History of the NZ DPRK Society

Don Borrie tells us in his own words how the NZ DPRK Society was formed.

 

The NZ DPRK Society was co founded by Wolfgang Rosenberg and myself in 1972. Wolf was a Senior Lecturer in Economics at Canterbury University. Coming as a refugee from Nazi Germany Wolf was interested to compare the DPRK with the German Democratic Republic and he wanted to make a comparative study of the economic systems of the DPRK and ROK. At that time, he was impressed with the high level of development the DPRK had achieved following the war as compared to the ROK.

We were both rather shocked how NZ had so easily been thrust into the war in Vietnam and in asking ourselves if their might be other situations around the globe where NZ could conceivably be sucked into a war in which it really had no great interest, we were immediately struck by the similarities between the Korean Peninsular situation and Vietnam.

The concept of a Society came from New Zealanders, including myself. The model of a Friendship Society was already well known amongst New Zealanders who were familiar with Friendship Societies in other socialist countries e.g. China. We anticipated that once it became known to the Koreans in Pyongyang that a Society had been established in NZ they would reciprocate by establishing a DPRK NZ Friendship Society. This happened and by 1973 the two Societies were in existence and communicating with each other.

For my part between 1969 and 1973 I was General Secretary of the NZ Student Christian Movement (NZSCM). Together with students throughout NZ  I was involved in peace campaigns protesting against NZ’s engagement in the Vietnam War. As a result of this I became aware of how little we knew about North Vietnam and hence had difficulty in assessing facts from propaganda. 

At the same time I began reflecting on Korea having been introduced to South Koreans while studying in Geneva with the World Council of Churches. Again I realised how little was known about the North Korea. I was disturbed that NZ was party to the Armistice Agreement which meant that NZ was still technically at war with the DPRK - a war which could break out again and as with Vietnam, New Zealanders would on the basis of ignorance assume the DPRK to be an enemy of NZ.

This coincided with NZSCM being ready to give support to the South Korean Student Christian Federation whose members were being arrested on the grounds of being DPRK communist sympathisers, and undermining the ROK constitution through their support of peasants who were forced off the land and into the cities because of the official policy of passing agricultural land ownership into the hands of large corporates.

It was with this desire to promote peace through understanding that I joined Wolf in establishing the Society. We deliberately decided that we would not opt for mass membership but rather seek to establish a small national network of humanitarian New Zealanders who were genuinely interested in the DPRK for its own sake. We were impressed by the DPRK position of forming an independent political philosophy and system which was Korean (,Juche), while drawing on Chinese and Russian insights and experience. However, we did not want the Society to be caught up in pseudo ideological debate over pro China or pro Russia influence.

Initially we acted on our own . However we needed to obtain published information about the DPRK there being none available in NZ. This was freely supplied by the DPRK Embassy in Jakarta and through the DPRK NZ Friendship Society in Pyongyang. As soon as we began to express our desire to travel to the DPRK we were given every assistance we needed re visas and official letters of invitation which are still required as part of the DPRK entry process.

Our closest DPRK colleagues remain the officials of the DPRK NZ Friendship Society some of whom I have known since the mid 1970s. The Secretary General of the DPRK Society remains a key person for communication. Over the years the relationship has been based on mutual trust, respect and friendship.

 

 

Note:   Don has promised to write more, outlining how the relationship has been developed and what has happened over the years. We look forward to adding this to the website soon.

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