Hwang Jang-yop, the senior-most North Korean government official to defect to South Korea, died at his home in Seoul on Sunday. He was 87.
"He took a morning bath as usual but did not come out into the living room even though it was already 9:30 a.m.," a government official said. "A police officer who handled security opened the bathroom door with an emergency key and found Hwang sitting there without a pulse."
Police said investigators from the National Institute of Scientific Investigation and a forensic medical expert from Seoul National University found no visible wounds and no signs of forced entry and concluded he died of natural causes.
◆ Constant Threat to Life
Hwang was seen as the chief ideologue behind North Korea's "Songun" or military first policy and its "Juche" of self-reliance doctrine. He defected to South Korea in February 1997, when more than a million North Korean people were starving to death, leaving his own family behind. But his 13 years and eight months in South Korea were anything but smooth.
Hwang sought to tell the world about the situation in North Korea but had to spend 10 years with his hands tied virtually behind his back as the Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun governments pursued their "Sunshine Policy" of rapprochement with the North. He was allowed to visit the U.S. in 2003, six years after he defected, but it was not until the Lee Myung-bak administration came to power in 2008 that he was allowed to travel overseas freely.
Hwang was a vocal critic of the Kim Jong-il regime and recently focused his criticism on the hereditary transfer of power in the North. North Korea tried again and again to have him killed. When he held a press conference on April 20, 1997 criticizing North Korea after defecting to the South, the North threatened to kill him. In December, 2006, North Korea sent Hwang a death threat, and recently the Reconnaissance General Bureau at the North Korean People's Armed Forces dispatched two agents to assassinate him. Since April, when the would-be killers were arrested, police stepped up security, guarding Hwang around the clock.
◆ From Chief Ideologue to Defector
Born in South Pyongan Province in 1923, Hwang attended Pyongyang Commercial School in 1941 and went to Tokyo in 1942 to attend Chuo University law school. After Japan's defeat at the end of World War II, he returned to Pyongyang and joined the Workers Party in 1946. In 1954, after further studies at Moscow University, he became head of the school of philosophy at the prestigious Kim Il-sung University. In January 1958, Hwang was appointed ideological secretary under then leader Kim Il-sung and began to craft the Juche ideology, which became Kim's own brand of communism.
He became president of Kim Il-sung University in 1965, a post he held for 14 years, and as the head of the Juche Ideology Research Center from 1979 until his defection was North Korea's foremost expert in the doctrine. In the early 1960s, Hwang taught Kim Il-sung's son, Kim Jong-il.
Kim Il-sung and his son adored Hwang, who was more a scholar than a politician. But Hwang found himself unable to keep serving Kim Jong-il, whom he saw as intent solely on maintaining his grip on power even as millions of North Koreans starved to death in the mid 1990s, while Hwang's idea of Juche placed the North Korean people above all else. "What kind of socialism lets its people starve to death?" he said when he defected to South Korea in 1997.
In private, Hwang yearned for his wife, son and three daughters and was gripped by intense guilt for leaving them behind in North Korea. A close aide to Hwang said his supporters are planning to ask North Korean authorities to allow Hwang's family to pay their last respects to him in South Korea on humanitarian grounds." Some of Hwang's family members apparently died while others were sent to political prison camps.
A memorial altar has been set up for Hwang at the Asan Medical Center in Seoul.