The first annual conference of global dis:connect, entitled Dis:connectivity in processes of globalisation: theories, methodologies and explorations, took place in Munich on 20-21 October. As the title indicated, the conference aimed to ground the vast field of research on global dis:connectivity by probing what theories and methodologies might be fruitful. The conference sought to start the discussion rather than to formulate definitive answers, laying the groundwork for further reflections on these issues over the coming years in conversation with our current and future fellows at the centre.
This international conference brought together different disciplines: historians, art historians, theatre scholars and others in conjunction with creative professionals from the arts, including architecture, design and theatre. The dialogue between theory and practice, each with its own distinctive approaches, induced productive friction. Artistic and philosophical approaches showed their potential to offer new modes of studying a phenomenon as complex as global dis:connectivity.
The conference featured three panels: interruptions, absences and detours. The presentations revealed how researching these modes of dis:connectivity can mean very different things. Such research can mean asking about tradition and modernity and their relation to globalisation; it meant looking at the interplay of nationalism and globalisation in societies marked by stringent national, ethnic and religious demarcations; it meant searching for connections and disconnections simultaneously in such bounded contexts such as the global interactions of the Cold War era. Many papers also looked at how individuals negotiate global connections and disconnections in their own personal biographies, revealing the affective attributions, emotions and ideological influences that make globalisation processes significant in the first place. Such research also entails recovering the agents and groups that were effaced by later hegemonic narratives. Some participants even sought to understand experiences of dis:connectivity beyond our conventional Western understandings of linear time and Euclidian space in ways that might enable more personalised modes of dealing with forced or trauma-induced immobility.
Dis:connectivity is an expansive research object and always threatens to elude us. The papers and unconventional presentations of this conference emphasised both the need to refine the term and the extent to which unconventional methodologies and theories allow us to approach dis:connectivity.
The complexity of globalisation processes that the conference sought to explore affect our present in dramatic ways. As was highlighted in the conference’s wrap-up, seeking to better understand this complexity can tangibly affect society.
The original announcement and the full programme of the conference can be found here. Continue Reading
Image 1: In lieu of the audience: the gaze of the touch-spectre
Our performance workshop started from the premise of ‘give and take’ in the global dynamics of social and economic exchange to investigate the notion of ‘dis:connect’ from a phenomenological perspective. By emphasising sensual touch in the encounter with personal objects, we sought to abstract from the visual and intellectual engagement that is often the focus of such transaction in other contexts. The debates on the restitution of art objects from the Global South to their countries of origin was also at the back of our minds, yet we did not want to make this our direct and obvious starting point. Rather, we sought to address some of those issues at a micro-level of interhuman exchange and communication.
Our shared interest in objects and hands also arose from a common background in yoga, meditation and somatic practice. We both wondered about how such practices affect communication and how we cope with the global intersections of contemporary crises, as the wider consequence of the many so-called darker sides of global modernity and racial colonial capitalism.
Our initial conversations started over socially distanced walks and coffees in the Englischer Garten. Susanne Schütte-Steinig soon showed me a sketch of two wooden boxes facing each other closely resembling a basic puppet theatre. Except that in this case, the puppeteers use their own hands only, whilst their bodies are held in upright stillness, resting their chin on a soft foam pad, legs shoulder-width apart in a relaxed posture, with their pubic bone just underneath the open window facing their partner on the opposite side (Image 1, 2 and 4).
Image 2: The somatic “box set”
That sketch ended up depicting the position held by our workshop participants for several heartbeats a couple of months later, half-way through my research fellowship. And whilst each participant centred their hands on their chest, focusing their attention inwards before offering their object for exchange, I wondered about the shadows of globalisation in that empty space (Image 4).
Part one: interviews at global dis:connect
Image 3: A sprocket cassette from Taiwan
Interviews are a common method in various types of research, including oral histories, anthropology and history. They are also a common feature of the TV and social-media world, and many of us will have sweated through an interview as the final hurdle to getting their dream job. However, our artistic workshop was not particularly interested in any of these interview techniques and formats. Rather, the focus was to be solely directed towards the object itself, as well as the gestures of the hands holding it.
The objects were therefore initially chosen by each participant with the following instruction:
Bring a personal object related to your current research project, either an archival source or an everyday tool, that is indispensable to the way you work at your best.
Later in the artistic process, this instruction was modified to say that the object would have to be three dimensional and fit between two hands and no larger than a laptop screen, for the practical reason that it had to fit through the window set-up as well, as we became more and more interested in the idea of being able to hold something of personal value in your actual hands from both a kinetic and felt-energetic perspective. Some of the interview questions arose from my academic research on the Jungian notion of the shadow to investigate the darker aspects of globalisation, as those repressed parts of the Western European psyche run havoc in the present shaping of contemporary crises, from the resurfacing of unaddressed systemic racism to the extraction of resources and climate change. The aim of the interview was thus to interrogate the extent to which Europe itself, and perhaps academia and academics more than others, must question many commonplace Enlightenment values and liberties, which have historically been built on the exclusion and exploitation of human and non-human ‘sources of life’ from the Global South.
Susanne’s artwork, on the other hand, addresses some of these questions through her practice in dance and architecture to investigate the in-between space of encounter through the performative engagement with objects she designs and choreographs as set spatial scores and actions. Through dance and body work, we each had a point of reference that connected us throughout the initial conversations on the theme of ‘give and take’ that led to the following set of interview questions for the workshop participants:
Why did you become a historian (researcher)?
Why did you choose to bring this object?
What is your fondest memory of visiting an archive?
What is your relationship to the European Enlightenment?
Did you ever experience theft, steal something or was something stolen from you?
The interviews were planned so as to meet our participants in our everyday work surroundings at the global dis:connect offices and to introduce the object as a personal object closely tied to both the researcher’s sense of self as well as their profession and research.
As a researcher at global dis:connect, I was very aware of the risks this workshop was asking my colleagues to take. A professional habitus is hard to acquire, difficult to shed and marks so much of our market value as humanities researchers in the contemporary world. Therefore, we were careful to create an open situation of mutual trust that would make it very difficult for the researcher to automatically fall into their default academic habitus of presenting themselves through an elaborate talk or paper, but rather to give us an impromptu and spontaneous response of no more than three to four unprepared sentences.
Such initial thoughts and associations, as a matter of fact, enabled an open encounter with the participants’ objects as a form of disconnect rather than a carefully crafted argument that would usually have to be closed to persuade. It was thus that I hoped to get hold of the shadow aspects entailed in this form of presentation. On the day of the interviews, we had four participants from global dis:connect share their objects and responses, whilst the camera captured the ‘handling of the object’ in a posture of care no wider than the camera frame between lap and top and the gestures one makes in this sacred space between the pelvis (lap) and the heart (top).
Part two: the Yoga of talking hands
Hand on your heart, are you ready to give your object?
Disconnected from our everyday working environment, the invitation to Susanne’s Atelier in Munich’s Baumstraße offered the researchers an opportunity for a performative encounter with each other and our objects in a different setting. The day was sunny and two more members of global dis:connect were able to join us, as they had recovered from a Covid-19 infection the previous week. In their cases, we had no accompanying interview to go with but only their yoga of hands.
Not unlike the European Enlightenment, yoga practice has also journeyed across the globe into our living rooms and local gyms. Yet, as a practice it predates the European Enlightenment by centuries and perhaps is the more sophisticated for it. Although many people around the world practice yoga and meditation these days, there is still a tendency to consider these spiritual and physical activities separate – as separate as is the body from the mind, even now, for some of us brought up in a false sense of neutral objectivity grounded in notions of Enlightenment philosophy and the split that was supposedly created there.
In this second part of the workshop, it was our chance to break with the Enlightenment conventions of European research and bring these disconnected spheres of research and artistic practice together. With the help of the artist’s skill to re-connect the disconnected through her theatrical set-up, we hoped to shed some light on the shadow aspects of global exchange practices in other realms.
And as each participant entered Susanne’s installation, they found themselves no longer able to hide behind elaborate words or even in a photographic representation of themselves as in aesthetic realism, because all but their hands touching was withheld from their own view. In this vulnerable moment, the hands started talking their own language, as they were led by the energy of the individual heartbeat.
The Yoga of Hands and the Space In-Between
The wounded researcher
A week after the workshop, I listened again to the interviews in search of the shadows of our hidden thoughts, those truths we so often do not dare to speak. This is to say that in each of our thoughts there is always a disconnect from all that is not thought in that moment so that an in-between space marks this shadow area that is always also at work in thought processes. As Merleau-Ponty continues to explain this idea in an essay called The Philosopher and his Shadow:
Just as the perceived world endures only through the reflections, shadows, levels, and horizons between things (which are not things and are not nothing, but on the contrary mark out by themselves the fields of possible variation in the same thing and the same world), so the works and thoughts of a philosopher are also made of certain articulations between things said.
These ‘certain articulations between things said’ are now captured in the yoga of hands and the silent negotiation that takes place in the in-between encounter of Susanne’s edited film of this performative installation in two parts. Deprived of their elaborate wordings, the researchers in this project opened themselves to become vulnerable to the essence of touch. This in-between space holds, for me, the colon in the conceptual idea of the centre’s name: ‘Dis:connect’ then offers an opportunity to account for the shadow aspect of that absence, which is only made visible by all that is not seen much less explained, but merely felt in an instance of touch.
 There is no audience in the conventional sense, only the camera (alias ‘The Touch-Spectre’), which zooms in on the exchange of hands and the space in/between. No one claps, the beginning and end are decided by the two participants only and guided by Susanne’s movement instructions and action score.
 Achille Mbembe addresses this point in several of his works and the term ‘sources of life’ reflects on the energetic and creative essentials of living that have been sacrificed to the necropolitical project of Western colonial modernity whilst they remain a constant source also for the rebuilding of new African subjectivities.
 Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Signs (Chicago: Northwestern University Press, 1964), 160.
Bourdieu, Pierre. Outline of a Theory of Practice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977.
Hicks, Dan. The Brutish Museums. The Benin Bronzes, Colonial Violence and Cultural Restitution. London: Pluto Press, 2020.
Iyengar, B.K.S. Light on the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali. London: Thorsons, 1993.
Mauss, Marcel. The Gift. The Form and Reason for Exchange in Archaic Societies. London/New York: Routledge, 1990.
Mbembe, Achille. Critique of Black Reason. Durham: Duke University Press, 2017.
Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. Signs. Chicago: Northwestern University Press, 1964.
Mignolo, Walter. The Darker Side of Western Modernity. Global Futures, Decolonial Options. Durham: Duke University Press, 2011.
Priyamvada, Gopal. ‘On Decolonization and the University’. Textual Practice 35, no. 6 (2021): 873–99.
Romanyshyn, Roman. The Wounded Researcher. Research with Soul in Mind. London/New York: Routledge, 2013.
Savoy, Bénédicte. Africa’s Struggle for Its Art. History of a Postcolonial Defeat. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2022.
Schütte-Steinig, Susanne. Going to Paradise. München, 2022. www.sss333.de.
On 30 January 2020, Rodong Shinmun, the official newspaper of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK), reported that North Korea had adopted the national emergency anti-epidemic system due to the outbreak of Covid-19. Although North Korea did not officially confirm any Covid-19 cases until May 2022, Chad O’Carroll and James Fretwell wrote that commercial flights, train services—except for intermittent cargo deliveries—and shipping activity between North Korea and both China and Russia were heavily influenced by the pandemic. While North Korea is notorious for its isolation from international society, the pandemic caused North Korea to be eventually disconnected from neighbouring countries in the 2020s.
Although China and Russia have been the closest allies of North Korea since its independence from Japanese colonial rule in 1945, the Covid-19 outbreak was not the first time that North Korea has experienced disconnection from its patrons. In the 1960s, North Korea was more or less directly involved in the conflicts among socialist countries. One significant disconnection was the Sino-Soviet split, and the other was North Korea’s exit from the international . These disconnections induced severe political and economic ramifications for North Korea and Kim Il Sung (1912-94), but they also marked the beginning of a new connection between North Korea and African socialist countries, particularly Julius Nyerere’s Tanzania.
Julius Nyerere and Kim Il Sung congratulating the actors and actresses after watching a musical <Song of Paradise> in Mansudae Art Theater (Rodong Shinmun March 28, 1981), photograph by the author.
Why did North Korea establish a close connection with Tanzania in the 1960s? Among several explanations for this neglected connection, I focus on North Korea’s disconnections with its socialist allies as its primary historical background condition. Then, I describe the earlier phase of North Korean-Tanzanian relations to demonstrate how the two countries understood and perceived each other as post-colonial socialist partners.
Disconnections: rifts in the socialist world and North Korea
The Sino-Soviet split, which refers to the confrontation between the People’s Republic of China and the Soviet Union caused by different interpretations of Marxism-Leninism and disagreements on their methods of handling US imperialism, was one of the most prominent and influential disconnections in the socialist sphere during the Cold War. Their dispute not only reshaped the topography of the Cold War into a tri-polar one but also had repercussions for their socialist neighbours. According to Lorenz Lüthi, the alliance between the Soviet Union and China gradually collapsed from 1956 to 1966, mainly due to ideological disagreements, and their relations eventually improved in the late 1980s. This disconnection in the socialist world had repercussions for North Korea, which had often received financial and technical aid from its patrons after its independence and especially during the post-war reconstruction of the mid-1950s.
The alliance between the Soviet Union and China turned into a confrontation after Nikita Khrushchev’s ‘secret speech’ during the 20th congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in February 1956 that called for de-Stalinisation and ‘peaceful coexistence’ with the capitalist bloc. Even though scholars provide different explanations for North Korean-Soviet relations in the late 1950s, Tae Seob Lee argues that there were no major disputes between February 1956 and September 1961. Lee infers that the Soviets threatened to intervene between October and November 1961, based on Kim Il Sung’s emphasis of ‘rebirth through own efforts’ (Charyŏkkaengsaeng) in December, which was a reaction against the earlier attempt to intervene. Furthermore, Khrushchev’s pressure on North Korea and other socialist countries in Eastern Europe to join the CMEA and participate in the socialist division of labour eventually triggered North Korea to publicly denounce the Soviets as revisionists and imperialists in 1962. As a result, North Korea stagnated economically as a mere supplier of raw material. Park contends that Kim Il Sung could not renounce his principle to prioritise the development of heavy industry to light industry and agriculture which the Soviet Union had asked him to reconsider in the mid-1950s. Heavy industry had remained a North Korean priority since the end of the Korean War.
Along with the Soviet Union’s pressure on North Korea to join the socialist division of labour, the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962 inspired North Korea to reinforce independence and self-defence instead of relying on the superpower. North Korea’s decision to disconnect itself from the CMEA in 1962 led the country—at least in its foreign policy—to take a pro-Chinese stance. However, diminished aid from the Soviet Union led to a slowdown in economic growth, where Kim Il Sung admitted a de facto economic recession in the New Year’s address in 1965 and encouraged foreign trade and accept foreign technologies to overcome the crisis. As North Korea perceived dogmatism on the part of China, where Mao focused on enforcing the Cultural Revolution and not cooperating with the Soviet Union in supporting North Vietnam, Kim Il Sung emphasised national independence and self-reliance again while searching for alternative partners among socialist countries in Eastern Europe and the newly independent countries in Asia and Africa.
While North Korea gradually restored its relationship with the Soviet Union after the ouster of Khrushchev in October 1964, the idea of Juche (Chuch’e Sasang, often translated as self-reliance) became predominant in North Korea, since the regime tried to avoid further ramifications of the Sino-Soviet conflict. While the practical effect of the rhetoric of self-reliance is debatable, WPK newspapers and magazines repeatedly mentioned the significance of self-reliance. In 1965, Kim Il Sung vehemently insisted on Juche as a core principle of the state during his speech at the Ali Archam Academy: ‘… our Party has made every effort to establish Juche in opposition to dogmatism and flunkeyism towards great powers. Juche in ideology, independence in politics, self-support in the economy and self-reliance in national defence—this is the stand our Party has consistently adhered to’. This precept was also applied to diplomacy, where ‘independent diplomacy’ was declared official doctrine in 1966. For instance, the WPK published an article in the daily newspaper as well as the monthly magazine of the Central Committee, Embracing Independence, in 1966, pointing out the problems of the international communist movement, including the Soviet Union’s and China’s and interference in domestic affairs, which are imperialist stances.
Connections: searching for new partners
In order to realise independence in diplomacy, North Korea established diplomatic relations with newly decolonised countries in Asia and Africa to reduce its reliance on socialist allies and create an anti-imperialist connection. Its endeavour to establish a network with the ‘Third World’ had already begun in 1955, when it declared solidarity with the Bandung camp. For instance, the provisional Algerian government and Guinea were the earliest African states to establish diplomatic relations with North Korea in 1958. While some experts argue that North Korea did not have a sufficient economic resources or international status to create its own diplomatic network, its aid to Egypt during the Suez Crisis and to Congo-Brazzaville in the 1960s show that North Korea managed to enhance its influence over African countries during the Sino-Soviet confrontation. As the manifesto of Afro-Asian Networks Research Collective argues, connections among Asian and African countries in the 1950s and the 1960s were not only postcolonial diplomacy, but also ‘intensive social and cultural interaction across the decolonizing world’ that ‘navigated, ignored, and subverted’ the world order and power dynamics during the Cold War.
Following a goodwill mission led by Kim Thai Hai, North Korea and Tanzania established diplomatic relations in January 1965. Tanzania was one of the most significant socialist companions for North Korea due to the prominence of Julius Nyerere (1922-99, in office 1964-85) as the leader of African socialism. Moreover, Dar es Salaam was an opportune place to connect with the foreign press and a refuge for African liberation movements in exile, such as the South-West Africa People's Organization (SWAPO) and the Frente de Libertação de Moçambique (FRELIMO). Rather than merely promoting the personal cult of Kim Il Sung, Juche ideology and military aid, which were eventually used later, North Korea built proximity and familiarity with Tanzania by referring to the shared history of anti-colonial and anti-imperial struggle in the 1960s.
Julius Nyerere addressing a speech in front of a mass rally in Pyongyang (The Nationalist, June 27, 1968), photograph by the author.
For instance, references to anti-colonial and anti-imperial struggles were repeated in articles on Tanzania and Kim Il Sung’s speech when Tanzanian President Nyerere visited Pyeongyang in June 1968. The editorial of Rodong Shinmun on the day of Nyerere’s arrival in 1968 states that the peoples of North Korea and Tanzania were geographically distant, but they had both suffered from colonisation in the past and had a common denominator of struggle against imperialism and colonialism.Rodong Shinmun published a half-page article on the history of Tanzania, from European colonialism’s suppression to its nation-building process after its independence in 1961. It even mentioned the Maji Maji War as a prominent example of how Tanzanians fought against colonisers and emphasised that the anti-colonial struggle did not end in the 1960s, even after the independence of Tanganyika and Zanzibar, due to the permanent imperialist threat.
Nyerere, who gained prominence throughout the socialist world with the 1967 Arusha Declaration, also considered North Korea as a favourable partner in 1968. A memorandum from the Australian High Commission in Dar es Salaam that evaluated that Nyerere’s interest in North Korea noted his appreciation for North Korea’s achievements, and that he took North Korea as a model to inform the Arusha Declaration. Furthermore, Nyerere regarded North Korea and Tanzania relations as equals, without dominance, unlike the ‘implied inferiority’ of Tanzania in its relations with China. Following Nyerere’s visit to North Korea, the TANU Youth League invited North Korean experts to learn ‘the concept of a true social revolution’. This invitation suggests Tanzania’s positive understanding of North Korea as an ideological leader of socialism, as it was the first invitation of external experts to practice revolutionary ideas, according to the Nationalist. Nyerere also visited Pyongyang twice more in the 1980s before he stepped down, and Ali Hassan Mwinyi (in office 1985-95) succeeded in the presidency in 1985.
North Korea’s establishment of solidarity with Tanzania and other African countries in the 1960s was preceded by the two major disconnections, the Sino-Soviet split and North Korea’s withdrawal from the socialist division of labour, which caused crises in its economy and foreign relations. North Korean engagement with African countries, particularly Tanzania, was initiated to overcome the predicament in its foreign relations. In order to build proximity with these countries, North Korea referred to the history of anti-colonial struggle and continuing problems of imperialism. China also used the rhetoric of anti-imperialism in its competition with the Soviet Union to expand its network to include Tanzania and other ‘Third World’ countries. North Korea denounced the conflicts within the international communist movement—the Sino-Soviet split—to legitimise its independent path and differentiate itself from its socialist patrons.
According to the Modern History of Korea, published in 1979 by the Foreign Language Publishing House in Pyongyang, independence, the anti-imperialist stand and internationalism in foreign activities are three fundamental principles of North Korea’s foreign policy. Kim Il Sung argued that these principles were settled ‘since the first days of the founding’ of the country, but its reliance on the aid of socialist neighbours continued even after its disconnection from the socialist division of labour. Still, these principles helped North Korea explore connections with newly decolonised countries in Asia and Africa, where the rhetoric and shared memory of colonialism and imperialism could unite them with the underlying principle of independence, anti-imperialism and internationalism. Although Tanzania had little contact with North Korea before 1965, Julius Nyerere was attracted not only to North Korea’s post-war economic success, but also to the possibility of equal relations—compared to China—and the idea of anti-colonial and anti-imperial struggle. Even though North Korea’s self-identification as the global anti-imperialist leader might not be as persuasive in later years, its connection with Tanzania demonstrated how North Korea survived double disconnections in the socialist world by identifying new partners and asserting the principles of independence and self-reliance.
 ‘Sinhyŏngk’oronabirusŭgamyŏmjŭngŭl Ch’ŏljŏhi Makki Wihan Pisangdaech’aek Kanggu [Searching for Emergency Measures to Contain Coronavirus]’, Rodong Shinmun, 30 January 2020.
 Chad O’Carroll and James Fretwell, ‘Pyongyang Officially Claims No Infections within Its Territory, and Has Taken Strict Steps to Stave off an Outbreak’, NKPRO, 26 March 2020, https://www.nknews.org/pro/covid-19-in-north-korea-an-overview-of-the-current-situation/?t=1585236870435.
 Lorenz M. Lüthi, ‘The Sino-Soviet Split and Its Consequences’, in The Routledge Handbook of the Cold War, ed. Artemy Kalinovsky and Craig Daigle (London: Routledge, 2014), 75.
 Lüthi, 75, 84–85.
 Tae Seob Lee, Kimilssŏng Ridŏsip Yŏn’gu [Kim Il Sung Leadership Studies] (Seoul: Tŭllyŏk, 2001), 284; Sooryong Jo argues that de-Sovietisation in North Korea began in 1954 when the cabinet wrote the guidelines of the First Five-Year Plan (1957-61), and Kim Il Sung declared its de-Sovietisation in 1955 when the term ‘Juche’ was first used in public. See: Sooryong Jo, ‘Pukhanŭi Che1ch’a 5kaenyŏn Kyehoek(1957~61) Ch’oan’gwa t’alssoryŏnhwaŭi Kaesi [The Draft of the First Five-Year Plan (1957-61) and the Beginning of De-Sovietization in North Korea]’, Yoksa Hakbo, no. 249 (2021): 183–215.
 Lee, Kimilssŏng Ridŏsip Yŏn’gu [Kim Il Sung Leadership Studies], 284.
 Lee, 285–86.
 Ah Reum Park, ‘1962nyŏn Pukhanŭi “Sahoejuŭi Kukchebunŏp” It’al Punsŏk [Analysis of Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s Departure from the “International Socialist Division of Labor” in 1962]’, Critical Studies on Modern Korean History, no. 45 (2021): 457.
 Lee, Kimilssŏng Ridŏsip Yŏn’gu [Kim Il Sung Leadership Studies], 286.
 Lee, 299–301, 311.
 Bomi Kim, Kimilssŏnggwa Chungsobunjaeng: Pukhan Chajuoegyoŭi Kiwŏn’gwa Hyŏngsŏng (1953-1966) [Kim Il Sung and the Sino-Soviet Split—Origins and the Making of North Korea’s Self-Supporting Diplomacy (1953-1966)] (Seoul: Sŏgangdaehakkyoch’ulp’anbu, 2019), 427.
 Kim, 411.
 Il Sung Kim, ‘On Socialist Construction in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the South Korean Revolution, Lecture at the “Ali Archam” Academy of Social Sciences of Indonesia, April 14, 1965’, in Kim Il Sung Works 19 (Pyongyang: Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1984), 263.
 ‘Chajusŏngŭl Onghohaja [Embracing Independence]’, Kŭlloja, August 1966.
 Young-Sun Hong, Cold War Germany, the Third World, and the Global Humanitarian Regime (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2015), 63.
 Hong, 63.
 Kim, Kimilssŏnggwa Chungsobunjaeng: Pukhan Chajuoegyoŭi Kiwŏn’gwa Hyŏngsŏng (1953-1966) [Kim Il Sung and the Sino-Soviet Split—Origins and the Making of North Korea’s Self-Supporting Diplomacy (1953-1966)], 268.
 Hong, Cold War Germany, the Third World, and the Global Humanitarian Regime, 59.
 Afro-Asian Networks Research Collective, ‘Manifesto: Networks of Decolonization in Asia and Africa’, Radical History Review, no. 131 (2018): 176, 178.
 Owoeye Jidi, ‘The Metamorphosis of North Korea’s African Policy’, Asian Policy 31, no. 7 (1991): 636; ‘A1838’, 1 February 1965, 154/11/91, National Archives of Australia.
 Tycho van der Hoog, ‘On the Success and Failure of North Korean Development Aid in Africa Yonho Kim’, in NKEF Policy and Research Paper Series, ed. Yonho Kim (Washington: George Washington University, 2022), 33; For transnational characteristics and influence of Dar es Salaam in the 1960s, see: George Roberts, Revolutionary State-Making in Dar Es Salaam: African Liberation and the Global Cold War, 1961-1974 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2021).
 These elements appear in North Korea’s Africa policy in the late 1960s and the 1970s. Recent publication by Benjamin Young provides a historical overview of North Korea-Third World relations: Benjamin Young, Guns, Guerillas, and the Great Leader (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2021).
 ‘Ch’insŏnŭi Sajŏl, Kwijungan Sonnim [Envoy of Friendship, a Valuable Guest]’, Rodong Shinmun, 22 June 1968.
 ‘Panjejaribŭi Killo Naganŭn t’anjania [Tanzania towards the Route of Anti-Imperialism and Self-Reliance]’, Rodong Shinmun, 22 June 1968.
 ‘Tanzania: North Vietnam, South Vietnam, and North Korea’, 10 September 1968, A1838, 154/11/91, National Archives of Australia.
 ‘Koreans to Advise TYL on True Socialism’, Nationalist, 12 November 1968.
 Jeremy Friedman, Ripe for Revolution: Building Socialism in the Third World (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2022), 127.
 Han Gil Kim, Modern History of Korea (Foreign Languages Publishing House, n.d.), 576–77.
‘A1838’, 1 February 1965. 154/11/91. National Archives of Australia.
Afro-Asian Networks Research Collective. ‘Manifesto: Networks of Decolonization in Asia and Africa’. Radical History Review, no. 131 (2018): 176–78.
Kŭlloja. ‘Chajusŏngŭl Onghohaja [Embracing Independence]’, August 1966.
Rodong Shinmun. ‘Ch’insŏnŭi Sajŏl, Kwijungan Sonnim [Envoy of Friendship, a Valuable Guest]’, 22 June 1968.
Friedman, Jeremy. Ripe for Revolution: Building Socialism in the Third World. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2022.
Hong, Young-Sun. Cold War Germany, the Third World, and the Global Humanitarian Regime. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2015.
Hoog, Tycho van der. ‘On the Success and Failure of North Korean Development Aid in Africa Yonho Kim’. In NKEF Policy and Research Paper Series, edited by Yonho Kim, 31–42. Washington: George Washington University, 2022.
Jidi, Owoeye. ‘The Metamorphosis of North Korea’s African Policy’. Asian Policy 31, no. 7 (1991): 635.
Jo, Sooryong. ‘Pukhanŭi Che1ch’a 5kaenyŏn Kyehoek(1957~61) Ch’oan’gwa t’alssoryŏnhwaŭi Kaesi [The Draft of the First Five-Year Plan (1957-61) and the Beginning of De-Sovietization in North Korea]’. Yoksa Hakbo, no. 249 (2021): 183–215.
Kim, Bomi. Kimilssŏnggwa Chungsobunjaeng: Pukhan Chajuoegyoŭi Kiwŏn’gwa Hyŏngsŏng (1953-1966) [Kim Il Sung and the Sino-Soviet Split—Origins and the Making of North Korea’s Self-Supporting Diplomacy (1953-1966)]. Seoul: Sŏgangdaehakkyoch’ulp’anbu, 2019.
Kim, Han Gil. Modern History of Korea. Foreign Languages Publishing House, n.d.
Kim, Il Sung. ‘On Socialist Construction in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the South Korean Revolution, Lecture at the “Ali Archam” Academy of Social Sciences of Indonesia, April 14, 1965’. In Kim Il Sung Works 19. Pyongyang: Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1984.
Nationalist. ‘Koreans to Advise TYL on True Socialism’, 12 November 1968.
Lee, Tae Seob. Kimilssŏng Ridŏsip Yŏn’gu [Kim Il Sung Leadership Studies]. Seoul: Tŭllyŏk, 2001.
Lüthi, Lorenz M. ‘The Sino-Soviet Split and Its Consequences’. In The Routledge Handbook of the Cold War, edited by Artemy Kalinovsky and Craig Daigle, 75. London: Routledge, 2014.
O’Carroll, Chad, and James Fretwell. ‘Pyongyang Officially Claims No Infections within Its Territory, and Has Taken Strict Steps to Stave off an Outbreak’. NKPRO, 26 March 2020. https://www.nknews.org/pro/covid-19-in-north-korea-an-overview-of-the-current-situation/?t=1585236870435.
Rodong Shinmun. ‘Panjejaribŭi Killo Naganŭn t’anjania [Tanzania towards the Route of Anti-Imperialism and Self-Reliance]’, 22 June 1968.
Park, Ah Reum. ‘1962nyŏn Pukhanŭi “Sahoejuŭi Kukchebunŏp” It’al Punsŏk [Analysis of Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s Departure from the “International Socialist Division of Labor” in 1962]’. Critical Studies on Modern Korean History, no. 45 (2021).
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Stele commemorating Tran Van Ba in Liège (Image courtesy of the author)
On a springtime walk in one of the green parks in the Belgian city of Liège, I was astounded to discover a stele commemorating Vietnamese anti-communist Tran Van Ba. This memorial turned out to be the perfect embodiment of the aesthetics of Cold War omission. It piqued my curiosity. Liège, situated in the Meuse valley, is known as the former industrial backbone of Wallonia. What was a stele in memory Tran Van Ba doing here? Though I had originally planned to discover explore the industrial heritage of Liège and to visit the House of Metallurgy and Industry that day, I decided to go back to my hotel to learn more about Tran Van Ba instead.
On the way back to my hotel, I remembered the name Tran Van Ba as a whisper echoing from the chaos of French colonial archives in Aix-en-Provence. My small hotel room had a funky atmosphere, like a 1970s youth hostel. I turned my computer on. I felt like I was going to solve a mystery like Sherlock Holmes. Who was Tran Van Ba? Who had built this stele? Here Google would serve as Dr Watson, my loyal assistant.
Tran Van Ba was a major figure of the Cold War, to whom Reagan awarded the Medal of Liberty. My preliminary investigation revealed that many Vietnamese in exile saw Ban as a martyr of the struggle against communism. On 8 January 1985, roughly a decade after the end of the American war in Vietnam, Tran Van Ba (1945-1985) was executed for high treason in Thu Duc, a municipality close to Ho Chi Minh City. It was an ignominious end to a life deeply marked by the violent upheaval Vietnam witnessed throughout the twentieth century.
Here − in life and death − there is a strange symmetry. In 1966, Tran’s father, himself a prominent political figure with presidential ambitions, was assassinated in South Vietnam by the Viet Cong. Two decades earlier, in 1945, his uncle, the founder of the Vietnamese constitutional party, was shot by the Viet Minh. These symmetries condemned any possibility of moderation in a Vietnam torn between nationalism, communism and capitalism.
For North Vietnam, the fall of Saigon in April 1975 represented triumph in a decade-long war for national liberation against American imperialism. For Tran Van Ba, it was just the beginning of a new struggle that ended in Thu Duc, a struggle that persisted across three generations and permeated the lived experience of Tran Van Ba. It combined a series of disconnections − war, memory and diasporic battles over symbols of nationhood – and raged from Saigon to Paris, Bandung to the United Nations and from Little Saigon in California to Alt-Mariendorf in south Berlin. These disconnections resulted in the erection of the statue of Tran Van Ba in Liège.
In my small room, I decided to turn off my computer. I had to understand where the origins of these disconnections lay. I dived into the abyss. I thought about my scientific research on French colonial Indochina. Finally, I understood. These disconnections were dawning as French imperial sovereignty waned, when a sprawling empire, which dominated much of the Southeast Asian landmass and West Africa, disappeared in the aftermath of World War II. Decolonisation represented a disjuncture in Vietnamese history, symbolised by the death of Tran Van Ba’s uncle, Bui Quang Chieu (1973-1945), whom I had the chance to study during my doctoral research.
Bui Quang Chieu was a politician and a journalist in French Indochina. In 1917, he founded the journal La Tribune Indigène in Saigon. French Governor General Albert Sarraut supported him. Indeed, Bui Quang Chieu advocated the modernisation of Vietnam under French colonialisation, but the Vietnamese communist party did not accept his position. The Viet Minh considered him a collaborator. When Japan surrendered, the Viet Minh executed Bui Quang Chieu, his four sons and his daughter. Decolonisation entailed fratricidal struggle between the various Vietnamese nationalist movements.
France’s Afro-Asian empire did not evaporate into thin air. In the 1950s and 1960s, Vietnamese statesmen, commissions, committees and a bevy of soldiers and scoundrels descended on the waning French empire. They dissected, sorted and reorganised its parts into what we might call ‘ground zero’ for Cold War in Afro-Asia. It was unquestionably a foundational moment for a new post-imperial and international order.
On the turbulent frontiers of post-imperial Asia, the end of the First Indochina War between the Viet Minh and France was a messy process of redrawing collapsing boundaries. Populations displaced in wartime migrated. The new post-colonial states and societies were militarised in the Cold War. Diplomats from France, the Viet Minh, South Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, the Soviet Union, China, the USA and the UK sought agreement in Geneva from April to July 1954. The agreement they achieved temporarily separated Vietnam into two zones, a northern zone to be governed by the Viet Minh and a southern zone to be governed by the State of Vietnam, then headed by former emperor Bao Dai.
The disconnections at the end of the French colonial empire mentioned here had global impacts. They shaped not only the transformation of international relations in the Cold War; they also laid the ground for a transnational exiled network at the end of the American War in 1975.
It is at Bandung, Indonesia that the divisions between North and South Vietnam became glaring. The 1955 Bandung Conference is considered the birth of the Third World. As the Western empires slipped into crisis, anticolonial elites were fomenting a frenetic vision of how to reshape world affairs. For the Martinican poet Aimé Césaire, Bandung signified ‘to Europe that the time of the European empire was over’. The French sociologist Raymond Aron was more critical: Bandung, although Afro-Asian, was very similar to a typical meeting of Western intellectuals and diplomats. He noted the same disproportion ‘between the pretensions of the men and the insignificance of the unanimous motions’ and ‘the same invocation of principles (fundamental human rights) by those who despise or violate them’.
Neither Césaire nor Aaron saw Bandung as the birth of a divided nation − Vietnam. After nine years of war, North and South Vietnam were irreconcilable. Their delegations present at Bandung refused to meet. The Democratic Republic of Vietnam delegate Pham Van Dong addressed the conference by reiterating the commitment made in the 1954 Geneva Conference. The delegate of the State of Vietnam, Nguyen Van Thoai, cited the influx of North Vietnamese refugees in South Vietnam as the result of a ‘dictatorial regime’. The two delegations had contradictory views on politics and nationhood.
After Bandung, North and South Vietnam became two pawns on the global chessboard, taking on Korea’s role of the hot front of the Cold War. North Vietnam was supported by China and the Soviet Union, the South by the United States. With the Vietnam War from 1955 to 1975, the term ‘Vietnam’ came to signify the transformation of modern war. It became central to the global countercultural movement, and it suffused debates on war, torture, colonialism, technology and media.
In the midst of that war, new global networks were created, networks that would come to be meaningful after the fall of Saigon in 1975. Saigon, the capital of South Vietnam, became home of the monthly journal of the Asian Pacific League for Freedom and Democracy, The Free Front. This journal had a global audience in Australia, Japan, South Korea, France, Germany and the United States. From Paris, the former imperial metropole of French Indochina, Tran Van Ba led a student movement denouncing communism. In Western European cities, Vietnamese students demonstrated against communism and the American intervention in South Vietnam.
The United Nations became the diplomatic arena for North and South Vietnam. The two states both sought international recognition. In Europe and the United States, Vietnamese students appealed to the United Nations in their fight against communism. The Vietnamese Undersecretary Bui Diem attempted to secure UN support against North Vietnam. In October 1966, he visited the UN headquarters and met with UN Secretary General U Thant. However, his attempts and the students’ demonstrations were fruitless. Bui Diem, as South Vietnam's ambassador to the United States, desperately attempted to secure $722 million USD in military aid to defend South Vietnam against the North in 1975.
Yet, with the fall of Saigon on 30 April 1975, the state of South Vietnam was wiped from the map. Two years later, communist Vietnam was made an official member of the UN. Bui Diem became a refugee and university professor in the Unites States. For Tran Van Ba, the fall of Saigon was unacceptable. He decided to leave Paris, where he had studied political science, to engage in another, third war. His aim was to install an anti-communist government in Vietnam. In the process of deimperialisation, the disconnections in the Vietnamese nation became striking.
The disconnections in the history of Vietnam during the Cold War became visible in societies at the end of the Cold War. The fall of Saigon catalysed the mass exodus of Vietnamese ‘boat people’. Transnational exile networks grew throughout the worldwide diaspora. They built upon the pre-existing Vietnamese students’ and anti-communist networks that had emerged in Western Europe, the United States and Australia.
These disconnections transformed the political, social and visual landscapes of the cities where the boat people lived in exile. For them, the flag of South Vietnam became the symbol of freedom from North Vietnam. It consists of a yellow background, symbolising the Empire of Vietnam, with three red horizontal stripes through the middle, emblematic of the common blood running through North, Central, and South Vietnam. In Alt-Mariendorf in south Berlin, Hannover, Hamburg and Stuttgart, this flag is displayed during the Vietnamese communities’ gatherings to call for democracy in a unified Vietnam.
On 21 October 1990, in the United States, former soldiers and refugees from the former South Vietnamese regime founded the Provisional National Government of Vietnam, headquartered in Orange County and Little Saigon. Dao Minh Quan was elected as the president of the newly created ‘Third Republic of Vietnam’. US government staff gave speeches and expressed hope that the newly elected president would work closely with the USA. Yet, for many exiled Vietnamese, Dao Minh Quan did not have any political legitimacy. He was only interested in embezzling from the provisional government.
In Europe, Vietnamese diasporas are still fighting against the communist Vietnamese regime. They consider the current regime ‘authoritarian and corrupt’. They denounce human rights abuses in Vietnam. In parallel with this political struggle, the exiled Vietnamese communities are committed to building sites of memory. In Hamburg, Liège and Geneva, members of the Vietnamese diaspora have contacted municipal authorities to install steles commemorating the boat people.
The mayor of Paris first agreed to the installation of a plaque in memory of Tran Van Ba in the 13th arrondissement in 2008. The Vietnamese embassy protested to French authorities, who eventually renounced the plaque. In Liège, a statue honouring Tran Van Ba was erected on 30 June 2006. Local and Belgian national newspapers, such as Le Soir, La Libre Belgique and La Meuse published articles on Tran Van Ba as well as on the boat people at that time. Every year, on 8 January, the Vietnamese exiled community in Liège pays respect to Tran Van Ba, a ‘martyr of communism’.
The Vietnamese government considers these commemorations problematic. It listed the Provisional National Government of Vietnam as a terrorist organisation and condemns the efforts of the Vietnamese diaspora to overthrow the current regime. It is said that the Cold War ended with the fall of the Berlin Wall. In fact, it continues in the streets and the squares of Liège, Berlin, Paris, Orange County and Little Saigon.
In my small room in Liège, I was reflecting on my own investigations. To no one’s surprise, Google is a wonderful fount of information. I never regretted not visiting the House of Metallurgy and Industry in Liège and or skipping my exploration of its industrial heritage. I thought to myself how a series of disconnections resulted in the creation of a statue in a Belgian city, and how the complexities of global disconnections have transformed our societies.
 Statement at the meeting of 27 January 1956 organised by the Comité d'Action des intellectuels contre la poursuite de la guerre en Afrique du Nord.
 Raymond Aron, ‘Bandoeng: Conférence de l’équivoque’, Le Figaro, 27 April 1955, 1.
 ‘Konferentsiia Stran Azii i Afriki Zakonchila Svoiu Rabotu’, Pravda, 25 April 1955, 4.
 Interviews of members of the Vietnamese diaspora in Berlin in November 2021.
Aron, Raymond. ‘Bandoeng: Conférence de l’équivoque’. Le Figaro. 27 April 1955.
Pravda. ‘Konferentsiia Stran Azii i Afriki Zakonchila Svoiu Rabotu’. 25 April 1955.