PSPD in English Archive 2000-07-31   2486

[Interview] the General Secretary of Sarangbang

Mr. Park Rae-goon – the General Secretary of Sarangbang Group for Human Rights

I bought an armful of fruit. People may be wondering why I would buy fruit on the way to an interview. I’m going to a ‘sarangbang’. I cannot go to someone’s ‘bang’, room, without taking anything. 

“Hello! I’m from Asian Solidarity Quarterly,” I bowed gallantly and confidently presented the fruits. I thought to myself, ‘Have you ever seen a nice person like me coming to interview you with an armful of fruits?’ However, his reaction was not exactly what I had expected. As I looked around the room I noticed a box of fruits and understood his reaction. ‘Everyone else had the same idea. Rather than a group which fights against the country and organizations for human rights, people see it as a place to rest and to be comforted, like the sarangbang’ 

Ascending up the narrow stairway to the second floor, it seemed more like a sarangbang. In one corner there were some cooking implements and a member of the sarangbang was standing doing the dishes. It seemed that he had just finished eating. From the words ‘human rights movement’ it gave a deeper meaning of ‘human’ rather than ‘rights’ or ‘struggle’. It smelled of life. 

I took a deep breath and looked at today’s spotlight, Mr. Park Rae-goon. I laughed. He looked more like a fruit seller than the fruit seller I met a while ago. He seemed much gentler. I wondered how he, who looked as if he could not say one bad thing to another person, ended up here? I put on a serious face for fear of my curiosity being caught. 

ASQ)How did you come to know the Sarangbang? 

Park)When I was part of the National Association of Democratization and Re-Unification of Bereaved Families, I was working on a case for a senior who was suffering from repeated torture by questioning. I became familiar with many human rights activists. We felt there was a need for an organization, like today’s Sarangbang, that could support and unite human rights groups. The next year, 1994, following the correct procedures, I joined Sarangbang and became chief of information and editor. Before that, from my university time, I worked with labor campaigns. After my brother, who was the student representative of his school in 1988, burned himself to death shouting for the overthrow of despots, I became involved with the National Democracy Nation Unification Bereaved Family Council. 

I really was not going to ask this. So many people had already asked about his painful personal life, believing they had the right to know. Thanks to these people, I was already aware of most of his painful memories and I did not wish to bring them up. He actually seemed to have overcome his painful memories. I guess he found no need to be especially sad about everyone’s pain. He talked in a disinterested attitude and I questioned him in the same manner. 

I suppose you have a different attitude toward the word ‘human rights’. 

It surprises me, but there seems to be a limit. The fact that there is nothing that has nothing to do with human rights and the fact that everything can be done in the name of human rights marvels me. The idea that in any situation, whatever it may be, the person is the center and this is fabulous. However, the reason most of this is fraud is that it is impossible to reach a level of freedom and equality where everyone agrees on in a pure capitalist world, and there is a vague point in the word ‘everyone’ in many human rights treaties. 

Furthermore, there are many times when we met many obstacles: for example, problems of kidnapping to the North or refugees from the North. Also, poverty can be seen as the epitome of all human rights problems, and how to solve it is beyond anyone’s ability. However, if one by one, everyone does his or her best, someday there will be a time when poverty will be alleviated. 

ASQ) Will you explain ‘one by one, who does his or her best in the Sarangbang’? 

Park) First of all, you know our representative, Mr. Suh Jun-sik, was a 17 year long-term prisoner. Rather than a representative of a group he prefers to be the activist representative. He is in charge of Sarangbang’s freedom committee and will soon hold responsibility as editor of the Human Rights Everyday News instead of me. 

In other words Mr. Suh is respectable and fastidious. It means that he plays by the rules, believes in cleanliness and the progressive movement. He has done much and will keep on doing so. He contributed to the abolition of the Society Safety Rule, made an issue of long-term prisoners, and is now fighting for the abandonment of the National Security Law. 

There are many women among our activists, some of whom were involved in student campaigns, some volunteers, and some who chose this place as a workplace as soon as they graduated. Ms. Kim Jung-ah who is in charge of the Human Rights Film Festival had never been involved in movements before and worked at a publishing company where movie related books were made. She is into movie distribution. She goes to the New York Film Festival, picks out a few movies and obtains permission to show them. There is also Ms. Ryu Eun-sook, in charge of human rights education; she knows much about this field. Different from other types of education, human rights education distributes a planned program and the participants fill it out. They discover what human rights are by filling it out. However, solving problems with them is live human rights education and practicing education. A true activist is an educator and an organizer. Instead of doing a task by oneself, one should split the task up. 

When I asked if I could meet Ms. Ryu now he said that Ms. Ryu was at an institute. An institute, why would an educator go to an institute? However, I was shocked to learn that she went to teach, not to study. She has a part-time job. She is the head of her family. I had to stop and think it over. I had thought that the reason why there were many young women at Sarangbang was because they did not hold financial responsibility. I guess I was wrong. 

ASQ) To be an activist, shouldn’t there be a stable way to earn a living? 

Park) If an activist becomes a businessman, he loses the purity of acting. He shouldn’t be stable even if he is middle-aged. An activist is poor and one must accept it. An activist should have both vitality and energy, and should not try to make a living through acting. The activists of Sarangbang all are responsible for financial affairs and sometimes even give donations. Of what they earn from speeches or writings, 50% is donated to Sarangbang. 

Mr. Park answered my question confidently, “then will the organization survive?” Because this organization was made for the human rights movements and not for maintenance of an organization, there is no meaning to the survival of the group. Instead, if another group wants the activists he will gladly send them all. I couldn’t help but ask this. 

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