I am not often openly critical of my host country and try to avoid being overtly political, but I cannot remain silent on this issue. Organized attempts in Korea to shut down "Yoduk Story" are absolutely appalling. It is a story that should not be silenced, and it is an affront to free speech if "Yoduk Story" is shut down before it reaches the small stage. "Yoduk Story" is a musical by North Korean Director Jung Sung San, who defected to South Korea in 1994. The somber musical chronicles the brutality of life at Yoduk, North Korea’s largest concentration camp. Although he was never imprisoned at Yoduk, Jung’s life was profoundly impacted by Yoduk. In 1994 he escaped from North Korea while on his way to the camp, where he was scheduled to serve a 13-year prison term for listening to a South Korean radio broadcast. Jung also claims that his father was executed in 2002 to punish the family for his own defection.
Attempts to silence this musical are very unfortunate. The Chosun Ilbo is reporting that significant efforts have been made to keep the musical from opening in order to avoid offending North Korea. Other than the Chosun Ilbo, not one single newspaper of the Korean media has picked up the story. The Korean media assiduously reports on virtually anything happening in Korea, yet it is eerily silent on this issue. When I visited http://www.yodukstory.com/ today to see when and where I could attend a performance, I found an HTTP 404 error message indicating the official web site could not be found. (Dear Reader, can you view this web site from outside Korea? If so, let me know.) If you can view it from outside Korea, then very likely it means that Korean Internet service providers have agreed to either censor or shut down the web site, as they occasionally do at the government’s behest. When I called the "Yoduk Story" phone number (02-569-4483 inside Korea, +82-2-569-4483 outside Korea), I could not reach anyone. According to the Chosun Ilbo, government officials have invoked Korea’s National Security Law in order to water down the use of North Korean symbolism and propaganda in the production, and half of the musical’s budget has dried up under official pressure. One theater even pulled out of its commitment to run the show.
This concerted effort to stop "Yoduk Story" from opening in Korean theaters is appalling. Let Korean audiences decide with their hearts and wallets whether they want to support this musical. After all, Korea seems to have no trouble airing a Korean version of "The Producers," a Broadway musical that includes Nazi imagery. Imagine if the French had tried to suppress "Les Miserables" because of its serious theme and dark imagery of the French Revolution.
I plan to find out more about what is happening with "Yoduk Story" and will lend my full support to make sure "Yoduk Story" gets a fair hearing in the Korean court of public opinion. If you’re interested in lending your support, let me know. So often, Koreans pay very close attention to the U.S.’ actions and react whenever they disagree. In this case, Americans are–or should be–concerned about what is happening here to "Yoduk Story." Take note, Korea. We noticed.