Posted : 2013-07-26 18:12
Updated : 2013-07-26 18:12

Images shed light on work of Czechoslovakia

This undated photo shows a North Korean soldier outside his guard post in the Joint Security Area. Frantisek Mynarik was a radio operator.

This joint project by The Korea Times and the Czech Embassy in Seoul presents exclusive photos taken by the Czechoslovak members of the Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission between 1953 and 1956. ㅡ ED.

By Jaroslav Olsa, Jr.

Jaroslav Olsa, Jr.
Ambassador of Czech Republic to Korea
In January 1993 Czech delegation to Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission (NNSC) in Pamunjeom was told by North Korean authorities to leave their camp as soon as possible.

It was a result of a changed situation as - after the fall of the communist bloc in 1989 - Czechoslovakia became democratic country, established the diplomatic relations with South Korea. It was aiming for membership of U.S.-led NATO and European Union ­ㅡ it achieved it in 1999 and 2004.

Though the Czech Republic´s NNSC membership was ㅡ after a peaceful split of Czechoslovakia ㅡ approved by its members, the Czech NNSC delegation was pushed to leave Panmunjeom on Apríl 3, 1993, ending presence of Czechs and Slovaks at NNSC after four decades.
A North Korean prisoner of war, center, is carried by two Chinese soldiers at Panmunjeom. This undated photo was taken by a radio operator Frantisek Mynarik.

The Czechoslovak involvement with NNSC started in different geopolitical setting. The Communists supported by Moscow succesfully staged a bloodless coup in February 1948 which made Czechoslovakia one of the most hardline communist countries in the 1950s. When the Korean War erupted, Czechoslovakia – the most developed of all communist bloc countries – became the North Korea´s biggest donor after Soviet Union and China, and also a political ally to fraternal North Korean regime. NNRC and NNSC membership was one of Czechoslovak gestures of such a support.

In 1952, a classified Operation B (Akce B) was launched by the Czechoslovak Ministry of Defence, and a secret army unit codenamed "9999" was established to prepare the team for Korea.
Swedish and Polish members of the Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission monitor a vehicle filled with the Chinese People's Volunteer Army about to be deported to China in Shineuiju on Jan. 18, 1956. Photographer Frantisek Mynarik was a radio operator.

On July 22, 1953, roughly 270 Czechs and Slovaks, 73 Tatra army trucks, 25 Jawa motorcycles, four Tatraplan VIP limousins, three passenger buses, two ambulance vehicles (all made in Czechoslovakia) and 25 U.S.-made jeeps left Prague for Panmunjeom by rail.

What they found in the beginning was nothing more than a tented camp not suitable for long deployment over harsh winter, no infrastructure and limited food and water supplies.
This undated photo shows the Czechoslovak flag waving at the Czechoslovak camp in Manpo in the North, which was one of the five checkpoints to which the NNSC members traveled to monitor the post-war procedure. Photographer Jaromir Svamberk was an interpreter.

The Czech and the Slovak as well as their fellow Poles wanted to take care of supply services and communications themselves instead of relying on erratic support from the North, and that meant a big contingent with 300 people. The Swedes were only 75 and Swiss less than 100 (both countries supported by the more reliable U.S. forces).

There was a long tradition of amateur photography in Czechoslovakia and many Czechs brought with them to Korea their own quality cameras.

Thanks to this, wide-range unofficial visual documentation of these early days of NNSC and life in DMZ, Gaesong and its vicinities, which they regularly visited, was made. Some were skilled and avid photographers.
The Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission meeting takes place at Panmunjeom with all the delegates from the four countries in attendance. This photo taken in 1953 was made by Mecislav Jablonsky, a Czechoslovak diplomat.

They have, indeed, documented their own travels and ordinary daily life in Panmunejom and around. They were interested taking photos of their "adversaries" ㅡ Swiss and Swedes, and the US army. They were also attracted to daily life of ordináty Koreans, thus a significant portion of photos show various ceremonies as all of them had personally witnessed the destruction of Czechoslovakia and neighboring countries during the World War II.

The photographs were to be forgotten as the whole Czechoslovak involvement with North Korea was a sort of state secret for the whole period of the communist regime in Czechoslovakia.

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