An Abuse of Culture: North Korean Settlers, Multiculturalism, and Liberal Democracy

  •  Minkyu Sung    


This paper presents how the concept of multiculturalism, when applied to North Korean settlers in South Korea, falls short of a viable solution to the identity negotiation process these settlers continually undergo while living in South Korea. In the liberal national formulation of multiculturalism, North Korean values and lifestyles cannot be cherished, and these refugees cannot express or take pride in their culture. Instead, it is when they express their pain, sorrow, anger, and frustration about their experiences in North Korea and during their refugee life that they can be hailed as brave, autonomous, reliable, and responsible citizens. I argue that this is an abuse of culture that depoliticizes these refugees. North Koreans living in South Korea are often mobilized to witness the persistent cruelty of human rights abuses perpetrated by the North Korean regime, which has been considered a significant contribution to the strengthening of liberal democracies. But these refugees are rarely invited to provide critical commentary about the liberal democratic regime in which their subject formation as competent citizens is always questionable. To catch a glimpse of the insight into North Koreans as avant la lettre for unification of the nation, we Others to them should be better prepared to respond to the political implications that are made and carried through multiculturalism ventriloquizing the ideal liberal citizenship that they can never attain without a constant denial of the self.

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