PARK IL PETER ALEXANDROVICH pulls out a creased brown envelope and spills out a pile of old photos and several yellowed papers. They are documentary evidence of a strange path that during the early days of the cold war brought Mr. Park to the post of personal tutor to fledgling North Korean dictator Kim Il Sung.
A secret pass from the political department of the Far East military district, dated Nov. 16, 1946, gives Park and 33 Soviet Korean comrades under his direction permission to travel to North Korea, occupied by the Red Army after the defeat of Japan.
A photo groups five young Soviet Korean men, felt fedoras pulled low on their foreheads. "The young philosopher," Park says pointing to himself, then a Marxism professor.
The Soviet Army had installed a puppet government in North Korea led by an obscure Korean guerrilla fighter, Kim Il Sung. For several years the Russian generals ran North Korea. During this time, Park and his secret team of Soviet Koreans played the role of the North Korean government. Shadow government
"All 33 were made ministers or deputy ministers in North Korea when we arrived," Park recalls. "I was vice rector of Pyongyang University but actually I was acting rector." The nominal head was Kim Du Bong, then the No. 2 man in the North Korean regime.
Park's origins were in the Korean community that lived across the border in the Soviet Far East. Joseph Stalin deported the Koreans to Central Asia in the late 1930s. Many of them were accused of being Japanese spies, including Park's father.
But Park became a dedicated student of what he still calls "the science of Marx, Engels, and Lenin." As the oldest Communist Party member among them, he was made head of the Soviet Korean team, called to Moscow, and briefed on its mission by the Central Committee.
Shortly after their arrival in Pyongyang, Park was summoned to the offices of Col. Gen. Prokophiy Romanenko, who was in charge of internal Korean affairs and was the head of the Soviet Communist Party cell there.
Park recalls the general's words: "Petra, I am going to give you a political assignment - teach the two Kims [the two top North Korean leaders] Marxism-Leninism because they are illiterate in this. This is a party duty."
The professor did not think much of his pupils, particularly Kim Il Sung, revered later in North Korean propaganda as the creator of his own school of Marxism. "All the theory of Marxism-Leninism - he just couldn't comprehend this," he says dismissively.
But the Soviet Korean scholar was also given a second task - to prepare an official biography of Kim Il Sung, painting him as the leader of resistance to the Japanese. General Romanenko told him to "write a story about the heroic battle deeds performed by him in the war," Park says. He was given a document prepared by the intelligence arm of the Soviet armed forces, on which to base his account.
Kim arrived with the Soviet Army in September 1945 wearing the uniform of a Soviet Army officer, presented to the awaiting crowds as their liberating general. In later years Kim built a cult of personality that outstrips anything attempted by Communist leaders such as Stalin and Mao Zedong. "The Great Leader," as he is officially called, is virtually credited with single-handedly defeating the Japanese.
But Park, who extensively questioned Kim Il Sung, tells a vastly different tale. While checking the Red Army account, he found what he politely calls "discrepancies."
"He was an ordinary person and they were trying to depict him as a hero," Park says. " `Please,' I asked him, `mention the names of Japanese officers and show me on a map the locations of battles where you defeated the Japanese.' He never answered me concretely. It was true he was a partisan, but he actually never participated in any major battles with the Japanese."
According to Park, Kim was among a small group of Koreans who were forced over the border into the Soviet Union by a Japanese offensive in the winter of 1942. He ended up in the hands of the Soviet military, later to become part of Stalin's plan to seize part of the Japanese Empire.
Park also lends some credence to a belief held by some Western scholars that Kim Il Sung's early political training was under Chinese Communists, even that he was a Chinese Korean in origin. Kim spoke Korean badly, Park says. "I asked him why, when you are talking to me, you think in Chinese and then translate into Korean. Does it mean you were fighting with the Chinese or that the Chinese were your teachers? He wouldn't answer." Fact and fable
Park claims to have approached his task with "enthusiasm" but gradually found it difficult to reconcile the truth with the tale he was asked to construct. He decided to abandon the work.
"On Aug. 15, 1947, the second anniversary of the liberation of Korea by the great Russian Army, after a day of solemn celebrations and receptions ... I was sitting in a car at 11 p.m. waiting for General Romanenko. He opened the door and said, `Petra, why are you here? I don't have any vodka.' He was drunk. I said his wife had told me to accompany him home. He got angry and said, `Get out, I have a bodyguard.' I said I have orders from your superior, your wife, to take you home.
"When we got to the apartment lobby, I gave him the four notebooks I had prepared. `This is the result of the party task you gave me.' The next day, General Romanenko summoned me to his office. He said, `Either you are a fool or an idiot. You could have been the first author to describe the military deeds of Kim Il Sung. A great award is awaiting you. I won't tell anyone about this incident for a few months and when you change your mind, come back, get the notebooks, and continue.' "
But Park never went back, and it fell to Red Army intelligence to complete the job. Park fell under suspicion. "They carried out an investigation of me and found out that during the entire year, I never shouted `Long Live Gen. Kim Il Sung!' in meetings," he says. The next year he was sent home.
"I was upset at the time, but now I thank them because Kim Il Sung would have killed me," he says with a slight smile.
For decades, Park kept his secret. But last year he went public, traveling to Seoul to tell his remarkable tale to a more-than-eager audience. Park disdains what he calls "Russian chauvinism" and spends his time researching the exploits of the Korean people.
"Americans, British, Russians, Chinese, Japanese - they treat us like a second rate, colonial people," he recalls telling South Koreans.
"Of course," he adds, "they didn't expect to hear such virulent nationalism from the lips of an old Bolshevik. But they could hardly keep calm when I told them - it is exactly the position from which I was teaching Marxism-Leninism to Kim Il Sung."