Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Isang Yun’s Wife Wants Apology From Seoul


By Seo Dong-shin
From the Korea Times - 05-01-2006

Lee Soo-ja, 79, widow of renowned composer Isang Yun, appeared nervous when the conference room was packed with journalists from South Korea; a place she had stayed away from for more than three decades but now wants to revisit any time soon, when her husband’s honor is restored.
``Everyday, I hope that the South Korean government would restore the honor of the artist who was so dedicated to the Korean people, so that his spirit could finally visit his hometown,’’ she said during the press conference.
Lee was the center of attention during a ceremony here from Friday through Sunday to pay tribute to her late husband (1917-1995). North Korean officials carried her bags around, and South Korean cameras rallied around her.
With short, curly silver hair and resolutely tight lips, the South Korean-turned-German national, now residing in the North Korean capital, Pyongyang, mingled with high-profile figures from the two Koreas. Among them were Ri Jong-hyuk, vice chairman of the North’s Asia-Pacific Peace Committee; Lee Jong-seok, the South’s unification minister; Hyun Jeong-eun, chairman of the South’s Hyundai Group; and Park Jae-kyu, former unification minister and now president of the Seoul-based Isang Yun Peace Foundation.
Isang Yun Peace Foundation organized the three-day program, highlighted by Lee Soo-ja’s first-ever press conference with South Korean journalists Friday. On Saturday, a ceremony marking the foundation’s first anniversary was held at the Singye-sa Buddhist Temple, followed by a concert which included performances by musicians from the two Koreas.
Yun, a world-class composer born in Tongyong, South Kyongsyang Province, and his wife were residing in West Berlin when South Korean intelligence agents kidnapped them to Seoul in 1967. Yun had visited the North Korean Embassy in East Berlin and also Pyongyang in 1963. It was to see murals in a tomb dating back to the Koguryo Kingdom (37 B.C.-668) and meet a friend in the North, according to Lee.
But in Seoul, Yun was tortured and charged with spying for the North Korean regime. He was labeled as head of a spy ring that included a number of other renowned artists who were also rounded up for their alleged ties with Pyongyang.
``In 1967, Park Chung-hee’s military regime kidnapped overnight many Korean students who, studying abroad, were free in their thinking and attitude,’’ Lee recalled. ``The students were not raised in Korea during the 1950s and 1960s, so did not really know about anti-communism or the National Security Law. Especially, we were living in Berlin, where there were no barbed wires and the inter-German transportations were operating.’’
In what was later called the Tongbaengnim case, named after East Berlin, Yun was released from imprisonment in 1969 following appeals from international art circles and the diplomatic efforts of the West German government.
Returning to West Germany and becoming a naturalized German citizen 1971, the estranged Yun never returned to the South, but visited the North during vacations as Kim Il-sung, then North Korean leader, reportedly was proud of the world-renowned composer _ presenting him with a special residence where Lee is now living. Before dying in Germany in 1995, Yun taught students at a music institute named after him in Pyongyang.
``From the time he was studying in Japan before coming to West Germany, my husband had very strong affection toward Korean people and was very keen on the sense of justice,’’ Lee said. ``The Tongbaengnim case changed his thinking, music, ideology, everything. He felt the reality and pains of the nation’s division so directly. After that, his music became heavy, he composed music that reflected Korean people’s agony.’’
In the South, a semi-government panel looking into the intelligence agency’s past wrongdoings announced early this year the Tongbaengnim case was fabricated for the purpose of mustering anti-communist sentiment and support for the regime under the late President Park. The panel recommended the government apologize to the victims and redeem their honor.
``Of course, the government should apologize,’’ Lee answered to a question about what is needed to restore her husband’s honor. ``He was not a spy, yet the newspapers all ran headlines labeling him as the head of a spy ring. It was unthinkable.’’
But the possibility of the South Korean government actually apologizing is not yet high, due to the issue’s ideological sensitivity. North Korea, on its part, refuses to hold an official ``joint” ceremony with the South to remember Yun, arguing the South’s apology should come first.
Nevertheless, during the concert at the Mt. Kumgang Culture Hall musicians from both Koreas took turns playing both classical and pop music, including pieces written by Yun. From the South there was the Ensemble from the Tongyoung International Music Festival (TIMF), dedicated to Yun’s memory, while from the North there were members of the Isang Yun Orchestra.
``Political ideologies are like broad-leaved trees from the long-term perspective,’’ Yun’s words, written in the preface of a book recording conversations with the late, famous German writer Luise Rinser, were shown on a screen behind the concert stage. ``They flourish, become colored, and cast leaves according to seasons. But people (of a nation) are as majestic and eternal as the sky.” The book was published in 1977.

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