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Sunday, February 25, 2007

DPRK embassy: Finland violated human rights of the diplomatic couriers

The affair of the North Korean diplomatic couriers forcibly removed from train in Kouvola, Finland after violently resisting cooperation with authorites continues as a tragicomedy. The DPRK embassy in Stockholm haa submitted a diplomatic note to the embassy of Finland, accusing Finland of violation of human rights when dealing with the couriers. The daily Helsingin Sanomat had a longish story on the case today, with comments from a representative of the DPRK embassy in Stockholm. As for the reason for taking a train from St Petersburg to Helsinki in order to carry mail to Stockholm, the representative told that the two men wanted to experience the famous ferries that operate between Helsinki and Stockholm.

I'll return to the article tommorow.

Helsingin Sanomat has translated quite a lot into English, but there is still more to come about the incident: North Korea files official complaint over Kouvola train incident.
• YLE (the national broadcasting corporation) has the outlines of the Helsingin Sanomat story in English: North Korea Issues Diplomatic Note to Finland.
Time has made available an article from Nov 1, 1976 on the activities of DPRK diplomats which led to twelve embassy staffers expelled from Nordic countries: Smuggling Diplomats.
International politics had nothing to do with the abrupt action by the Scandinavian governments. What had happened was that North Koreans in all three countries* had been caught red-handed in a massive smuggling racket involving liquor, cigarettes and dope —apparently instigated by the financially hard-pressed government of President Kim II Sung. Officials in Norway estimated that their branch of the Kim gang had smuggled into the country at least 4,000 bottles of booze (mostly Polish vodka) and 140,000 cigarettes, which were then given surreptitiously to Norwegian wholesalers for distribution on the black market. In Denmark, the illegal goodies impounded so far included 400 bottles of liquor, 4.5 million cigarettes and 147 kilos of hashish, which police confiscated two weeks ago from two Danes who had just bought the drug from North Korean embassy staffers.

Update, March 5, 2007:
• B.R. Myers' article "The Obsessions of Kim Jong Il" in The New York Times (May 19, 2003) is one that I should have referred to right from the start, and his notion of the "glorification of spontaneous violence" in North Korea was somewhere in the back of my mind. (Link to the article.) Myers notes:
The Soviets considered the spontaneity of the common people, especially their tendency to violence, to be a dangerous force unless tempered with political consciousness. In North Korea, the people's spontaneity is seen as one of the country's greatest strengths.

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Comments to note "DPRK embassy: Finland violated human rights of the diplomatic couriers" (Comments to posts older than 14 days are moderated)

<Anonymous Owen> said on 25.2.07 : 

I'm beginning to wonder whether there's some sort of weird 'life imitating art' thing going on here as Finns seem to turn up quite a bit in James Church's North Korean spy thriller/murder mystery A Corpse in the Koryo (which I am currently halfway through).

<Anonymous Antti> said on 26.2.07 : 

Interesting. Without knowing how Finns turn up in that book, I'd guess that they are kind of strange non-familiar people that add nicely to that kind of thriller-mystery, in addition the country having been a kind of neutral. I'm not aware that Finland would have been present in North Korea more significantly than for example the other Nordic countries which all recognized DPRK and established diplomatic relations at the same time.

<Anonymous Owen> said on 26.2.07 : 

Yes, I'm not quite sure about the role of the Finns yet either as I'm only halfway. If I can say more without spoiling the plot I'll let you know later. Perhaps the author has chosen Finland because of its somewhat ambiguous cold war position.

By coincidence, I was in a comedy club on Saturday night and there was a table of Finns right at the front. It was strange because the compere couldn't really come up with any good way to make fun of them as we seem to lack any proper Finnish stereotypes in the UK...

<Anonymous Martin F> said on 4.3.07 : 

I was wondering if there has been any more news about this incident.

How come North Korea is sending "diplomats" abroad who cannot speak any foreign language? That makes it rather unlikely that they are actually trained and educated for the foreign service. And why on earth did they not know that you are supposed to show your ticket and passports to a conductor - and then start a fight about it?

<Anonymous Leppänen> said on 5.3.07 : 

I was wondering if there has been any more news about this incident.

There hasn't been any more news about the incident lately; I don't know if responses to diplomatic notes are usually made public (I'd guess not), but if that happens when the Finnish government replies to DPRK, there should be some news.

When I heard the news about North Koreans fighting with the Finnish officials, I should have referred to B.R. Myers' article "The Obsessions of Kim Jong Il" (linked now to this note), in which he mentiones officially sanctioned and glorified spontaneous violence.

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