North and South of the DMZ: 1950s Korea in images by early Czechoslovak members of the Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission
After being occupied by Nazi Germany during World War II, Czechoslovakia once more became an independent and democratic country after it was liberated by the Soviet Red Army in May 1945. However, hers was a fragile democracy and the Communist Party ultimately took control of the country in a bloodless coup in February 1948. The Czechoslovakia of the 1950s would become one of the most hardline Communist Regimes in the world.
When the Korean War erupted Czechoslovakia, the most industrialized and developed of all of the Socialist Bloc countries, became the biggest donor to the fraternal North Korea after the Soviet Union and China. One of the most visible gestures of support was Czechoslovak membership of both the NNSC and the parallel Neutral Nations Repatriation Commission (NNRC).
Amateur photography had a long tradition in Czechoslovakia and camera ownership was fairly common among the middle class since the 1930s. Several NNSC members were especially skilled photo-amateurs with some of the best high-quality cameras of the time. Fortunately in 1953-55 they were still able to travel to South Korea where they could obtain quality Kodak film. In addition their photos were professionally developed in the South, often in the US bases. Thanks to this, even after 60 years, many of the slides retain their vivid colour and brightness.
For the Czechoslovaks everything that they encountered in Korea was a novelty. The scope of their photographs was varied, documenting their own travels and ordinary daily life in Panmunejom and its surrounds. They recorded their Swiss, Swedish and US army “adversaries”, both for professional reasons and out of simple curiosity. We find many photos of daily life on the American bases. They were also attracted to Korean daily life and a significant number show various local ceremonies such as marriages, or historical sites. Also popular were images of the hard work in the rice fields and the challenging life of women selling goods at the markets, both in North and South Korea. The impact of the Korean War was widely documented.
The photographic records document not only the DMZ and nearby Kaesong, but there are many others of Incheon, Busan, Daegu, Gangneung and Gunsan, as well as Manpo, Sinanju, Heungnam, Sinuiju, Cheongjin and occasionally Pyongyang were all captured. These usually date to 1953/4 when inspections of the main entry ports were routine. Unfortunately this unique window of opportunity to document such rarely photographed places was soon to close. In 1956 inspections were suspended.
These unique Korean photographs were sadly forgotten just as was Czechoslovak involvement with North Korea in the 1950s. The Communist Regime in Czechoslovakia classified the operations as a state secret and the images were never published. Usually they were seen only by a handful of family members and close friends; they remained effectively lost for much of the last half of the twentieth century. Only in 2008/09 were they unearthed through a project initiated and financed by the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Despite the intervening years, it managed to save more than 4000 black-&-white and colour photographs and slides, as well as diaries, documents and other memorabilia collected from 21 former NNSC members and support staff and even 8mm films.
This presentation will thus be mainly based on presenting these rare photographs from both South and North Korea and showing the unedited footage made by these Czechoslovaks. The presentation coincides with the exhibition of the best photographs which takes place at the Czech Centre Seoul (http://seoul.czechcentres.cz) from July 3 to September 2013 and the publicatioń of the book to be published by Seoul Museum of History at the end of July.
Alex Švamberk (b. 1961) - journalist, performer, composer and musician. He graduated at Czech machinery institute in 1985. Since then he has worked as a journalist, formerly in the biggest daily Mladá fronta, later in music magazines Rock & Pop and Uni and for the last decade in the biggest news web Novinky.cz. He usually covers culture, but he also sometimes covers foreign policy, following in the footsteps of his father, who was a part of the Czechoslovak NNSC in Korea.
As a composer and electronic musician, samplist and percussionist he recorded three CDs with famous Czech jazz piano player Emil Viklický (Last Connection From Nirasaki, 1995, Neuro, 1998 and Ante Futurum, 2004) with participation of Finnish trumpet player Jarmo Sermila and English bassoon player Lindsay Cooper, and one with American singer Laure Amat (1996). He has composed music for two theatre plays, Dostoyevski´s Crime and Punishment and Frayn´s Copenhagen. With his bands Paraneuro, Game and S/M+ he wrote and recorded four suites for Czech radio, three of them with his own lyrics.
He created numerous dance performances, mostly with live music, partly based on butoh dance which he studied in Japan in Min Tanaka´s Mai juku. In his last big performance for theatre Na Zábradlí he combined music, dance and spoken word. He also participated in two big project of the Wiener Akzionist Hermann Nitsch.
He wrote two book of interviews with leading British and American punk and hardcore musicians Nenech se zas oblbnout (Won't Get Fooled Again, 2006) and No Future! (2012).
Because of his interest of oral history and microhistory he started collecting documents and memories of people who served in NNSC, where his father served, too.