Authoritarian mentality lives on (Korea Times, 12/31/14) by Casey Lartigue, Jr.

By Casey Lartigue, Jr.

The next time Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon speaks about innovation and new ways of doing business being "deeply rooted" in city administration, I hope he will surround himself on stage with police officers and prosecutors.

The authoritarian mentality is still alive in Korea, as 
Mark Clifford wrote in his 1994 book "Troubled Tiger." Korea remains a "country of elite control" in which "the state oversees everything from wedding ceremonies to corporate investment."

Korea then had 500,000 local government officials, reaching into every sector of Korean society. Two decades later, there is still no issue too trivial for Korea's numerous politicians to get involved in, with even former President Lee Myung-bak discussing in a 2011 cabinet meeting ― yes, a presidential cabinet meeting ― whether men working in host bars should be considered as hostesses. In March 2013, at her first cabinet meeting, President Park Geun-hye's new government endorsed a regulation imposing fines on those caught wearing revealing clothing.

Seeking scapegoats leading up to the 2012 National Assembly and presidential elections, large discount stores were mandated to be shut down at least twice a month, in the name of protecting small business. When Costco didn't comply during litigation, the Seoul city government retaliated by sending in regulators with white gloves to find dirt on Costco. As Steve Austin noted in a Korea Times letter: "Carrefour, the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, Wal-Mart, Lone Star, Standard and Chartered, and Apple have had to fend off these attacks." Korea's authoritarian mentality lives on.

It has become a cliché to say that Korea is a mix of the old and the new, but often there is a reason for clichés. Korea is at the forefront of high-tech, the Seoul city government has dubbed itself a "Sharing City" and established a "Sharing Hub." That openness is partnered with crackdowns, fines and arrests. As Korea Times columnist Jason Lim recently wrote, "Korean culture of governance is still characterized by command and control tendencies tinged with dismissive condescension toward those whom they have been elected to serve."

Seoul is now targeting Uber, a drive-sharing app that remotely connects drivers with customers. Instead of finding space for "disruptive innovation," the Seoul city government has summoned law enforcement to the stage.

The Seoul prosecutor has indicted the CEO of Uber, threatening him with up to two years in jail or a fine of 20 million won. Seoul has shown one sliver of "creativity" ― offering rewards (1 million won) to tipsters who report Uber drivers.

In a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed, Bret Stephens explains why many innovations originate in America (indirectly explaining why few come from Korea): "Innovation depends less on developing specific ideas than it does on creating broad spaces. A free society that is willing to place millions of small bets on persons unknown and things unseen doesn't have this problem. Flexibility, not hardness, is its true test of strength. Success is a result of experiment not design."

Where are Korea's broad spaces "to place millions of small bets" on innovators and new approaches? In explaining his vision of "social innovation," Seoul Mayor Park quoted Peter Drucker: "Innovation is change that creates a new dimension of performance. Change cannot be controlled. The only thing we can do is be in the front, and the only way to stand in front is through organic cooperation and collaboration between sectors."

Cooperation? Collaboration? Can't control change? Nice quote, Mr. Mayor, but threatening to arrest the CEO of Uber doesn't match. In cracking down on innovators, Mayor Park may want to take note of a different Drucker quote: "There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all."

In his 2011 book "Capturing New Markets: How Smart Companies Create Opportunities Others Don't," Stephen Wunker asks: "How can companies spot markets that do not exist?" He stresses focusing on "underlying customer need," citing the (perhaps apocryphal) story of Henry Ford saying, "If I had asked customers what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse."

Consumers need freedom to choose among options available in the market and innovators need space, without the threat of arrest. Those "persons unknown" seeing "things unseen" can yield cars rather than faster horses and apps remotely connecting drivers with riders.

The attack on Uber may just be politics as usual ― there are more than 70,000 taxis in Seoul (280,000 across the nation) with drivers voting as a bloc. The unions mainly object to UberX so compromise may still be possible (although "compromise" will mean allowing businesses to choose their competitors).

The Seoul government should drop its ridiculous indictment against Uber. Whatever happens, the outcome can help determine if the prosecutor and police should start appearing on stage with Korean politicians when they say Korea is open to innovation and creative ways of doing business.


Mulmangcho Christmas Party (2014-12-21)

In late 2012, shortly after I became the volunteer International Adviser to the Mulmangcho School (for adolescent North Korean refugees), I talked with school founder Prof. Park Sun-young about us holding a Christmas Party for the kids. I quickly concluded there was no way I could do it on my own so I dropped the idea and ignored her when she tried to remind me about it.^^

But last year? Edward M. Robinson, a party planner in America, among many other things, took the lead! Helping Others Prosper Through English (HOPE) hosted spectacular Halloween and Christmas parties for the kids last year (I'm also the International Adviser to HOPE).

This year, Eddie took the lead again, but the crew organizing the party has increased. (I hope I don't miss anyone). Eddie is the energy behind the organizing, but we do have plenty of help. In-Jee Lee led the toy drive with her colleagues at the Chungdahm Learning Institute. Mike Ashley reached into his own pocket and bought many gifts for the kids. Rachel Stine helped with organizing the party. Kelly Pratt helped with organizing, also bought many items to donate to the kids. And then there are volunteers like Nina Hong and Kristen Lefebvre who seem to be at Mulmangcho every weekend now.

Jungah Ji was one of the main organizers of our Christmas parties at the Yonsei Severance Hospital and she joined us at Mulmangcho for the first time, bringing her friend Yoonjee Kim along with her. Aaron Grommesh is back in Korea, that means that he is back at Mulmangcho. Laura Nell, who knew me back in the day before I got involved in NK issues. Serena Ha is yet another friend who joined Mulmangcho, and keeps coming back. Whereas the rest of us volunteer on Sundays, she was going on Thursdays once a week to tutor one of the young adults. Hannah Acuña Nedrow, Kasia Middleton, Niina Cartier, thank you so much, too. There were a few other volunteers Eddie brought, and I didn't catch their names...

Nevada Rhodes brought the same rambunctious energy he brought to the parties at the hospital a few days ago. If you are looking for an MC for parties, he is definitely someone to look up.

Oh! And of course the high school girls from Wonju who are regular volunteers at the school.

Several of the volunteers are also regulars in the Teach North Korean Refugees project, so it is delightful to be able to collaborate with them on more than just one thing...

Here's video from the Chosun Ilbo.

When the party was over, we said goodbye to Eddie, who boarded the bus with two crates and a suitcase, then had three taxi drivers refuse to take him home later on. If only they had known what a great thing he had done, they might have given him a free ride. So next year, someone please remind me to arrange Uber for Eddie.^^


Teach North Korean Refugees launches new project (2014-12-20)

In March 2013, Lee Eunkoo and Casey Lartigue co-founded Teach North Korean Refugees. The main goal was to give North Korean refugees opportunities to study English with volunteer English tutors. We weren't the first to do it, but we added a few twists to it by allowing the refugees to choose the tutors themselves, and to choose as many as they wanted. We didn't benchmark the program by studying others, we just did what we thought made sense based on the situation. So far, we have matched 147 refugees and 11 South Koreans helping NK refugees with 205 tutors. We recently expanded beyond English to add Spanish and Latin, and later may add more languages.

But we have now launched a project that promises to be really special. We are splitting TNKR into two main parts;

Track 1: Finding My Own Way
Track 2: Telling My Story

Track 1 will be the original project connecting refugees with volunteer tutors to study for standardized tests, employment, school, personal enrichment, travel, curiosity.

Track 2 will allow those refugees who would like to become public speakers to work with Coaches. Some of them should be ready soon, some will need some time, and some are long-term projects. I want everyone to be realistic and I think everyone got that point.

We launched Track 2 yesterday, with 8 NK refugees, 1 South Korean, and 14 Coaches. What a talented and interesting group of Ambassadors and Coaches.

Seven of the eight refugees were or are current students in Track 1. It was the first time I had seen a few of them in a while, and wow, what an improvement in their English. They thanked us so many times for setting up this project, I can see they are so determined to improve themselves. One said that her "responsibility' will be to study hard. Another thanked us all for being interested in helping NK refugees, and also doing something about it.

Special thanks to our first group of Coaches:
Hannah Acuña Nedrow, Josh Cole, Fiona Fong, Sean Varley, Danielle Solof, @Mairi Law, Marisha Saifulina, Craig Urquhart, Fatima Nicholson, Charlotte Hammond, Jean Chung, @Colleen Dougherty, Suzanne Atwill Stewart, @kelly Sue Jin

It seems that our Coaches got swept away in the moment. Some of them stated at the beginning that they wanted only 1 or 2 Ambassadors to work with--but by the end, had three or four each.^^ I guess after they heard the refugees trying to express themselves in English, and saw their eagerness to learn that they kept finding time in their schedules.

This is a pilot project. We won't be benchmarking other projects, we will, like we did with Track 1, do what makes sense based on the situation. So we will be relying on our Coaches to give us feedback.

Thanks so much to the TNKR team:
Co-directors Lee Eunkoo and Casey Lartigue;
Special Assistant Suzanne Atwill Stewart.
Academic Adviser Sodam Jeong

If you'd like to support TNKR, please consider making a donation. Thanks to the Atlas Network in Washington, DC, our donations will be DOUBLED if you donate through them. They will send 100% of the money to us, doubled, minus wire fees. All of the money wil go into the project, not into salaries or commissions.

I think this project will be really special. I'm not the only one who thinks so. Some of the idiots who are sympathetic or protective of the North Korean regime started complaining about this project even before we launched it. So I guess they realize how incredible (terrible, in their eyes) it will be if we can have a team of refugees able, in English, to tell their stories and discuss issues related to North Korea.


Christmas Party--Yonsei Severance Hospital (2014-12-17)

Two words that don't go together--"kids" and "cancer." Yesterday HOPE (Helping Others Prosper through English) hosted a Christmas party at Yonsei University's Severance Hospital in the Childrens' Cancer war. It was the second year in a row, first inspired October 2013 when my buddy Nick Adams visited South Korea. Jungah Ji joined us last year, as she did for the Christmas Party last year and then again this year! Some of you may recall that I decided to hold a Christmas Party at the hospital in late 2013. I wrote about it here (with photos).

The man of the day: Edward M. Robinson. He is the one who really pulled it together. He is really busy, doesn't have much free time, but he found the way to get it done. I will add the names of the volunteers when I get the complete list.

Rushing to judgment on a defector (The Korea Times, 12/17/14) by Casey Lartigue, Jr.

By Casey Lartigue, Jr.
Have you ever read an article that you knew was wrong or incomplete based on your inside knowledge? That was the case as I read a 3,000-word commentary by reporter Mary Ann Jolley challenging statements by North Korean refugee Park Yeon-mi.

Jolley questioned if Park had really witnessed the execution of a friend's mother for watching a Hollywood movie, in Hyesan, North Korea. Jolley quoted North Korea scholar Andrei Lankov who questioned the likelihood of the account, as well as an unnamed 59-year-old refugee from Hyesan who "laughed" that such a thing had happened there.

The problem? Park didn't say the execution occurred in Hyesan. I know this because since last April I have recorded hours of detailed interviews with Park to help document her story. Park was born in Hyesan and later lived in Pyongyang, but moved to the countryside after her father was imprisoned. Because of a sensitive family security issue, Park has avoided mentioning the exact location of the execution publicly (she told me the location months ago in a recorded interview).

An investigative reporter writing a balanced article without a tight deadline might have recognized that missing details before questioning Lankov and others, but there are deeper issues than simple errors in a hit piece. How many sensitive details that could put others at risk must refugees reveal? How much should critics reasonably be allowed to challenge refugees, knowing a watchful psychotic regime up north is eager to punish "traitors" like Park?

How many embarrassing personal details must North Korean refugees reveal in snippets of interviews and speeches? Jolley even questions details about the burial of Park's father, but I know the story better than she does. Out of money, options and hope, with her father dying of cancer in China, Park and her mother agreed to be sold to a Chinese farmer. Park has mentioned such stories in speeches and interviews and sought to raise awareness without "sensationalizing" being sold in China.

Park hasn't discussed it publicly, so I will only briefly mention the "aunt" who brokered the deal and the Chinese man who purchased Park as his daughter and her mom as his wife; he also agreed to dispose of the body of Park's father upon his death. Jolley didn't know about the purchase of Park and her mother, and other important details, which is why her 3,000-word attack couldn't help but be incomplete, at best.

When Jolley gets things half-right, she concludes the worst about Park. She cites an exchange during our podcast "North Korea Today, featuring Casey and Yeonmi." We had been invited to do a special live podcast in front of an audience at an exhibition about North Korean street children. Park wanted to avoid overshadowing the street children feature with her own story.

Jolley twists this to even question if Park had ever eaten grass or dragonflies because she didn't mention it then. We did a separate podcast in which Park talked in detail about eating dragonflies, wild boar, grasshoppers, and sparrows when she was in North Korea.

Jolley clearly missed or ignored that, as well as many other things, in her well-researched article of dots she (understandably so, sometimes) misconnected. In July, Jolley flew into Seoul with a camera, interviewed Park and people around her (including me), then flew out with a big part of the story, but not the sensitive parts that Park wasn't then prepared to discuss on camera.

Unexpectedly emerging as a public figure without a manager and in a language she is still learning, Park has struggled with how to tell the rest of her often embarrassing story while maintaining security and family privacy. It will fall on deaf ears in this instant-news age, but my suggestion: please wait for Park to tell the rest of her story.

Most refugees change their names, are paranoid about their photos being posted publicly and live in terror of being identified by the regime. Some of Jolley's anonymous refugee sources fear reprisal over a simple article. Park uses her real name, courageously speaks out against the regime, and reveals many personal details that get more scrutinized than presidential executive orders.

Conspiracy theorists, North Korean regime sympathizers, and the usual skeptical researchers and disgruntled bloggers are parsing her every word in her third, and only recently learned, language. Park, 21, has been targeted by the North Korean regime and warned by South Korean law enforcement she is putting her family at risk.

Park's critics have even come after me. More than a month before the world learned it, Park told me in a recorded interview about her mother being raped in China. Despite the opportunity for fame and fortune, I didn't take the opportunities to reveal her sensitive information. I will keep Park's security and privacy issues in mind, but I can in good conscience break my silence and respond to critics with attacks full of half-truths and incomplete information.

The writer is director for international relations at Freedom Factory Co. in Seoul, and the Asia Outreach Fellow with the Atlas Network in Washington, D.C. He can be reached at CJL@post.harvard.edu. The views and opinions expressed in the above article are entirely those of the author and do not in any way reflect the thoughts and perspectives of staff at The Korea Times. — ED.



Yes, it is true, I met him. Last night at the Harvard Club of Korea's annual dinner.