Lubomir Zaoralek: The pillar of North Korea is Fear


In today's One on One Jan's guest is Lubomir Zaoralek, the chairman of the Chamber of Deputies, one of the Czech Republic's most prominent politicians. Recently Mr Zaoralek led a Czech delegation to take part in talks with North Korea, in an attempt to revive six-nation talks on the rogue state, accused of running a clandestine nuclear weapons programme. In Mr Zaoralek's view the only real option for now is to keep communication lines open, to try to bring North Korea back to the table. It is something in which the world has a vested interest. The country of course suffering the threat of immediate impact: the Korea to the south.

"Really there is great fear on the side of South Korea that a collapse of the North Korean regime could lead to great chaos around North Korea, in which surrounding countries would be unable to act. Many times it was repeated that [recent talks] were a great chance for the Czech Republic to communicate with the North Korean regime: a long-term process."

Do you think that the Czech Republic's own communist background, or its historic role helping diffuse the situation after the Korean War, was an advantage?

"Yes, I am sure that it is very important. They know very well from the past about the Czech Republic. Some of their top politicians studied at Czech schools and I imagine that it can influence communication with our country, something which can provide room for a little more understanding and so. That's why, it seems to me that we can make use of that and help a little bit and improve the situation."

How much of a threat is there that North Korea - with nuclear weapons - could be an aggressor in the future?

"You know what the problem is around nuclear arms: it was repeated by North Korean politicians many times that it may be the 'last card' that they have in this 'game'. It was also said that the problem in this world is that there are maybe five countries that have a monopoly on nuclear arms and that there are no limitations for these five countries in the development of new nuclear weapons, that all these limitations are valid only for small countries. They repeated that this is very unbalanced. That is why, for North Korea, nuclear arms are a last possibility. It is impossible for them to say 'Yes, we will give up this advantage and... in a fortnight our country will be occupied'. For them, that would be the end of the North Korean story. I am afraid it is complicated to really answer this. But, we do have to decide what we want: [do we want] to try and liquidate this regime, or rather, to find some kind of political solution."

Is there any indication at all within North Korea - to your knowledge - of any kind of coming reform?

"I am afraid that for me it was very difficult to find any signs of reform. The North Korean side might feel it has made some small reforms, but if so they are totally insufficient. I repeated also during our meetings that what is really needed is total change. A change in the economy. A change in the politicians. An open North Korean society."

What you're saying is that there is no solution as long as they remain in power and you know it and they know it, so what kind of positive outcome can there be from these talks?

"A return by North Korean politicians to the six-party talks: for the beginning that could be enough."

Now, I imagine that from your position you were not able to get through to ordinary people because you were constantly under surveillance yourself.

"It was impossible to address people, even for journalists. There were 14 journalists with us as part of our delegation and they told me that their attempts to talk to people on the street were not successful. People... people on the street were not willing to communicate, it was clear they were afraid. When I saw children marching in the streets and training in the streets and the military atmosphere in the schools, it was for me something very suggestive. For example, of [George] Orwell's 1984."

I read that people who were working in the fields, the rice fields, were not just manual labourers but teachers, university professors, and indeed members of the philharmonic being sent out in these mobilisations...

"Yes, that's true. During this rice mobilisation we saw that all people, whether musicians or teachers or students, had to work in the fields. It was said that it was something like an order from Kim Cong Il that some of the musicians were allowed to return to Pyongyang and perform Smetana's "My Country" for us. It was something unbelievable. And, I got the feeling that this mobilisation stopped life in the whole capital, at the universities, and so on."

"For me it was something like proof that really this state doesn't work, this economy doesn't work. It's, it's like a 'war economy' almost and for me it was terrible to imagine that people are living in such conditions. It seems to me that the main result is that we have a commitment to help these people try and return freedom to this country. Fear is maybe the pillar of life in North Korea."

If you told the North Korean side things that they didn't want to hear, what moment provoked the greatest outburst or reaction?

"Maybe it was during my meeting with Kim Yong Nam, when I told him that his political concept of the military first - is nonsense. That this militarization of the country is the 'way to hell'; in this moment there was a very bad reaction."

Shouting or threats to end the talks, for instance?

"No, but he asked his colleagues whether our delegation got the right information during our stay and asked for confirmation that the subject was on the agenda. When they told him it really was, then he said he was willing to continue on the subject. But, he said it was clear that we were influenced by Western propaganda. He felt he had to tell us what was really the 'truth'. Despite these difficult moments, however, we were able to communicate and say afterwards that there was an interest for both sides to continue."

Basically, there's really no other option but to keep the channels open.

"At least, to show the North Korean politicians that we are willing to give them 'a chance', a chance to introduce more moderate measures within their regime; it's a pre-condition for our help, and, they need help very much."

"It was very interesting, you know, what politicians told us in Seoul: to unite the Korean Peninsula is something very difficult, something like a transplant operation. There are two organisms, the North and the South: in the case of very quick and urgent 'transplantation' the result will be death. I think this is important to realise. Now, we have to prepare this North Korean regime for unification. That is why we have to keep the dialogue open and put our efforts into communication."