The report on DPRK forced labour in the EU by the Slaves to the System research team is receiving much attention. Not just from the media, some of whose less esteemed members are having a field day misquoting me in different languages, but also from non-media folks, such as for example members of the EU parliament (who asked question in parliament), a host of let’s just say interested parties and the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs – kudos to you, at least you don’t look away – and deafening silence from other quarters. Yes, EEAS, I am talking to you – not even a single tweet (and they’re totally free – really!), which makes the tweet above kinda ironic. But I’m sure the EEAS has its diplomats looking high and low
for signs of North Korean missiles heading towards Europe and that is also worth something. I guess. Although now that Kang Sokchu has died, I really don’t think we can still speak of a diplomatic relationship between the DPRK and the EU. As far as I know – and that is probably not very far since I am not the go-to guy in whom depressed diplomats confide, the opposite really – Kang Sokchu was the lynchpin of EU-DRPK relations (but all isn’t lost, we’ve got Tony Blair – and if he isn’t avaible one of his former aides surely must be). And now that he (Kang, that is) resides in whatever Buddhist – or atheist – hell is reserved for high ranking members of the DPRK regime, I can only imagine the panic in Brussels all too well. “I’m sorry to report, Sir, but our relationship with the DPRK just kicked the bucket.” Dip me in shit and f*ck me
sideways, as my grandfather used to say. But then again, what self-respecting international body with a proclaimed interest in human rights, democracy and freedom would want to ‘critically engage’ a state that houses the highest number of slaves per capita in the world? (That’s a rhetorical question btw.) The regime did it again, now it tops the list of the Walk Free Foundation’s Global Slavery Index. Ironically, it is also last on another list: the list that measures the strength of the government’s response to slavery. Mmm, wonder what’s going on there. But I digress, I was talking about the Dutch media.
According to a Dutch newspaper (the one of course with the highest numbers of daily copies sold), I am sure that there are North Korean slave workers in the Netherlands as we speak. Well, I’m not. In fact, I’m pretty sure that that isn’t the case. And I am also reasonably confident (as in absolutely certain) that I told the reporter on the other side of the line as much. But there you are. The next day, a television interview I did was prefaced with exactly the same factually incorrect introduction while (sit back and take a deep breath – yes, I’m talking to myself) the person who alerted me to said misquote in the Dutch newspaper was the interviewer himself. Right. But then at least the TV program readily admitted its mistake (I am now considering how to best use the damages I received: whether to buy a holiday home in Portugal or to invest in the NADA space program). But this was all in Dutch and as we all know only too well, only Dutch(wo-)men speak Dutch and not too well at that so little harm was done.
Or so I thought. I had missed another misquote (or rather, a quote out of context). According to VICE, on their website I had estimated the DPRK to earn about 2 billion USD per year with EU forced labour. That is a lot, if you consider the DPRK’s GDP is somewhere around 14 billion USD. But I didn’t quite say that. First, this was an interview that was done when we started our research (months ago) and which only came out last week. I quoted the number that was also quoted by the UN (here for example), because we hadn’t done our research yet. And I quoted it as the global figure, not the EU figure (but oh irony of ironies, this number was a mistaken translation from the Korean, which said 100-200 million USD – and irony of ironies of ironies, if our preliminary estimates of the global number of DPRK overseas workers are not too far off, the original mistranslated number may actually be closer to the real amount- are you still with me?). But VICE being VICE (as I know them, professional, secure and easy to talk with), immediately corrected their article when I alerted them to the mistakes in it. Alas, it had already been picked up by Yonhap… I just tried to count the number of South Korean reports that faithfully reproduced the uncorrected VICE interview. I couldn’t. I am in the humanities and can only count so far. So, boys and girls, there is an important lesson to be learned here (several probably), but the most important one I’ll spell out: J-U-S-T R-E-A-D T-H-E R-E-P-O-R-T. You can do that here. From now on I’m disowning everything I’ve said unless I wrote it down myself. And yes, that includes taped proof of me actually saying what I now disown. I can’t do that, you say? Well, I just did. What are you going to do? Send North Korean secret agents after me? Join the party. Another lesson: context is everything. A quote out of context is a great way to start a paper, a novel or a tweet, it does not necessarily (or probably) correspond to the truth. Or at least not to my truth. Let’s not be too hegemonic about truth here, there is enough of that going on in the north of the Korean peninsula after all – and not just there. (Did I just say that? Shit, more pissed off diplomats.)