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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

pieces of Finnish-North Korean diplomatic history

The undiplomatic endeavors of North Korean diplomats have been noted in these pages before, as in the more recent case of anti-inspectorial struggle of diplomatic pouch carriers in a Finnish train one year ago. (For later developments in the case, see here and here.)
There were more severe cases in the 1970s and early 1980s, involving diplomats based here and resulting to expulsions, first for selling alcohol and drugs, and later for attempted bribery. Keijo Korhonen, a long-time official in the Foreign Ministry, professor in Political History and a short-time Foreign Minister, gives an account of the first case in his memoirs Sattumakorpraali (Accidental Lance Corporal) :
The president gave me his personal support when as a fresh Minister of Foreign Affairs in October 1976 I had to expel the ambassador of the Democratic Republic of Korea and three of his diplomats. "Prompt expulsion" was [President] Kekkonen's order. I had one North Korean stay in Finland so that the Finnish diplomat in Pyongyang would not get in trouble.
According to the police report, in their lack of money the North Koreans had been selling alcohol, morphine, heroin, and hash, which was not quite according to the letter and spirit of the Vienna Convention about diplomatic relationships. The embassy had bought 3300 bottles of vodka from Alko [the state retail] in 1976; in the garage they had a sales stock of 600-700 bottles of Russian vodka and 180,000 cigarettes. A shop manager and a radio shop owner had received alcohol for their services; a drug dealer electrician had gotten offers from them; car drivers and plumbers had been paid with alcohol. According to my suggestion, the Government made the affair public. It was so outrageous that not even the Soviet embassy had the nerve to rush to help the loyal member of the Socialist family of nations. (p. 91, translation AL)

What is actually not so flattering for Finns in this case is that it shows how alcohol has been a passable medium of exchange. In a radio program aired sometime in the 1990s about the exploits of the North Koreans in the early stages of Finno-Korean diplomatic relationships it was mentioned how the North Koreans at first used money to pay for services, but as they became short of currency and understood the usability of alcohol, they increasingly resorted to it.

In 1983, when the Finnish parliamentarian Johannes Virolainen was the chair of IPU (International Parliamentary Union), the DPRK amassador Ju Jae Han attempted to prevent the organizing of a IPU convention in Seoul by bringing him an envelope containing USD 5000. Virolainen took the money to the Foreign Ministry, and His Excellency was shown the way to the train station or airport, not sure which one.

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