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North Korean exiles expose the regime’s rationale at Leiden conference

Seven prominent North Korean exiles will shed new light on the dictatorial state in a conference hosted by Leiden University on 17 and 18 September. All of the speakers once held high-ranking positions in the regime and now reveal its inner workings.  

Important positions

This is the first time that prominent North Korean exiles will speak publicly in a conference about the functioning of this totalitarian state. Some of them have only recently fled North Korea. All of the speakers held important positions in the regime as high-ranking officials, politicians or party cadres.


Propaganda or interpretations

Professor of Korean Studies Remco Breuker underlines the importance of their voices. Coverage of North Korea tends to be either based on propaganda by the DPRK or on interpretations by journalists and academics who have little access to the state’s inner workings. Breuker says: ‘The speakers have unparalleled knowledge, insights and experiences. This will help us to understand North Korea in an entirely different way. Seeing the intricate map of North Korea's structures, entities and policies from the inside out is of the utmost importance. It is no longer about guessing from the outside, looking in: this is first-hand knowledge.’

Inner circle of Kim Jong Il

For security reasons, the organising committee has decided to withhold the names of the speakers, with the exception of Jang Jin-sung. The former poet laureate of Kim Jong Il published his memoirs Dear Leader earlier this year. Breuker is working on the Dutch translation of his book. Jang belonged to the inner circle of Kim Jong Il, the former North Korean dictator. The conference will close on 18 September with Jang's public lecture. He will speak on the topic of art’s role in maintaining the totalitarian system, as well as the role of the prison camps. Jang's lecture will be broadcast live via video.

At last serious attention for exiles

Professor Breuker hopes that this conference will contribute to a better empirical understanding of North Korea. He describes the skewed coverage of the country: ‘The North Korean state is only seen to speak in two registers: laden with terror, threats, anger and wrath or unpredictably soothing, asking for peace and understanding. Interpretation is left to experts who have little real knowledge of the actual situation on the ground because of the limited access. These are the only voices we hear. What is missing are authentic, unmediated North Korean voices. The voices of elite North Korean exiles, above all, have not been heard. The Leiden conference will change this.’

(25 August 2014 - LvP)


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#nkexiles @unileiden

Registration and programme

Conference  A State of Legitimacy: North Korean Voices in Exile 17-18 september

Unfortunately, registration for the conference is no longer possible: the maximum number of attendees has been reached. The public speech by Jang Jin-sung on 18 September at 16.15 hrs, will be broadcast live via video.  The link will be available on our homepage: leidenuniv.nl and leiden.edu. Jang's speech can also be followed in room 019 Lipsius Building, Cleveringaplaats 1 – Leiden

The conference has been made possible by the generosity of  LIASMEARCAMT and  IIAS.

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