Legal help to ethnic Koreans

The Anti-Discrimination Centre Memorial has launched a new project on “Legal help to ethnic Koreans from the former Soviet republics” (together with the cultural autonomy of the Koreans in St Petersburg and with support of the consulate general of South Korea).

The fate of the Koreans in the USSR was highly dramatic: they were first deported (Germans, Crimean Tatars, Chechens and other ethnicities who were pronounced to be hostile to the Soviet regime, were deported later).

The first decrees on deportation of the Koreans from the border regions of the Far East to the far-away territories of the Khabarovsk region were signed in 1927. A few times later, the Politburo chaired by Stalin examined this issue, but the final version of the deportation was notorious decree No. 1428-326cc in 1937 “On deportation of the Korean population from the border parts of the Far East region” signed by V. Molotov and I. Stalin. The official reason for the deportation was suppression of “appearance of Japanese espionage in the Far East region.” On September 28, 1937 the Sovnarkom of the USSR (parliament) approved complementary decree No 1647-377cc “on deportation of the Koreans from the territory of the Far East region,” which in fact defined the fate of all Koreans from the territory of the whole country. The period of execution of the decree was very short: on September 28, 1937 Ezhov, the USSR Interior narkom (ministry), made a report in the Kremlin, that “the deportation of the Koreans from the Far East region has been completed”. 36,442 families consisting of 171,781 persons were deported to Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. The rest of the Korean population was supposed to be deported by November 1, 1937.

Among the reasons for the deportation of the Soviet Koreans from the Far East the historians name several ones: Stalin’s wish to reach closer contacts with Japan before an upcoming war (anti-Japanese Koreans were deported from that territory as a concession); try to destroy compacted settlement of the Koreans who could call for an autonomy (like created in 1934 Jewish autonomic region); try to recoup losses of the labour force in Kazakhstan and Central Asia as a result of death and migration of the victims of repressions and collectivization (according to the historians, about 3 million people).

However, prof. G. Kim writes that “the main reason was in conducting great-power line in domestic, as well as in foreign policy of the totalitarian regime. The deportation of the Koreans was a well-planned, organised and carefully controlled large-scale action of the totalitarian regime testing the mechanism of mass forced deportations.”

The deportation of the Koreans was accompanied by propagandist campaigns in the media and trumped-up cases aimed at common people and officials of the party of the Korean origin (for instance, in 1938 the first secretary of the Posyet district committee of the Communist party, Afanasy Kim, was shot as charged with preparation of an armed rebellion to separate the Far East region from Russia).

Even though part of the Koreans tried to resist deportation, any escape abroad was impossible – the border guarding was very strong. The Koreans were deported by special trains consisting of 50 people cars, one of each passenger, sanitary and kitchen cars, 5-6 covered freight cars and two open platforms in average. The freight cars were equipped with two-level shelves and a cast-iron moveable wood stove. There were about 5-6 families (25-30 people) in one car. The way to Kazakhstan took 30-40 days. The deported were taken away passports, hunting and other weapon. The deported were guarded all the way to the central Asia.

For the local authorities new-comers were a big surprise. They were not ready to accept so many people either in Kazakhstan, or in Uzbekistan. The Koreans in a big hurry were brought to organize new kolkhozes. But because of the climate the Koreans could not grow rice and vegetables in Kazakhstan as they used to do. The deported suffered poverty, hunger and problems with housing. Looking for better life, many Koreans illegally migrated to Uzbekistan where there were regions with irrigated areas (also they wanted to re-establish contacts with their families there).

The losses of the Korean population due to the deportation are very large. According to the published data, 172,5 thousand people were deported, 28,200 died on the way, the deficit of the birth was 17,300. In total Koreans lost 45,500 people because of deportation, i.e. 26,4% from the number of all deported (Ediyev. Demographic losses of the deported ethnicities of the USSR (http://www.polit.ru/research/2004/02/27/demoscope147.html).

In the “thaw” times some deported Koreans became deputies, scientists, cultural and art activists. They became able to move to other regions of the USSR. However there were no talks about national revival as a large number of the Koreans lost their language.

The collapse of the Soviet Union broke economical and many other connections between former republics which was a huge problem for the population. On the territory of the former empire new sovereign countries emerged. The process of national revival affected in a bad way the minorities in some former republics.

As a result of the economical and geopolitical changes on the post-Soviet territory the migration processes increased. Both work migration and migration of so called “compatriots” – people ethnically and culturally considering themselves Russians – increased. The status of the Korean community was quite unique: they do not look like stereotypical “Slavs” and belong historically to a different culture, but they mostly lost their language and speak Russian. That is why Koreans run away from economical and other problems (like Civil war in Tajikistan) to Russia where they face the same problems: xenophobia, racism, bureaucratic obstacles with obtaining a citizenship, permanent residence and work permits etc. That is why legal assistance in the migration law is very important for the Korean minority.

On the 20th of November, 2010 in the House of nationalities a seminar for Korean people, residents of St Petersburg, was held. The workers of the ADC Memorial told the participants of the seminar about the activities of the organisation, the success which was achieved in fighting against discrimination and advocacy of minorities rights in the North-Western region. The lawyers explained basic legal problems, foreign citizens face coming in and out of Russia, advised how to obtain documents legally, what state services are responsible for, how to avoid cheating mediator companies and how to apply for a citizenship.

The most interesting part of the seminar for the participants was explanation of how to receive citizenship. It was explained by the workers of the ADC Memorial historically and at the modern legal level. The participants of the seminar asked many questions on practical issues, legal “news” in the sphere of migration policy. The ADC Memorial suggested to ask for a consultation or any assistance. If some issued are wanted to be discussed in detail, other meetings and discussions can be organized. The most important is that the process has begun.

Olga Abramenko

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