Soviet Koreans: Redemption through Labour and Sport
Koreans in the Russian Far East were deported to Central Asia in 1937-38 as ‘potential fifth columnists, suspicious or as an ‘unreliable’ people. This article chronicles their struggles to resettle and establish new lives through labour and sport as a Soviet nationality. The article also covers the period of 1940-1979 and the role of football in Soviet life, as part of the ‘defence’ of the Soviet Union (oborona) and its role in Soviet Korean life. Life in the post Second World War era was clearly one where Russians were ‘primus inter pares’ among all Soviet nationalities. If there was a ‘first among equals’ then logically there should also be a ‘last among equals’ and that was typically the diaspora nationalities. This article establishes that the rise of Soviet sport was financed by the productivity of the working peoples of Central Asia in particular the Korean kolkhozes of Uzbekistan. However, even Soviet sport had its biases or preferences. Sport as a ‘habitus’ of society was and is influenced by each society’s views, hierarchies and socio-politics and yet, each society can be changed and influenced by ‘new agents’ wielding their particular habitus. After the Second World War, Koreans in Soviet sports were regarded as an ‘unknown quantity’ but typically being of a smaller and a shorter stature, they were not viewed as having as much ‘potential’ in competitive sports as that of Russians, Tatars, Ukrainians and others. Interviews and oral history provided the context of their struggle to establish that in regards to sports, Soviet Koreans were no worse than other nationalities. Through interviews, the first Korean pioneers in football such as Dmitrii An, Il He and Anton Yoon presented the challenges, setbacks and successes that they faced and overcame. In the end, Soviet Koreans proved that they were one among many ‘equals’ in regards to football and as ‘Soviet men’ who created ‘model kolkhozes’ throughout Central Asia.