In which Erich Weingartner discusses different versions of truth with North Korean patriot Pak Kim Li. (First published in CanKor Report #301, 31 January 2008.)
Pak Kim Li (PKL): Dear Mr. Erich, How are you? I haven’t had a chance to wish you Happy New Year. Please accept my good wishes to you and your family.
Erich Heinz Weingartner (EHW): Thank goodness I finally get an answer! I’ve been emailing you for a month! I even sent faxes in case your email network is down again.
PKL: No, I did receive them. I’ve just been very busy, that’s all.
EHW: I understand. In fact I’m glad. I was worried you might be angry with me.
PKL: [laughs] Angry? Why should I be angry with you?
EHW: Well, you ended the last interview rather abruptly, wouldn’t you say?
PKL: You agreed that I could end the interview any time I liked.
EHW: And you liked to end it abruptly… without even acknowledging my question.
PKL: I’m sorry about that. My ambassador was calling me away.
EHW: Good. I am relieved. I was afraid that perhaps I had somehow inadvertently insulted you. My South Korean friends say that happens very easily when they have meetings with North Koreans.
PKL: Don’t believe all the slander our southern brethren spread about so liberally. I am sure you know about the DPRK’s New Year’s joint editorial?
EHW: Yes, of course. It’s the DPRK equivalent of a “State of the Union” address. CanKor has published them for the past seven years.
PKL: Then you know how important a document this is.
EHW: Of course. When President Kim Il Sung was still alive, his New Year’s message was the occasion for communicating the Government’s policies and plans for the coming year. The message was studied publicly and privately by every citizen of the DPRK and set the tone for efforts in all fields of endeavour.
PKL: Well, the same is true for the New Year’s joint editorial. After the Great Leader’s passing, Dear Leader Kim Jong Il did not find it appropriate to step immediately into the Great Leader’s footsteps. You will remember that we observed the traditional three-year mourning period. So the newspapers of the Workers’ Party (Rodong Sinmun), the People’s Army (Joson Inmingun) and the Socialist Youth League (Chongnyon Jonwi) published a joint editorial that fulfilled the same function. In effect, this started a new tradition that we still carry on today.
EHW: And this has something to do with the fact that you didn’t answer my emails and faxes?
PKL: I had to help translate it into English for the UN Mission’s Press Release.
EHW: I understand. And I am relieved that you are not angry with me. Although I was more than a bit worried, I kept saying to myself, ‘Mr. Pak is a long-standing friend. If he felt that I had made a mistake of some sort, I am sure he would immediately tell me the truth.’
PKL: As I certainly would have.
EHW: Mr. Pak, you don’t have to explain anything to me. I am quite prepared to accept that you were too busy translating the New Year’s joint editorial — even though I received the Mission’s Bulletin containing your translation a good two weeks ago. But there is something that has always puzzled me. When I went on monitoring trips back in the 1990s, local officials sometimes told me stories that really stretched my credulity. For example, the FDRC chairman of Kangwon Province once told me that we could not visit a certain village because the night before it had snowed and the roads were impassable.
PKL: And why is that not credible?
EHW: The hills where I was trying to go are not particularly high, and this was in the middle of July!
PKL: Weather can be unpredictable.
EHW: I can give you other examples. One county chair said we could not check donated commodities inside the county warehouse because the caretaker had taken the only existing key to another city where he was visiting his mother.
PKL: Why would you doubt his story?
EHW: You know very well that our trips had to be announced a week before so that we could receive the necessary permissions from your Security people. My visit was probably the highlight in that county’s weekly schedule.
PKL: I think you exaggerate your importance.
EHW: So DPR Koreans never just make up excuses when they want to avoid telling the truth?
PKL: Where I come from, Mr. Erich, we say that truth comes in different flavours.
PKL: Yes. For example, if I had really been offended by you — and believe me, I was not — and you forced me to tell you the truth, I would have a number of options. One option would be to tell you the truth in a flavour that would keep us from destroying our friendship.
EHW: Like using the New Year’s editorial as an excuse.
PKL: It was not an excuse. It was genuine and therefore true.
EHW: In other words, I should simply accept it as the unvarnished truth.
PKL: Yes, because this flavour of the truth preserves our friendship. Have you capitalists forgotten the value of politeness?
EHW: And what if I wanted to know the “real” truth?
PKL: The truth is one. “Real truth” is a tautology.
EHW: Except that it comes in different flavours. I can hardly wait to hear about the other flavours.
PKL: There is a flavour that would cut off communication between us.
EHW: For example?
PKL: I could call you names.
EHW: What has that got to do with the truth?
PKL: Oh, the names would all be true, except unpleasantly so.
PKL: Yes, I could call you culturally insensitive.
EHW: I’m not culturally insensitive!
PKL: Yes you are.
EHW: How can you say that? I came to live and work in Korea when others were talking about bombing Korea. How culturally insensitive is that?
PKL: Who but you knows your motives? You could be a mercenary, missionary or a misfit!
EHW: Oh please! Enough with the 3Ms already!
PKL: You’re right. It’s enough, Mr. Erich. This interview is over.