Take a trip to Pyongyang- capital city of North Korea. Throughout your stay, you will be guided by members of the military who take you to specific places, at specific times. On the surface, North Korea seems like a nice place to be. YouTuber Louis Cole shows this as he ventures through the country’s attractions, such as a water park, and restaurant filled with the vibrancy of traditional Korean dishes and dancing. In his video of ‘North Korea Day 1’, Louis admits that as a tourist, “It’s been quite an amazing experience...it’s slightly different than I thought actually, people are way more friendlier, smiley...”. Despite the amazing attractions that North Korea has to offer, it is questionable why tourism is so tightly controlled. What is it that the supreme leader Kim Jong-un has to hide? The answer is quite simple - reality.
Just like the restrictions of tourism, the 24 million people living in North Korea are contained within a bubble of nationalistic views towards the supreme leader; who is represented as godly, as his father was suggestively born beneath a double rainbow. These views are forced upon the people through education and propaganda. A shocking example of this is shown in Andrei Lankov’s book ‘The Real North Korea’ (2015) in which he unexpectedly expresses that 20% of the questions in North Korean maths textbooks are directed towards the “American imperial bastards”, which calculate “how many bastards did they kill all together?”. As shown, Kim Jong-un aims to manipulate those from a young age into believing that the countries beyond North Korea are enemies, or sufferers. This aims to make the North Korean people believe that the best way of life exists within their nation, and there is no other option. Anyone who tries to leave the country, or speaks of an alternative viewpoint to the respected beliefs is sent to a prison camp, or publicly executed in front of their friends and family.
In summary, a typical day of a tourist completely contrasts to that of a general citizen. A North Korean person wakes up everyday to blaring megaphones which scream positivity regarding their supreme leader. Some then go to work at struggling farms, which the Guardian (2012) suggests to be the major cause of malnourishment in a third of North Korean children. However, the Global Firepower ™ suggests that over half of the population are part of the North Korean army which aims to spread fear in its military parades. Regardless of their position in society, all people then return home to be met by an inminban official. Andrei Lankov explains that these officials have control over every movement of residents in a specific area. Undertaking surveillance, making sure there is no foreign contraband, and reporting any suspicious behaviour. Consequently, this puts each North Korean at a position in the songbun caste system- a record of who is a ‘loyal’, ‘wavering’ or ‘hostile’ citizen. This position is usually dependent on how your previous male ancestors behaved in the 1940’s-1950’s. The most ‘loyal’ citizens are usually those which are exposed to foreign tourists. This is because the government knows they will show North Korea in a positive light.
It is therefore quite obvious that a suffocating political system exists in North Korea today. Some commit to their current lifestyle due to the convincing propaganda, and some commit to being ‘loyal’ out of fear. Other citizens believe they need to escape for a better life, but this is an extremely difficult task to achieve.
Escaping through the demilitarised zone (DMZ) between North and South Korea is impossible. It is said to be approximately 150 miles long (History.com) and is the most heavily guarded DMZ worldwide which presents the threat of mines, electrocution and gunfire. Travelling by a boat in the Yellow Sea to South Korea is also unreliable. As suggested by Kent Bento (2017), there is a risk of storms, in addition to being captured through the North Korean naval control. Alternatively, a North Korean could take the northern escape to China, through either the Tumen or Yalu river. This is guarded too, but it is a more popular route for escapists. Unfortunately, even if they reach China, North Koreans are still not safe. China is an ally of the North Korean government - so any escapists are instantly seen as criminals. These intruders are then sent back to North Korea to be severely tortured. Or, once China is reached, North Koreans may be captured by Chinese traffickers who sell them as slaves or prostitutes. This is why we need Liberty North Korea.
Liberty North Korea is a non-profit organisation working alongside North Korean refugees helping them escape through a 3,000 mile secret rescue route which extends from North Korea into south-east Asia. The North Korean refugees travel by car, boat, and foot to reach their goal of freedom, as safely and quickly as possible. So far, Liberty North Korea has rescued 618 refugees from the political oppression they have faced. This is an amazing achievement, but they are still in need of more resources and funding to continue to make progress.
Therefore, I strongly encourage you to help fundraise for such a worthy cause. Perhaps, hold a bake sale, sell out a concert, or even start an art exhibition. Raise the figures of those refugees who manage to reach safety and enjoy greater freedoms.
For more information, go to:
1. Global Firepower (GFP TM) (2017) 2017 North Korea Military Strength, Available at: http://www.globalfirepower.com/country-military-strength-detail.asp?country_id=North-Korea (Accessed: 24/04/2017).
2. Tania Branigan, The Guardian (2012) North Korean farmers may be able to keep more crops after reforms , Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2012/sep/24/north-korea-farming-reform-kim-jong-un (Accessed: 24/04/2017).
3. John O'Nolan (2011) The Most Heavily Guarded Border in The World: The Korean Demilitarised Zone, Available at: https://john.onolan.org/the-korean-demilitarised-zone/ (Accessed: 24/04/2017).
4.History.com, HISTORY (2017) Demilitarised Zone, Available at: http://www.history.com/topics/demilitarized-zone (Accessed: 24/04/2017).
5. Kento Bento (2017) How Would You Escape North Korea? (The 7 Choices) , Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6A0ZOkMDLw0 (Accessed: 24/04/2017).
6. Liberty in North Korea (2016) #AllForOne - North Korean Refugee Rescues , Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eJNbH6tR3qU (Accessed: 24/04/2017).
7.Andrei Lankov (2015) The Real North Korea: Life and politics in the failed Stalinist utopia, Oxford University Press
8. FunforLouis, Louis Cole (2016) I'M ACTUALLY VLOGGING THIS! - North Korea Day 1 , Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VmCpTzA6SKc (Accessed: 24/04/2017).
9. FunforLouis, Louis Cole (2016) WATER PARK INJURY! - North Korea Day 2 , Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fmE_MgWG4j0&t=788s (Accessed: 24/04/2017).