Sunday, October 28, 2012


I've just watched this YouTube video and it's given me quite a bit to think about. The video is part one of an interview with Kim Han-sol, the eldest son of Kim Jong-nam, who is the eldest son of Kim Jong-il. So, this kid is the grandson of North Korea's recently-deceased dictator.

He's currently studying at United World College in Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and sat down with the president of his school to talk about his childhood and his dreams for the future. You can watch the first part of the interview (starts at 1:35, and is interspersed with footage of North Korea and some captions in Swedish at random intervals) below.
Some of my stray thoughts:

1. Han-sol is studying at a school that was founded with the explicit intent to educate the next generation about peace and conflict resolution. I think that's a promising start. All of his friends are multicultural and come from all over the world. His roommate was from Libya and told him stories of the Libyan Revolution. He has a few South Korean friends with whom he's traveled. For someone of his family background to have had these kinds of experiences by the time he enters college is a great privilege. It sounds like he acknowledges this, too, and hopes one day to work for peace and -- get this -- unification of the Korean peninsula.

2. He has never met his grandfather or his uncle (Kim Jong-eun, the current leader of North Korea). His immediate family has actually fallen out of favor with the current dynasty in power, and they live in Macau. Han-sol received his high school education at an international school in Macau. He says that he always wanted to meet his grandfather, though, and isn't sure if Kim Jong-il even knew that he exists before he passed.

3. His parents taught him to keep an open mind and always look at both sides of an issue. Political neutrality, in other words. They told him to forget about his background and try to live the life of an ordinary citizen in order to better understand his people. He also remembers to be thankful before he eats a meal, thinking about those starving back in his home country. From this and the previous stray thought one can conclude that this young man is very far removed from the current regime in North Korea not just geographically, but also politically and even ideologically.
"I've had some friends from South Korea in Macau, and it's quite interesting because the two countries, they are trying to work to build peace together for unification, but at the same time there are laws that say North and South Koreans shouldn't interact with each other even outside of Korea. 
And me and my South Korean friends, at first it was kind of awkward when I first met them. But then, little by little, we started understanding each other, again, through the same classroom experience. And also sometimes we share our stories from back home and realize how similar we are. Same language, same culture, and it's just political issues that divide the nation in half. And now, today, we are really close friends and we travel together and it's such a wonderful feeling."
4. I'm not sure what he means when he says that the two countries are trying to work to build peace together for unification. That's not happening, as far as I can tell. Furthermore, it is not only political issues that separate the Koreas now, but also the fact that there is an economic and humanitarian crisis in one country while the other is still riding the crest of a huge economic boom. It makes me wonder how much he really knows about what is happening in the rural areas and the prison camps, places outside of Pyongyang or his mother's hometown. Or maybe he's just being very careful with what he says (but not so much that he avoids mentioning "unification" altogether).

5. Otherwise, he appears to be unhesitatingly idealistic, as well as proud of his school. He loves its diversity. He likes chatting with his friends for hours about politics and cultural differences and similarities. Best of all, he has big dreams about world peace. I think he'd have fit in very well at Swarthmore...
"I've always dreamed that one day I will go back and make things better and make it easier for the people there. I also dream of unification, because it's really sad that I can't go to the other side and see my friends over there."
6. He speaks English quite well, with a slight Korean accent and just a hint of a Slavic accent... am I just imagining that? Especially when he says "topics". Otherwise, his diction is otherwise very similar to a typical college freshman. He's careful with his words, but he rambles. He says "like" a lot.

7. The interviewer is definitely pushing an agenda. She's kind of annoying in that way. Shh, just let him speak. Crack more jokes so he smiles more, okay? Oh -- but before I forget, something hilarious happens in the last ten seconds of the interview (in part 2): Elisabeth Rehn tells Han-sol that he's a sweet kid and that she'd have liked to have him as a grandson. "But you have already... your own parents," she continues. She was totally going to say "grandparents". Oh, except... Yeah.

8. Lastly, I wonder if Kim Han-sol has a future in politics? It's very unlikely under the current regime, of course, what with his family being in quasi-exile, and well, to be frank, after giving this interview he'll probably never be able to visit North Korea again. Nevertheless, he looks and sounds promising. He probably has a bright future ahead of him regardless of what he chooses to do. I wish him all the best!