Fri, Apr 19, 2019 - Page 6 News List

Moon looks to capitalize on Stalin’s deportations

AFP, SEOUL

South Korean President Moon Jae-in is to meet ethnic Koreans in Central Asia this week as he looks to capitalize on the enduring legacy of Joseph Stalin’s mass deportations more than 80 years ago.

In 1937, suspecting divided loyalties, the Soviet dictator had the entire ethnic Korean population of the Russian far east — about 172,000 people — transported to Central Asia on cattle trains.

Testimonies say that the carriages were “like an empty can,” and according to some Korean reports, as many as 11,000 died during the 5,000km journey.

Stalin saw the Koreans as a threat, as the peninsula’s colonial ruler Japan was hostile to the Soviet Union — although some of the deportees were exiles fighting for independence from Tokyo.

Decades later, about 300,000 of their descendants still live in the region, the majority in Uzbekistan and most of the rest in Kazakhstan.

Some of them view the forced relocation as a tragedy.

“While I was I was living in Uzbekistan, I knew I would never be truly accepted there. People would always ask: ‘Why are you here?’” said Shin Zoya, an ethnic Korean who moved to South Korea in 2001.

For many descendants of the deportees, Korea “has always been their only home,” the 62-year-old said.

Others are proud of what they have achieved, despite everything they have been through, historians said.

When the Soviet Union broke up in the early 1990s, then-Uzbek president Islam Karimov — who died in 2016, still in office — was wary of becoming overly dependent on Russia and China.

He seized on the opportunity provided by his nation’s cohort of Korean-speakers and encouraged investment from South Korea, epitomized by the giant Uz-Kor Gas Chemical Complex joint venture near the disappearing Aral Sea.

South Korea is one of Uzbekistan’s top five sources of imports. Ticketing Web sites show four times as many direct flights a week from Tashkent to Seoul than to Beijing, while Korean-speaking local guides lead tourists around the sights of the nation’s ancient Silk Road cities.

Kazakh figure skater Denis Ten, an Olympic bronze medalist in 2014 who died after being stabbed last year, was a great-great-grandson of a well-known Korean independence fighter and general, Min Keung-ho.

The two nations are both on Moon’s eight-day itinerary in the region, which also takes him to gas-rich Turkmenistan.

Moon is looking to diversify South Korea’s trade-dependent economy away from reliance on China and the US, and seek new engines of growth, currently stuttering at 2.7 percent.

He is also to bring the remains of two independence fighters back from Kazakhstan, partly in commemoration of this year’s 100th anniversary of the March 1 Independence Movement, a series of protests against Japan across the Korean Peninsula.

Moon has stressed that the independence struggle is at the heart of national identity in both Koreas, and the center of Seoul is festooned with giant posters of anti-Japanese heroes and heroines.

Analysts say that Moon is looking to use Korea’s colonial history to mobilize the diaspora in Central Asia to benefit South Korea’s economy.

Unlike Korean-Americans or ethnic Koreans in Japan, “those in central Asia have long been overlooked by the South Korean government,” said Kim So-young, a professor at the Korea National University of Arts.

This story has been viewed 2079 times.

Comments will be moderated. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned.

TOP top