Top North Korea defector Hwang Jang-yop eulogized as a hero in South Korea

Hwang Jang-yop, the highest-ranking North Korean defector, was eulogized as a hero by South Korean conservatives Thursday after his passing on Sunday.

Jo Yong-hak/AP
South Korean Unification Minister Hyun In-taek bows in front of a portrait of Hwang Jang-yop during a funeral service for Hwang at a hospital in Seoul, South Korea, Oct. 14. Hwang, who was the intellectual force behind North Korea's philosophy of self-reliance, became the highest-ranking North Korean defector to South Korea before his passing on Sunday.

The highest-ranking North Korean official ever to defect was eulogized Thursday as a hero by South Korean conservatives at his funeral here.

Mr. Hwang, who passed away on Sunday, was buried in the national cemetery in Daejeon, about 90 miles south of Seoul, after the service attended by several hundred people. Among the attendees was Kim Young-sam, who was president of South Korea when Hwang and an executive of a North Korean state trading company sought refuge in the South Korean embassy in Beijing in 1997.

Hwang's influence over the years

Hwang, who for 12 years was chairman of North Korea’s Supreme People’s Assembly, had fallen from grace but was not yet in disgrace when he entered the embassy in 1997.

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He was at the time supposed to be returning to North Korea via Beijing after a trip to Tokyo. He professed complete disillusionment with North Korean-style communism though he had been president of Kim Il-sung University, named for the North Korean leader who died in 1994, leaving his son, Kim Jong-il, to inherit his power. He was in charge of international affairs for the Workers’ Party when he defected.

Hwang taught Kim Jong-il and also is credited with coming up with the concept of “juche,” or self-reliance. One reason Hwang decided to defect, as described in books and articles by him, is that Kim Jong-il did not like his suggestions that North Korea move closer to Chinese-style communism, which include limited tolerance of privately owned enterprises.

North Korea, desperate for food and other items, counts on China for food and other aid, but government officials and ordinary citizens propound “juche” as an ideal to which citizens should strive to aspire.

Hwang, however, reportedly was deeply troubled by what would happen to the family he left behind. His wife and one of his three daughters are believed to have committed suicide while the other two daughters and a son were reportedly imprisoned in a labor camp. After getting to Seoul, Hwang married a woman he met here and has a daughter, now about 11.

Hwang 'wanted to save the people of North Korea'

Suzann Scholte, who runs the Defense Forum Foundation from her home in Fairfax, Va., said in a eulogy that was interpreted in Korean at the service that “he carried the weight of this evil burden on his shoulders.” He defected, she said, “because he wanted to save the people of North Korea” and that he had “joined his wife in heaven.”

Kim Young-sam in a lengthy eulogy said he was “very courageous.”

Hwang: Kim Jong-il betrayed socialism

In his years in South Korea, Hwang was a fiery speaker and also found time to write books and articles. He still believed in socialism as the means to developing a truly “egalitarian society” but believed Kim Jong-il and those around him had betrayed that ideal.

Hwang was barred from traveling to the United States during the presidencies of Kim Dae-jung and his successor, Roh Moo-hyun, who promoted reconciliation with North Korea during a decade of leftist rule from 1998 to 2008. He visited the US in March and April of this year, deriding efforts at negotiations with North Korea on its nuclear program as “a lot of hoopla” in a talk in Washington.

After his return to Korea in April, South Korean authorities arrested two North Koreans who they said had entered the South claiming to be defectors but had actually been sent there to assassinate him. Each of them, said to be North Korean army majors, were sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Hwang, who had been living in a home provided by South Korea’s National Intelligence Service, died several hours before a huge military parade in Pyongyang at which Kim Jong-il stood beside his son and heir presumptive, Kim Jong-un, in the reviewing stand on Kim Il-sung Square. An autopsy showed no sign of foul play.

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