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From Havana to Pyongyang

Liam O Ruairc

Ruth Dudley-Edwards once said that people in West Belfast were brainwashed like North Koreans. She probably would have been interested to know that there actually were some links between Sinn Fein and North Korea. Gerry Adams's recent visit to Cuba brought to public attention the relations existing between Sinn Fein and the Castro regime. However, much less is known about the relations between Sinn Fein and North Korea. Given the reactions to Gerry Adams' recent visit to Castro in Cuba, it is highly unlikely that Sinn Fein will organise a visit to North Korea in the near future, especially since the White House considers Pyongyang to be a "rogue state", and North Korea is high on the Pentagon's hit list. Sinn Fein cannot afford to alienate its American allies further.

The main link between Sinn Fein and North Korea is Gerry MacLochlainn. The former Sinn Fein organiser in Wales was released from Maidstone Prison in November 1983 after serving two and a half years of a sentence for conspiracy to cause explosions; before becoming the main representative of Sinn Fein in Great Britain. More recently, he has been a Sinn Fein appointed councillor in Derry and Mitchell McLaughlin's constituency manager. MacLochlainn came into contact with circles on Britain that were sympathetic to the North Korean regime and its official ideology known as Juche; such as the GIFAC and Harpal Brar's Indian Workers Association (Harpal Brar is now president of the Stalin Society). Sinn Fein developed friendly relations with those circles. MacLochlainn even wrote a booklet entitled "The Irish Republican and Juche Conception of National Self-Dignity are One" (London: Mosquito Press, 1985). The publication was about the similarities existing between the Irish Republican and Juche ideologies. The Juche ideology is a mixture of radical nationalism and socialism, and would be close to Maoism. It is not surprising that during its more "thirdworldist" days, some Sinn Fein members were sympathetic to such views. The world, Ireland and Korea have changed a lot since 1985, but as late as November 1999, MacLochlainn was a speaker along with Harpal Brar at a commemoration of the 1917 Great October Revolution organised by the Stalin Society in Leicester.

These were not simply the personal views of an individual member of Sinn Fein. In 1986, the Sinn Fein Foreign Affairs Bureau sent a message of solidarity to the North Korean regime. The message, signed by Sile ni Dhara, stated clearly: "We offer our support to the Workers' Party of Korea in its fight for the establishment of the Democratic Confederated Republic of Korea." ("Sinn Fein Letter to Korea," Ireland's War, issue 18 (June 1986) p.7). Also, during a visit to Scandinavian countries in 1987, Gerry Adams attended a reception at the embassy of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea on the occasion of the 75th birthday of Kim Il Sung. ("Gerry Adams visits Scandinavia", Ireland's War, issue 23 (July 1987), p.7) In 1989, an official Sinn Fein delegation including Gerry MacLochlainn, Sheena Campbell (later murdered in 1992 by loyalists) and John Doyle attended the World Youth Festival in Pyongyang (cfr "Sinn Fein Delegation at World Youth Festival", An Phoblacht-Republican News, (vol.11 number 26), 29 June 1989 p.14).

The North Korean regime also referred occasionally to Ireland. Kim Il Sung himself declared in the 1980s that "both the Korean people and the Irish people have a bitter past when they were oppressed and maltreated under the colonial rule of the imperialists, and they are still suffering from national division because of the policy of occupation pursued by outside forces." ("Korean Friendship", Ireland's War, issue 24 (October 1987), p.6) Seminars on Juche sponsored by the North Korean regime (for example in London in 1985 or Paris in 1987) similarly raised the Irish question. But North Korea did not officially back the Republican movement. If it was hostile to British imperialism, North Korea had to leave space for the Workers Party and the Communist Party of Ireland as well.

A number of reasons can explain Sinn Fein's sympathetic statements on North Korea: some parallels between the Korean and Irish situation (partition for example), sympathy for a small country's struggle for independence and socialism, as well as its achievements (Pyongyang has a metro, something Dublin still hasn't achieved in spite of 30 years of European money), would be two major reasons explaining Irish Republican support for North Korea. But it would be wrong to deduce from this - as the "Daily Telegraph" or "Irish Independent" probably would - that Sinn Fein intends to transform Dublin in some kind of an Irish Pyongyang. Sinn Fein's ideology and economic policies have more in common with social democracy than Kim Il Sung's Juche. I doubt if Gerry MacLochlainn often bombards the residents of the Creggan about the virtues of Juche.

In terms of its foreign policy, Korea is quite irrelevant for Sinn Fein. Also, references to North Korea such as those above have been rare and infrequent. So the significance of the Sinn Fein - North Korea links should not be overestimated. However, the fact that Sinn Fein can switch from North Korea or Cuba to the White House or be at ease simultaneously in both is an indication of a certain opportunism, even if it is disguised as pragmatism. It shows that the foreign policies of Sinn Fein are intended to appear all things to all people. Sinn Fein will adopt "anti-imperialist" rhetoric on one occasion, and "conflict resolution" approach on another. It is all a matter rhetoric, not of ideological coherence.

This is article is the first in a series examining Sinn Fein's international links.
See also: Eire Nua Tanzanian Style



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