Have you ever seriously considered unification? Some people may feel it unnecessary, but it is important for Korea and a difficult task to complete. It could be that the two Koreas have simply grown too far apart from each other, so their general citizens can’t feel a connection any longer. However, there are some university students that take the issue seriously and are taking small steps towards unification of the Korean Peninsula. They center on North Korean human rights issues as one way towards unification. The Sookmyung Times (SMT) met spokesperson for SNL Campaign, Jeong Yoonjae (JEONG), and talked about their role to make a new day.
SMT SNL Campaign focuses on North Korean (NK) human rights. How did you start this club and its activities?
JEONG SNL Campaign is affiliated with NK Young, a non-government organization (NGO) in which university students can participate and receive accreditation from the Ministry of Unification. NK Young founded SNL Campaign to create a place for discussion where students can communicate with other citizens directly. With this purpose in mind, SNL Campaign was constituted in November 2011. Students gather once a week at a conference or seminar to discuss NK human rights. At these events students learn about current NK human rights policies. Based on this, students go on the road once every two weeks to campaign for changes to NK human rights policies. Currently, our most recent recruits are part of our 5th generation membership drive. Before the 5th generation cohort, members used to organize photo exhibitions and talk from NK defectors. However, the 5th generation cohort aims at gathering more public participation. For example, we are presently engaged in hand printing at Gwanghwamun square and making videos about the human rights situation in NK.
SMT In Korea, topics like NK human rightsare mainly seen as political issues. Have you experienced any hardships related to the objectives of SNL Campaign?
JEONG Before we answer, we should clarify our political stand. Human rights issues naturally are plagued by progressive thought. However, in Korea, it is more of tightly dealt with by conservatives. Today, more progressive party members tend to remain silent about NK human rights. Usual ideals held by conservatism and progressiveness are discussed politically and focus on concepts that apply to the early 20th Century. They are not really relevant these days. In other words, old adage does not fit today’s trend towards development. We learned conservative and progressive groups have to be done for the change of quality in present, not the past or distant future. The main changes to present-day society are globalization, democratization, and socialization of knowledge. SNL Campaign focuses on democratization, in particular, NK human rights. It is neither a conservative nor a progressive political point of view even though some people occasionally see it or learn it from past generations that way. At one photo exhibition on the situation of NK human rights put on by SNL Campaign, students who supported a specific political party started heated argument with members. At another event, an organization demolished our panels and even stood nearby protesting violently against our event. Nonetheless, when citizens say “Great work young guys” or young students say they are now interested in NK human rights and donate money, members truly feel the need to continue with SNL Campaign activities.
SMT What is the reason that the participation of university students is important in SNL campaign’s activity?
JEONG In South Korean society, at the moment, what do you think about real social position of university students? Today, university is considered an academy aimed at job preparation, not a hall of learning or even a place for nurturing talented persons who will lead society. However, as a university student, students may think about justice—the rights and wrongs in society—not for each of benefits. In the not so distant future, people will call our generation the Reunification Generation. Like the Industrialization and Democratization Generations in the past, people cannot deny Reunification Generation. To prepare it, democratization should be realized in NK and our small actions for NK human rights will be valuable steps for the new days ahead.