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A Self Reflexivity Essay on North Korea

14 March 2014, 16:00

I am writing this article after doing much reading and research on the Hermit Kingdom known as North Korea. Before becoming completely obsessed with this topic, I had no idea of the real story behind North Korea, I just figured it to be another country. I knew the North and the South was divided but the idea of restrictions of freedoms between these two borders was too weird to fathom. The first time I became enlightened about the atrocities happening in North Korea was when I watched a video on VICE (I really recommend everybody reading this to subscribe to Vice on YouTube- it will blow your mind) the video showed a very brave journalist enter North Korea and secretly film what was happening there.

I’ll provide a brief background of North Korea and how it became known as the “Hermit Kingdom.” The division of North and South Korea stems from the end of World War II, after this war, Korea was split between the US and Russia. Russia sponsored communist-control North Korea and the US supported democratic South Korea. The divide formally known as the 38th parallel is currently known as the Demilitarized zone (the DMZ).  On June 25 1950, the Korean War occurred after North Korean troops invaded the South because of the failure to hold free elections. After the war ended, neither side could come up with a suitable agreement for coalition and the separation still exists today. The two Koreans are separated by the DMZ which is heavily guarded by the army both from the South and the North. North Korea has the 4th largest army in the world and is considered first priority in the North.

North Koreans (NK’s) from a very young age are taught a very different reality from you and I. “North Korea” as we know it are referred to as “The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.” I laugh as I type the word “Democratic” because there is nothing democratic about North Korea.

People are taught that Kim Il Sung (the eternal president) is God. Kim Ill Sung clung to the beliefs of communism and he ruled a dictatorship with an iron fist. This type of ruling was then passed down to his son, Kim Jong Il who passed away in 2011, now the leader is Kim Jong Un, son of Kim Jong Ill and grandson of Kim Il Sung, however, Kim Il Sung is still considered president. He will reign as the eternal president. There are over one hundred statues of this dude and it is mandatory to bow down before the statue and if you are taking a picture, be sure to get a picture of the ENTIRE statue. 

Believing in a religion is forbidden, being a Christian is forbidden, and carrying a bible could land you up in a prison camp. Kim Il Sung is God. End of story, no other God exists. NK’s are brainwashed into believing certain things. NK’s believe that their neighbouring South Korea is worst of than them. Bear in mind that NK is extremely poor. Majority of the people are starving and only 3 million out of the 25 million people are considered privileged and these people live in the capital Pyongyang. Another lie that is told is that Americans are imperialists and they are planning to invade NK. The Americans are considered as the enemy and are blamed for the hardships that NK faces. Hardships such as no electricity, no running water, shortage of food and job opportunities but remember according to a North Korean everywhere else in the world is worse off. NK’s have it good and why? Because of their “dear leader” Kim Ill Sung. The leaders are such a big deal there that if they appear in a newspaper, you cannot fold it or throw it away. Furthermore, every house, building or public facilities has pictures of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Ill on the walls. 

As a tourist, you are allowed to enter Pyongyang but you are shown only what they wish to show you. As a tourist, you are not allowed to wander off on your own, you have a tour guide, a secret police and a translator. You also only allowed taking pictures when you are instructed to.

NK’s are not allowed cellphones, they do not have access to the internet (the privileged few have access to a government controlled web forum) only top government officials have access to internet so that they can spy on the world. No international publications will see the light of day in NK, no international television will appear on TV’s however, citizens are permitted a radio or a propaganda radio which cannot be turned off, only the volume turned down. In essence, NK’s are completely isolated from the world, many do not know the world that exists outside of the borders and beyond that, it is strictly forbidden for anybody to leave North Korea, they are brainwashed into believing that this is the good life and leaving the North would be considered as betrayal. Although, there are people who know that a world exists outside of North Korea and beyond that, they know food exists outside of the borders, they equate freedom to food- most people in North Korea are starving aforementioned. Therefore these people escape, just to have a better life, just to have a meal but it is near impossible to escape North Korea.

Before I mentioned that NK has the 4th largest army in the world, well, it seems that this army acts as a police force, guarding the borders of the North. The neighbouring countries of NK are obviously the South and China. It is impossible to cross from the North to the South as it is the most demilitarized zone in the world, the sad part is South Korea offers immediate citizenship for North Korean defectors. That plan clearly won’t work, so the next option is to cross over to China. I’m not going to go into detail about the implications of crossing over to China, but it’s nowhere near easy. The Tumen River separates China from the North and is the entry way to escape however, this is heavily guarded and people usually cross over at night. China does not offer asylum to refugees and often defectors are sent back- which is the worst thing that could happen because the punishment for trying to escape NK is very severe. You will either be publicly executed by mortar or a firing squad or you will be sent to a prison camp for probably the rest of your life.

Prison camps in NK have been compared to those of the Nazi Holocaust. Anybody who goes against the regime would be sent to labour camps and not just you, you and 3 generations of your family. The 3 generation punishment is implemented in NK to ensure that nobody goes against the regime. People are born into labour camps and die there, not knowing any life besides that and not having any knowledge of a life outside of the barbed wire. Because of the fear of you and 3 generations of your family being sent to a labour camp, people are too afraid to escape and if you escape and leave your family behind, your family will go to the labour camps. I won’t go into detail of what happens in these labour camps, but I just made a comparison to the Nazi Holocaust so you can catch the drift.

Because North Korea does not accept foreign exchange and do not participate in international trade, the government outsources labour to the Russian government. Basically, the government sends its own people to Logging camps in Siberia, literally in the middle of nowhere, to work for little pay so that the North Korean government can receive a form of income- probably to support the army and the elite. It’s modern day slavery, these workers work for little pay and have no days off. If they try to escape, their family back home will be sent to labour camps or executed.

These are just some of the complexities behind North Korea and I may have only tapped into what is really happening but what I do know scares me and we as an international community need to stand up for these people ruled under a dictatorship. Kim Jong Un needs to be tried for his crimes against humanity. The purpose of this article was to inform and hopefully create a dialogue. Solutions need to be thought of, I encourage people to write a response to this article and share your thoughts. The people of North Korea cannot speak out, so let’s do it for them.

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