Peasant Autonomy
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Story 164

Korea – 2016

Line of demarcation

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(Photo: NelC)


“Well, I think it’s clear, my boat was damaged, that's all. I am absolutely not a spy.” Nam Chul-woo, a strongly built man in his thirties with long black hair falling over his face, is desperate. “Why don't you take me back? I want to go home, to my family!” “In that case, first you have to write down your story,” says the man who is sitting in front of him behind the desk, with a faint smile, “from the moment you was born, until now. I want to know everything.” Chul-woo groans, he has already written his story three times, and every time something was not okay, so that he had to write it all over again. He is tired, he wants to sleep.

Chul-woo lives in the south of North Korea; he is a poor fisherman. Early this morning he had gone out in his small boat to his drift-net, to collect the fish. One moment he didn't watch out, and the propeller struck the net. He couldn't get it untangled, no matter what he tried. When he was running the outboard motor at full speed to tear loose the net, the motor burned out. The small boat was now adrift, and floating slowly with the current to the south. Chul-woo was already near the line of demarcation. He made wild gestures to the North Korean border guards, but before they could send a speedboat Chul-woo had already floated over the boundary line, and there was nothing they could do now. If a military vessel were to cross the line by only one meter, an international conflict would be created.

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(Photo: Craig Nagy)


When Chul-woo's small boat was washed ashore, the South Korean border guards were already standing there with their guns at the ready. Immediately he was brought to an interrogation centre. He had to take off his rough fishermen's clothes, and take a shower. Then he had to put on other clothes: a shiny light and dark blue sweat suit with brand new shoes. He was questioned for hours on end.

After three days Chul-woo was allowed to return to his boat. It had a new outboard motor. Anxiously he went back to the north. How would his wife and his little daughter be? On the coast border guards were already waiting to arrest him. Shortly thereafter he was again in an interrogation centre, this time from the North Korean security service. Again he got a stack of papers and a ballpoint pen. “Now you write exactly what has happened, and what you have seen. I want to know all the details. Understood? Everything!”


The movie The Net (2016) from the South Korean director Kim Ki-duk tells the story of a poor fisherman who becomes a victim of a complex political situation.

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