One snowy day in November, we first came to meet this man well over 80, his face filled with intelligence and benevolence, at an office in Jongno. That man was Mr. Lee Won-bum, the chairman of March 1st Movement Memorial Foundation.
We had an honor of getting advice and passionate encouragement for our organization and our vision, from this amiable man. As we met him several times, we couldn't but take our hats off to him for his services for Korea, and the way he wouldn't take any credit for himself. He has been running the March 1st Movement Memorial Foundation, Inc. with his earnest savings, for the sole purpose of human rights improvement and democratization of North Korea.
Mr. Lee finally began to share a little bit about his own story, only as we met for the second time.
The one that moved my heart most was the story between him and Kim Gu. On April 19th of 1948, when Korea had been separated, he didn't hesitate to be forthright to Kim Gu who was about to enter North Korea, and said, "Kim Il-sung is an instrument of Stalin. What kind of national affairs could you discuss with such a man?" As Kim Gu returned from the North, the first thing he did was to visit Mr. Lee.
Afterwards, Mr. Lee went to Japan and with his partners, played an important role in breaking up Jochongnyeon, the pro-Pyongyang federation of Korean residents in Japan. He was actively involved in working for the cause of anti-communism, freedom and democracy of this nation behind the scenes. Just listening to a few words about himself, I could feel his spirit that loves our nation and the people. Maybe it was because he was seasoned with historic experiences, having witnessed the division and conflict of the nation all along.
As one of the leaders of Sinuiju Anti-communist Students Revolt, he was imprisoned in a jail inside North Korean Communist Party's security agency, then in a military prison of the Soviet Union. Having had a narrow escape from the prison and from North Korea, he finally made it to South Korea for freedom. Having an understanding of the North's circumstances of that period, I could see his strong sense of justice and his courage. He also played a leading part in the activities of the Northwest Students League, a union of 500 thousand students defected from the North to South Korea for freedom, widely known to former North Korean residents.
He was actively involved as well in the integration between Northwest Students Leagueh and the existing South Korean students' organization under the banner of "National Association of Unified Students," which is recorded as a groundbreaking achievement in the history of students' movement to found a nation. At an early age of 20, he chose the thorny path over easy life, as the one called for a historic mission and a protector of freedom.
Most importantly, on November 23rd in 2009, to mark the 60th anniversary of Sinuiju Anti-communist Students Revolt, Mr. Lee, together with late Chairman Hwang Jang-yup(Committee for the Democratization of North Korea,) and Chairman Choi Myung-sam(Committee of the Five Provinces of North Korea,) had issued a statement through Dong-A Daily News that "Kim Jung-il regime have gone past the fall and is coming to an end."
I was surprised to find how this statement demanded for a substantial sanction against the anti-humanistic crimes of Kim Jung-il such as public execution, kidnapping, concentration camp brutality, and torture, which was to take the matter to the International Criminal Court(ICC). Recent lawsuit against Kim Jung-il taken to the ICC had already been on the mind of these men at that time. I wondered why the young people of the conservative camp does not know to recognize such men quietly living as foundation stones of our country. I hope, at least, the next generation will reexamine and make an objective evaluation of the history, for our nation to be more abundant with justice and patriotism.
Mr. Lee also had been a faithful friend of late Mr. Hwang Jang-yop, and sponsored the Committee for the Democratization of North Korea, whose honorary chairman is Mr. Kim Young-sam, the ex-president. He have sponsored at his own expense, many North Korean defectors including Choi Hyun-mi, a 20-year-old female world boxing champion. He is leading and inspiring the younger generation with his action, as a father of NK human rights and democracy campaign.
Lately, he had willingly donated as much as three million won, the full prize money he had received with the Special Award of 48th Samil Culture Award from Samil Culture foundation (Chairman Mun In-gu). He gave the full amount to the organizations working for NK human rights and democracy.
In this way, Mr. Lee has been in the front line of our fight for NK democracy in spite of his great age. He is selflessly sponsoring and encouraging the efforts for development of Korean democracy, based on his experience such as the one he had as a secret activist when he was a student head of Daedonggang Association, in other words a core member of Baek-ui-sa, the secret society for White Terror.
Mr. Lee is still on his quiet duty today, as a mentor and respected elder among North Korean defectors, South Koreans originally from the North, and the society of Five Provinces of North Korea. He especially considers it his task to promote the new leadership and define the direction for the NK human rights and democracy campaign, and is very anxious to complete the task.
We are presenting him as our first "Today's Person," as an expression of our heart that he deserves the greatest award on his efforts for NK human rights and democracy, and the hope of having him as our honorary chairman.
We will gladly reminisce about this day, one day as we achieve the true respect for human rights, democracy, and peace on our peninsula, having followed the examples of the forerunners such as Mr. Lee Won-bum.
Mr. Lee, you are the living example of patriotism. Please accept my sincere wishes for your health, and my deep repect to you.
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