BBC Interview: Twenty Years After the Death of Kim Il Sung


 Dr. Antonio Betancourt meeting President Kim Il Sung in January 1994.

Kim Il Sung passed away 20 years ago on July 8. The BBC World Service broadcast an interview (click here to listen to the full interview) with Unificationist Dr. Antonio Betancourt on meeting President Kim five times (on the foundation of Reverend and Mrs. Moon’s visit with the North Korean leader in 1991), being in Pyongyang when he died, and, with Dr. Bo Hi Pak, attending Kim’s state funeral. Dr. Betancourt is currently Director, Office of Peace and Security Affairs, UPF International, in Washington, D.C., and Secretary General of the Summit Council for World Peace. A nine-minute podcast of the BBC interview may also be downloaded here.

In an analysis of the missed opportunities 20 years ago upon Kim’s passing, AU Blog Managing Editor Dr. Mark P. Barry posted an essay on, the leading site for researchers and journalists on North Korea, that provides an overview of what could have happened on the Korean Peninsula over the past two decades. Dr. Betancourt provided valuable assistance in the essay, and a great debt of gratitude is owed to Dr. Bo Hi Pak for his unique insights in Chapter 21 of Messiah: My Testimony to Rev. Sun Myung Moon, Vol. II. London’s The Guardian newspaper picked up Dr. Barry’s article days later, providing a vastly wider online readership, and he was also interviewed at length by South Korea’s OhMyNews (Korean only).

— The Editor

World Peace Center

The World Peace Center in Pyongyang (photo taken in December 2011 upon the 20th anniversary of Reverend and Mrs. Moon’s visit). The Peace Center was later used to receive condolence visitors upon the passing of Reverend Moon.

5 thoughts on “BBC Interview: Twenty Years After the Death of Kim Il Sung

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  1. Additional missed opportunities in helping change the situation on the Korean Peninsula came from our own Movement. Painful, hard-earned, but productive discussions took place to open an office in summer 1994 for the Federation for World Peace (the organization True Father represented when he went to the North). Kim Il Sung agreed to this project, which was why I traveled to the DPRK for a week in early July that year to continue the discussion and bring with me signed papers to start the project.

    But this got lost in the drama of Kim Il Sung’s death and funeral, and the reaction of the ROK government to our Movement’s involvement, especially the presence of Dr. Bo Hi Pak, as special envoy of True Parents, at the funeral, who declared “It’s time to reconcile our two peoples; forgive, forget the past and build a new Korea,” during his Beijing press conference right after the funeral. The reaction from the Kim Young Sam administration in Seoul forced the voluntary exile of Dr. Pak to Japan to avoid arrest and imprisonment in South Korea. The South Korean government decided to apply its National Security Law to him, despite that senior ROK officials had privately encouraged him to attend Kim Il Sung’s funeral so they could be apprised of how Kim Jong Il was assuming power.

    It took three years for Dr. Pak to be able to come back to Korea with his citizen’s rights restored after the U.S. intervened with the Blue House to lift the cloud of arrest over him because his work was seen by America as helpful for the overall stability of the Korean peninsula and peace in the region.

    The subsequent absence of Dr. Pak from the scene in Korea; his inability to meet regularly with True Parents to continue crafting a True Parents-centered strategy for the DPRK, ROK, and U.S. relations with Korea; plus the inherent contradictions among some of our Korean leadership of that time, basically paralyzed the American movement’s strategic involvement in the affairs of the Peninsula. The work that so effectively brought True Parents to North Korea in 1991 to reconcile with their nemesis, creating great good will with the regime starting from Kim Il Sung and his son, Kim Jong Il — work that was intended to prevent South and North Koreans from going at each other’s throats again (a second Korean War) — became paralyzed and ended-up as a footnote to history.

    Korea and Koreans, on their own, cannot get themselves out of the political mud of nearly 70 years of struggle and contradictions. America, with American and other Western Unificationists, are the ones who can craft a strategy together with the Koreans, North and South, for the purpose of creating a real win-win strategy for change for all the parties involved in the Peninsula, including Japan, Russia and China. This change can bring real sustainable peace, stability, economic growth and prosperity for the region.

    1. In 40 Years in America (2000), I wrote, “…the inability of the two Koreas to reunite following the death of Kim Il Sung in 1994, which Rev. Moon viewed as a realistic possibility and, hence, a providential failure, opened a new providence in the Americas. The underlying assumption of this providence was that the unity of North and South America would, in ways not precisely specified, contribute to the reunification of Korea.” (p. 569)

      True Father proceeded to launch a speaking tour of 23 Latin American nations, established Tiempos del Mundo as a proposed hemispheric daily, began the New Hope Farm project (Jardim), and purchased vast tracts of land in Brazil and Paraguay. Some leaders interpreted his time there as a period of exile and atonement. There was even talk of the “heavenly palace” being established elsewhere than Korea.

      In the end, Korea’s failure to unite following Kim Il Sung’s death was not as devastating as its failure to unite following the end of World War II (1945-48), which precipitated a 40-year “wilderness course.” Within a few years, the heavenly palace was completed in the Fatherland and Korea was rehabilitated providentially as “God’s homeland.” Yet the work of reunification remains to be accomplished.

  2. Fascinating on so many levels.

    Josette Sheeran might also be recalled for her breakthrough Washington Times interview with Kim Il Sung in 1992 amongst the many turns of events during this period. And I, especially, do recall Kim Dae-jung (met him) as well as Kim Young-sam as compatriots (and almost fellow prisoners) challenging the authoritarians of the South.

    That Kim Young-sam as President of the Republic of Korea did not attend Kim Il Sung’s funeral ceremonies on one hand should therefore not be viewed as all that surprising. On the other hand, however, as noted in Mark Barry’s article — what if he had?

    And Jimmy Carter’s positive influence, a forgotten surprise.

    In the end, today, sadly, we find the situation more complicated and perhaps even more tenuous than ever, but surely just as important.

    Excerpts of Dr. Betancourt on the BBC World Service’s Witness interview:

    — “[Kim Il Sung] had a very strong handshake. It was like he wanted to make you feel ‘I’m your friend.’
    (Interviewer:) That’s quite a skill, isn’t it? That’s a political skill.
    (Betancourt:) Absolutely. It’s what you find in messianic figures — bad messiahs, good messiahs. They have this kind of charisma, this belief that they are absolutely right.”

    — “[Kim] had a deep psychological understanding of human nature.”

    — “I consider [Kim Il Sung] a man of the times, just like Lenin, just like Stalin, just like Ceausescu, and [Erich] Honecker, just like Ho Chi Minh and Mao; people who sincerely believe in their ideology… and they were wrong.”

    — “I am a devout believer in the democratic system and the rule of law as we know it from our ancestors.”

  3. This is riveting stuff. If the untimely death of Kim Il Sung was a missed opportunity for South Korea, it was a great setback for Reverend Sun Myung Moon and his providential aspirations.
    Reverend Moon had correctly predicted the fall of communism from the early 1980s. Ten years later, he was riding high following his meetings with Gorbachev and Kim Il Sung. For Reverend Moon, the reunion with Kim Il Sung and ensuing partnership was to be the historic restoration of Jacob and Esau on the national level. Reverend Moon would offer up to his elder brother the economic and human resources he had accumulated in Japan, the USA and the rest of the world. In return, Reverend Moon would be embraced as a native son of North Korea. His own headwing thought and Godism teachings would be digested by the North Koreans through a spicy new version of the bland Juche philosophy they been force-fed for so many years. The embrace would pave the way to the reunification of North and South Korea. Within a brief period of time Reverend Moon would emerge as a national hero within a reunified Korea, possibly even a messianic figure on a national level.
    The death of Kim Il Sung forced Reverend Moon to quickly seek other options in order to build his nation of faith. First came Jardim, next the Island Nations. Then, becoming aware of his own mortality and the need to build a holy city of pilgrimage for future generations (all great faiths have one of these), Reverend Moon lent his support to the Cheongpyeong project, whose ancestor liberation programs have appealed more to members in the East than the West. The blessing, the central sacrament of the Unification Movement, was progressively extended beyond the bounds of the physical world to countless numbers in the spirit world. The rest is history.
    Sadly, the passing of Kim Il Sung on July 8, 1994, was a more tragic event than we can begin to realize.

  4. I have followed the links given in the article and listened to the BBC radio broadcast. I also had the privilege of hearing Antonio Betancourt talk in London recently. The last link in the article takes us to a memoir called Messiah written by Dr. Bo Hi Pak, specifically to Volume II of this book. How do we get access to Volume I, please ? it is such a wonderfully colorful and descriptive account of Dr. Pak’s experiences and the work he was doing.

    [Here’s the link to Volume I, chapter by chapter, or to a PDF of the whole book. — The Editor]

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