Juche faction” in the history of the South Korean student movement. Due to his role with the SNSA, Kim was arrested and imprisoned for two years, but as soon as he was released, he formed two other organizations, the Anti-Imperialist Youth League (반제청년동맹) in 1989 and the National Democratic Revolutionary Party (NDRP – 민족민주혁명당, or 민혁당) in 1993; he was the Central Committee Chair (중앙위원장) of the former and a member of the Central Committee (중앙위원) of the latter. In 1991, under utmost secrecy, Kim visited North Korea by submarine, twice met Kim Il Sung, and earned the trust of the North Korean authorities. However, Kim’s visit ironically would lead him eventually to view the political system of North Korea with skepticism.
Sacrificing his life to overthrow Kim Jong Il’s political power
Kim Young Hwan publicly advocated his changed ideological beliefs in an interview with the monthly magazine Mal in 1995, saying that “even though we South Koreans should always sincerely love our fellow North Koreans, we also have to make sure we should never fall into pro-North Korean tendencies (북한 추종주의).” At the same period of time, Kim led the effort to dissolve the NDRP and formed an organization called Blue People (푸른사람들) which was comprised of people seeking an alternative ideology for the 21st century. Kim was the second president of the organization. NDRP Central Committee member Ha Young Ok, Chair of the Southern Gyeonggi Committee (경기남부위원장) Lee Seok Ki and others, however, ignored Kim’s announcement disbanding the NDRP and continuously worked to rebuild the party. In 1998, they were eventually caught by the authorities as a result of an incident in which a North Korean midget submarine sunk off the coast of Yeo-su, South Jeolla Province.
Subsequent to the breakup of the NDRP, Kim met the late Korean Workers’ Party secretary, Hwang Jang Yop, who had defected to South Korea in 1997, and in 1999 the two of them began researching strategies to bring democracy to North Korea and to correct the Juche ideology that had been distorted by North Korea. Secretary Hwang considered Kim a trustworthy student with a deep understanding of North Korea’s system, and he frequently called him “Comrade Kim Young Hwan” and treated him with respect.
In an interview at the time, Kim said, “the fatal mistake I made was widely spreading the pro-North Korean atmosphere to many activist groups in South Korea. Due to [Juche architect] Hwang’s political asylum, Juche ideology and the North Korean system were completely detached from each other. Juche is an enemy of Kim Jong Il’s feudalistic government. If people are well aware of the brutal reality 20 million North Koreans experience everyday and still believe there are more important tasks than helping North Koreans, they can only be regarded as the most cold-hearted of people.” Kim concluded the interview by saying, “I am always willing and ready to sacrifice myself to overthrow Kim Jong Il’s political power.”
“90% of Democratic Labor Party (DLP)’s NL Faction (민주노동당 자주파) Is Made Up of the Juche Faction”
Kim Young Hwan was a key founder of one of South Korea’s first North Korean human rights civic groups, the Network for North Korean Democracy and Human Rights (NKnet), which promotes a pro-democracy movement for North Korea and spreads awareness of the agonizing conditions North Koreans live in domestically and internationally. As an editor of the quarterly publication Sidae Jeongshin (Zeitgeist, 시대정신), Kim and other scholars studied issues mainly related to unification of the divided Korean peninsula. Kim ceaselessly sent warnings to the Eastern Gyeonggi Association (경기동부연합), a domestic Juche faction around which controversy over vote-rigging in the United Progressive Party (통합진보당)’s primary election arose in the Spring of 2012. In 2008, when the DLP went through a party split, Kim once said, “90% of the DLP’s NL faction is made up of the Juche factional, which is regarded as a significant threat of North Korea’s political system power from our society’s perspective because the Juche faction considers North Korea as its true homeland and has an ultimate plan to achieve peaceful unification under communism after establishing a pro-communist government in South Korea.”
Even recently Kim Young Hwan was actively writing about the future of North Korea’s system. Immediately after the death of Kim Il Sung, Kim Young Hwan published Post-Kim Jong Il (포스트 김정일 – Zeitgeist), which analyzed the ruling tactics of the new North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un.