16 January 2004

Soviet Koreans vs. Volga Germans: Deportation Smackdown

Prof. Lee Chai-mun of Kyungpook (North Kyôngsang) University published an article in the June 2003 issue of The Review of Korean Studies entitled "The Lost Sheep: The Soviet Deportations of Ethnic Koreans and Volga Germans":
The goal of this paper is to compare the forced deportations of two Soviet minorities, Soviet Koreans and Volga Germans in the early [20th] century. Most existing Korean studies tend to emphasize the uniqueness of Korean expulsion, thereby missing crucial factors which explain the origins of forced Soviet Korean deportations in 1937. In this comparative study, first, histories of Soviet Koreans and Volga Germans and their forced deportation processes were reviewed, and then the motives of the deportations were examined. The result of this comparative study gives credibility to the espionage theory for the forced deportations. It also strongly suggests that ethnic conflicts over land issues during collectivization as one of the most important motives for the forced deportations of the Soviet Koreans and Volga Germans.
The published PDF version of the article generates errors, but a more easily accessible earlier draft is online. In it, Prof. Lee notes that individuals and groups from both minorities were deported earlier on for a variety of reasons, such as resistance to collectivization and various other counterrevolutionary activities, but the mass deportations directly followed the outbreak of war in each region. War between Japan and China became official after the Marco Polo Bridge Incident in July 1937. Over 170,000 Koreans in the Soviet Far East were deported to Central Asia beginning in October that year--after they had a chance to bring in the harvest. Germany's Operation Barbarossa attack on the Soviet Union began in June 1941. About 450,000 Volga Germans were deported to Central Asia in September that year. In all, more than 1 million Soviet Germans were deported.

Nadira Artyk, a London-based Uzbek journalist, describes the ebbing of that flood of deportations many decades later, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, in the wonderful Czech journal Transitions Online, in an October 1998 article entitled "An Exodus of Minorities":
Central Asia has a variety of minority groups, including European settlers (predominantly Slavic), diaspora minorities indigenous to the region (such as Tajiks in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyz in Tajikistan), and people forcibly deported to the area under Josef Stalin (such as Crimean Tatars, Germans, and Koreans).Under Soviet rule, people who belonged to completely different ethnicities and different religions were put together. But in Uzbekistan, for example, Russians and Uzbeks always remained largely separate communities. There was no tension between them simply because they led different lives. They even resided in different places--Russians in apartment blocks, Uzbeks in traditional makhallyas.

The collapse of the Soviet Union heralded a rebuilding of national identities in all Central Asian states, which used to be subjected to merciless Russification. By reviving national language, culture, and history, the Central Asian governments tried to restore their nations' pride. Ethnic groups had to adopt to the dominating nation or leave.

Thus, after more than 70 years under the Soviet roof, many nonindigenous ethnic minorities chose to return to their historic homelands.

There has been widespread emigration of Germans, Russians, Ukrainians, Jews, Crimean Tatars, and Meskhetiyan Turks. Some other groups (such as Koreans) have shown little desire to leave Central Asia. [Well, sure, if the alternative is North Korea--ed.]

Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, countries with significant Russian-speaking minorities, tried to strike a balance between restoring their predominant national cultures and not upsetting other ethnic groups. Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbayev guaranteed equal rights to all ethnic groups, but there are clear signs of power being concentrated in Kazakh hands. Until last year, non-Kazakhs held one-third of all ministerial posts in the country's cabinet. Now only a quarter of the government consists of Russians and representatives of other ethnic groups....

Of the ethnic groups, deported to Central Asia by Stalin before and during World War II (Volga Germans, Crimean Tatars, Koreans, Poles, Greeks, Chechens, Meskhetiyan Turks, the Ingushe, and so on), only Koreans and Germans adapted successfully [emphasis added]. Others, such as Chechens and the Ingush, after Stalin's death returned in large numbers to their homelands at the earliest opportunity, in the late 1950s.
Among the ways Koreans "adapted successfully" was to abandon their native language and to achieve educational levels second only to Soviet Jews. Among the most prominent are the government official Georgy Kim, who attained one of the highest levels of any non-Russian in the former Soviet Foreign Ministry and now serves as Minister of Justice in the Republic of Kazakhstan; and the writer Anatoly Kim.
Until the age of eight, Anatoly Kim spoke only Korean. Then he learned Russian and unlearned his native language forever. Studying painting and later literature in Moscow, Kim's short-stories and novellas have as varied geographical backgrounds as his own life. In some narratives, Kim alluded to the Korean community on Sakhalin or in Kazakhstan, but he never told of the horrible events of 1937. And only when he was in his fifties--after the Soviet Union crumbled--could he visit Korea for the first time. This voyage, as well as his subsequent stay there for a number of years as a professor of Russian, proved a veritable revelation. For Anatoly Kim's discovery of the real Korea was that same "voyage in search of a continent," only that it was not an entirely new one. It was the continent of his roots.
One of the most interesting developments now is the attempt by South Korean religious, linguistic, and cultural evangelists to reclaim these "Lost Sheep." Recent Fulbright scholar Steven S. Lee has some very interesting observations on identity questions in his Koryo Saram archive.
My project has narrowed to two specific foci: (1) the growing body of literature (mostly in Russian) by Korean Central Asians, and (2) interactions between the Koreans here with Koreans from elsewhere in defining ethnic identity. For this second focus, my driving question is: Who is claiming authority in delineating what it means to be Korean? According to my adviser, German Kim, the South Koreans doing business and mission work here were at first welcomed with open arms by local Koreans, but gradually, these outsiders were perceived as arrogant and condescending, i.e. they considered themselves as the proper purveyors of Korean cultures. Of course, one could hardly call South Korea during the past 50 years as a vacuum for cultural preservation, and more and more, I find it useful to regard ethnicity and tradition as invention, as fiction. This is where my focus on literature comes into play: what I'm searching for is literature that defines ethnic identity--slyly and subtly, I'm hoping.

On this note of ethnicity as fiction, it's interesting how well Koreans seem to blend in with Kazakhs. I am ethnically Korean, and yet I've been mistaken for Kazakh. Accordingly, Koreans here are said to be more contented than Koreans in Uzbekistan, partially because they can blend in more easily. Although Almaty is a wonderful and quite liveable city, I certainly hope to be able to compare the Koreans here with those in Tashkent, where they are a more conspicuous and perhaps less integrated minority group....
Lee is far from impressed after translating Anatoly Kim's story "A Cry About a Mother in Seoul":
Considering current attempts at religious awakening within the Korean community, this story is somewhat interesting. The author clearly intends to associate religiousness with ethnic identity; religion as both provoking and salving the dilemmas of ethnicity. Death (the ultimate displacement) provokes the narrator’s (inherent, insufferable) sense of alienation, which is exacerbated further when he visits his historic “motherland,” where, for some reason (probably to make a clever mother-mother connection, one lost figuratively and one lost literally), he can’t stop thinking about his deceased mother. His unstated dilemma (alluded to at the party) is one of faith--the aspersions cast on Providence and ancestors by his displacement and, perhaps, by his saintly mother’s death. The funeral scene serves as the uneasy nexus of spirituality and ethnicity, the deceased mother all alone in a sea of Russian names, the bow as a futile attempt to recoup loss; the mound of snow may be a reference to traditional Korean graves. The dog doesn’t quite work as a symbol.

In lieu of subtlety, the author resolves these conflicting threads with vague promises of Providence, love, the future, and cultural reawakening (that rice field), and I don't think this works; in fact, this strikes me as an attempt at auto-exoticization. It's interesting how the mother doesn't at all raise the point of ethnic alienation. Her prayers and death are essentially commandeered by the narrator, who crudely hammers in ethnic questions....

My adviser, German Kim, returned from some conferences in East Asia last week, and was not at all amused when I began panning Anatoliy Kim. Apparently, he's a respected Russian author, but according to German, his speciality is surreal "Russian-soul" questions rather than ethnic writing. I'm now translating a longer, much more promising story by a Lavrentii Son, and I'll post whatever I've done by next week then. Sadly, I've been told that after a period of euphoria in the early '90s, interest in ethnic literature and cultural reclamation has waned; people have a hard enough just making ends meet.

Which leads me to the Association of the Koreans of Kazakhstan, once dominated by scholars, but now headed by wealthy businessmen, suggesting an interrelation between ethnic identity and fiscal aspirations. It's interesting to note that the Korean geh [or kye], in which a group of entrepreneurs regularly pool their money and rotate its distribution (one reason why so many Korean-Americans own small businesses), does not exist here in Kazakhstan. However, some Korean-Kazakhstanis have made a pretty penny by acting as intermediaries between S. Korean conglomerates (eg LG and Samsung) and local markets. LG is the most visible electronics company in Almaty....

Before independence, the Koryo saram had ties to North Korea only, and while in Tashkent, I examined magazines distributed by Pyongyang, propagating their version of Korean culture—for instance, presenting socialist realist art as traditional Korean. By many local accounts, South Korean contacts with the Koryo saram have also been dubious at times. In April I translated an unpublished satire by Almaty writer/director Lavrentii Son, recounting how he was duped by two South Korean professors into providing copies of his films....

I don’t know if Son's charges are true, and I hope that nobody in the surprisingly politicized field of Koryo saram studies will take offense that I'm posting the satire on this site. I wonder if he’ll satirize me someday...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Have you seen Michael Gelb's History of Far Eastern Koreans and Alexander Dieners work comparing, I'll use the obsolete term Soviet Koreans vs Soviet Germans in today's Kazakhstan?

You may find that these articles have been data than Lee Chai Mun's.
I can provide a copy, email me at jonntexas@yahoo.com