Note to readers: I am not North Korean. I’m not even South Korean. I’m Chinese. Cool? Okay cool.
A summary about the status quo of North Korea
North Korea is commonly believed to have the most oppressive dictatorship on the planet. If you question government legitimacy, you will be denied every basic right, and will either be sent to a prison camp or publicly executed. You are not allowed to leave the country without permission from the state.
These prison camps? They’ve been around for five times as long as Nazi camps and twice as long as Soviet camps. There are often no reasonable justifications for being sent to one of these camps; you might be sent simply because you are related to someone who committed a political crime.
The government has attempted to create an information blockade – no radios, no Internet access, no international calls. North Korea has been isolated from the rest of the world for decades.
The people are starving – the agricultural policies are sub par, the climate conditions are brutal, and food imports are limited. Malnutrition is a commonplace.
The refugee crisis
People leave North Korea for a myriad of reasons. They might be desperate for food, medicine, or money. They might hear from outsiders about the world that exists outside of North Korea – they might want to experience it for themselves. They will want to escape economic hardship, political and religious persecution, and the lack of basic, fundamental freedoms.
A scanty number of those who attempt to escape to China will actually make it. Over half of the women who succeed will become prostitutes. Those who get caught? Beatings, torture, prison camps, or execution. Take. Your. Pick.
Hope for the future?
A quote from the LiNK website that answers this question perfectly:
“North Korea is changing. Significant grassroots changes have been happening since the late 1990s, driven by the people themselves, and these developments and trends have the potential to lead, eventually, to a radically transformed and better North Korea.
However, there has not been enough focus on these changes happening at the people-level, and the issue of North Korea is not associated with dynamism or change. This is because, traditionally, the focus of the international community has been on the level of international politics and nuclear weapons.
If the world knew of the dynamism and resilience of the North Korean people in the face of extraordinary challenges, and could see that underneath this Cold War style stalemate, there is a far more interesting story of hope for change, we believe many more people would be motivated to help the North Korean people.”
What exactly is going on that we need to so badly encourage?
After a devastating famine, the North Korean people established illegal markets to obtain food. These markets are primarily female-dominated, and the regime has failed to break up these illegal activities. Simply put, “the markets are here to stay.”
There’s also more communication with the outside world. These illegal markets have triggered food imports from China, a country that is significantly more democratized and liberated than North Korea. Through these activities, the citizens realize that neighboring countries are very, very much advanced.
Even if trade with China were to stop, a leap in access to outside information has truly impacted the mentality of the North Korean people. We’ve got phones, TV’s, radios, and foreign media to help them learn about the reality of the outside world.
“All signs are that this ‘education in reality’ will only continue, and will further empower the North Korean people to push for the change they want inside the country.”
That means that the people are growing increasingly suspicious of the government. No longer are they completely oblivious and brainwashed about reality; there has been less tattletaling on people who are questioning regime legitimacy.
“Ultimately this could result in the emergence of a growing civil space for the people, who are breaking off from the state not just at an individual level but increasingly at a community level.”
And like all social movements, no matter where they originate, the driving force behind this sort of progressive change is young people. I’m talking, people in their 20s and 30s, who have not yet accepted the traditional ideologies of the past, who have not yet condoned the omniscient supremacy. These are the people who will be the make-or-break factors in the push for change.
We don’t want your pity
I don’t want you (the reader) to fall prey to compassion fatigue. I know that we see desolate pictures of North Koreans suffering very often. At first, it seems like something to pity, something that you, as an ethical human being, should do something about. But then you see pictures of starving African children, and then women in the Middle East who have been raped, as well as homeless children in upstate New York, and then you hesitate to take action. The media constantly bombards us with images that attempt to call us to action, to make a change, raise awareness, or donate money to some cause. The result of this is compassion fatigue, when we can no longer put up with all these ethical obligations. Only then do funny memes get created and the idea which originally was intended to arouse guilt and compassion starts to mock the subject of the photos, which backfires on the point of these images.
I don’t intend this to happen with this post. The point of my writing about this is not to evoke pity in you. It is to shed light on the flawed lens through which we have been observing North Korea as a regime, a country, a military power, a nation led by a “madman,” and as a group of individuals – citizens that are starting to squirm under the oppression of a tyrannical ruler. We shouldn’t just realize the difference and feel bad about their unfortunate situation. Rather, we should raise awareness. Some sort of revolution/governmental overthrow might happen, and the success of such a movement largely depends on the support that the North Korean citizens could potentially receive from the outside world. We need to know about the humans rights crisis. We need to something about it. But this post is just the first of many others, to shed light on the inequality in North Korea, and to demonstrate how we might do something about it. This first post was just to illustrate what exactly is happening right now.
(quotes are from the LiNK website, linked above)
When I was in ninth grade, the debate topic was military withdrawal from certain countries, one of which was South Korea. A large portion of the debate community advocated for the withdrawal of our troops because of we didn’t, Korean provocations would escalate and North Korea would eventually use its nuclear weapons against the US and South Korea, and a global extinction would occur. Raise your hand if you advocated this?
In this day and age, this might seem like a reality. You’ve probably read multiple news articles (or skimmed the headlines) about how North Korea is flexing its nuclear muscles, trying to look threatening by carrying out nuclear tests. You’ve read about the irrationality of Kim Jong Un and his predecessor, and how this nonsensicalness is eventually going to lead them to launch nuclear weapons at the United States. Some assert that these claims are merely empty rhetoric. What do we believe?
Have you read about the brainwashing and corruption that exists within the borders? The government propaganda allows the citizens to believe that their dictator is their god, and that the places outside of North Korea are much worse.
I’ve changed my perspective on North Korea. In ninth grade, I generalized everyone within North Korea’s borders into a group of people that were absolutely crazy, irrational, and threatening. But that’s not true. There have been a substantial (while still relatively small) amount of people that have escaped from North Korea, come abroad to places like China or the United States. Some of these refugees have even created documentaries to portray the life that they lived. They are all not the same; we are all humans. It’s taken me a bunch of years a lots of news reading to understand this.