“Flow, my tears, all my sorrow, my humiliation and indignity”
October 1991, in an auditorium in Northern Ireland, a concert began with this mournful solo. The performance was hosted by the Irish Republic Army (IRA). The armed British troops were on guard right outside the hall. Jeong Seung-jin, a member of the New York YKU branch and the leading performer, was singing on stage. Behind him, there was a slideshow of the photos taken during the Gwangju Uprising. The Irish audience watched, captivated and moved.
Then a traditional Korean skit[주 1] began, changing the atmosphere entirely. The sense of humor in the satirical representation of the United States made the audience burst into laughter. Anti-nuclear slogans and anti-war slogans, followed by “Yankee go home” were met with a hearty “Bravo!” from the crowd. The Irish people, who had suffered over 20 years of civil war, were sympathetic to the plight of the Korean people. Everyone clapped along to the percussionist quartet.
Since the peace march in 1989, the YKU had committed to having a march every two years. In 1991, as a part of the biannual peace march, they began their tour of Europe. This tour was led by a small committee within the YKU dedicated to sharing Korean culture – there were only ten members in total. The leaders of the committee, Lee Sung-ok and Cheong Seung-eun, planned the European tour carefully. With support from many European groups, they were able to perform 17 times in 6 countries in just 50 days. They also went to Sydney and Melbourne in Australia and performed four times.
Once, after a performance in Paris, a staff member from the Labor Press of North Korea came by and gave them some kimchi. On principle, the YKU were not to receive any support from North Koreans during their tour. Hong Se-wha, a political exile who was visiting the YKU committee advised them to take the kimchi – it was a small gift, after all, not a political move. The YKU members were not sure what they should do. One member, Choi Yong-tak recalled:
We decided to return the kimchi, after a discussion. But I must now confess that we had a little taste first. We hadn’t had kimchi for weeks.
Choi Yong-tak met Yoon in 1990:
About two months later, when I became a member of the YKU, I met Yoon in New York for the first time. I was so drawn to him. To me, Yoon was a man like Ho Chi-minh. He was an incarnation of revolution. Every instant of his life was tied in with the destiny of our country. He was brilliant. Even now, my heart beats faster when I think of him.
In 1990, Yoon Han-bong was 42 years old. He had been in exile for 10 years. Despite opposition and suppression from so many different political figures, Yoon Han-bong was successfully maintaining an organization of 200 to 300 members. In Gwangju, he had been a beloved comrade, and in the U.S., he was a respected leader. This was, in a sense, the highest point of his life.
Despite his active life in the U.S., Yoon always longed for Korea. He had kept to the promises he had made to himself when he entered the U.S. He did not sleep in a bed, and he would not remove his belt even while sleeping. Yoon did not allow himself luxuries. He still smoked crouching in a corner, thinking about his comrades in the democracy movement.
- This is a type of theater where there is active communication between the actors and the audience, who sit in a circle on the ground