Thursday, November 29, 2012

Reflections on North Korea

Reflections on North Korea
I thank my friend James Nichols, a university student from Idado, for demanding that I get involved in the North Korean freedom struggle and for strategizing with me about practical ways to help North Korean defectors.  Last night I was driven almost to tears while listening to the heart-rending story of Shin Dong-Hyuk, an incredibly brave North Korean defector who was born in a North Korean death camp for political prisoners.  Mr. Shin was forced to witness the murder of his mother and brother in front of his eyes.  He said that he first heard stories of the outside world from prisoners who had once lived outside the walls of the prison camp.  He recounted the horror of starvation in the North Korean gulag in excruciating and painful detail.  He was also the first person ever born in a North Korean death camp to escape successfully from North Korea.  Mr. Shin said that his goal in gaining his freedom was very basic: the desire for a decent meal.  He added that he is still struggling to understand the meaning of love and freedom.

As an American Jew, I am utterly sickened not only by the genocide that the North Koreans are being subjected to but by the indifference of the South Korean people toward the horrific suffering of their brothers and sisters.  Sadly, in the 1930’s and 1940’s, prior generations of American Jews did nothing to help rescue their European Jewish brothers and sisters who were murdered in the Nazi death camps.  To this day, American Jews are forced to live with enormous feelings of regret and sorrow because they failed to do anything substantial to stop the genocide of their Jewish family in Europe.
Mr. Shin said that he finds it hard to do human rights activism for North Korea in South Korea.  He said,”The National Assembly of South Korea, I must say they show absolutely no desire or interest” to address the human rights situation in North Korea.  He believes there is no possibility of conducting effective human advocacy for North Korea in South Korean society.  My response to this reality is simple.  On the day when North Korea gains its freedom, South Korea will be forced to live with enormous guilt for refusing to lift a finger to rescue their North Korean brothers and sisters.  If South Korea wants to avoid suffering from this unnecessary guilt, they need to start taking concrete action to save the lives of their North Korean brothers and sisters.

Mr. Shin also reported his sadness about the fact that many people are unaffected by human cruelty to other humans.  60 years ago, the world chose to do nothing in response to the Holocaust.  Today, the world is doing nothing to stop genocide in North Korea, Darfur and Tibet and attempted genocide in Syria and Chechnya.  So sadly nothing has changed.  And thus he is right that this genocide didn’t stop and is still going on.  He added,”If we don’t do anything, it will continue.”  He said that just as the world refused to bomb the Nazi death camps, today they refuse to take any effort to stop the horrors of the North Korean death camps which are now documented with satellite imagery. 

I agree with Mr. Shin’s assessment that Western tourists to North Korea are propping up the illegal regime in North Korea.  He is right that the North Korean dictatorship raises hard currency from ‘tourists.’  He adds,”This is my personal opinion – Any money goes directly into the coffers of the regime and supports only the regime.”   When the genocidal Saddam regime was in power in Iraq, his Western sympathizers traveled to Iraq to show their support for his regime and to donate their funds to his regime.   Today Western sympathizers are visiting North Korea in order to provide financial and practical support to this immoral regime.

My analysis is that the North Korean regime is undergoing a slow process of internal collapse.  I believe this collapse will not happen immediately and may take at least 5-10 years and possibly up to 20 years. One major factor which undermines this regime is that modern technology is opening up vast amounts of information about South Korea and the outside world to the North Korean people. A 2005 study of 330 defectors by the North Korean Human Rights Database Center showed that 18% of participants had listened to at least one foreign radio station once, and 5% had listened every day to a foreign radio station. 
If extrapolated to the North Korean population as a whole, the numbers indicate that 4 million North Koreans have listened to a foreign radio station at least once, and 1 million North Koreans may be listening to foreign radio station every day. Even considering the likelihood that North Korean defectors are more likely to listen to foreign radio stations than the overall North Korean population, the numbers still indicate that significant numbers of North Koreans are now receiving regular information from foreign radio stations.   In addition, the percentage of defectors who have ever listened to foreign radio stations has increased from 25 to 30% in the late 2000’s to 38% around 2009 to 2010. 

At least four major opposition radio stations broadcast into North Korea.  Open North Korean radio broadcasts 2 hours of daily programming, up from 1 hour in December, 2006. The Free North Korea radio station is composed of defectors and has increased daily broadcasting from 30 minutes in December, 2005, to 1 hour in April, 2006, and to 5 hours in March, 2009.  Radio Free Chosun is run by both South Korean activists and North Korean defectors and has raised daily broadcasting from 30 minutes daily in December, 2005, to 3 hours today.  North Korean Reform Radio is aimed at the North Korean elites, includes programs by North Korean defectors, and offers 1 hour of daily short-wave programming.

Broadcasting into North Korea helps accomplish at least 3 major objectives.  First, it offers accurate news about the outside world to North Korea which counteracts and challenges the North Korean regime’s lies and propaganda.  This information allows North Koreans to understand the truth about South Korea’s vibrant capitalist democracy and to evaluate developments in the outside world. Second, it informs the North Korean people about the true nature of the North Korean regime and helps them to better understand their own situation.  Third, it can open up North Koreans to the possibility of imagining a better future for their own country. 
A defector using the pseudonym of Kim Dae Sung offers a moving account of the impact of listening to foreign radio upon his life. “Kim Dae Sung says that although he was nervous about listening to the radio illegally, he also looked forward every night to being able to hear news of the outside world. He also says he began to realize that everything he was taught was a lie and decided to escape.” Mr. Kim was so inspired by his experience of listening to foreign radio while living in North Korea that he is now broadcasting into North Korea on the Free North Korea radio station.  Mr. Kim aims to spread the message of freedom to his fellow North Koreans through his broadcasting.  Westerners need to remember that listening to foreign radio stations is illegal in North Korea and is potentially punishable by death; thus, North Koreans are bravely risking their lives on a daily basis by the simple act of tuning into foreign radio.

The presence of some 15,000 North Korean defectors in South Korea represents a very powerful link between North Korean democrats living in the free world and those millions of North Koreans who remain trapped in a state of captivity and terror under a genocidal regime. These defectors include 600 highly educated individuals with college degrees and professional work experience.   100 intellectual defectors, led by Professor Kim Heung Gwang, are organizing North Korean Intellectual Defectors.  Mr. Kim worked as a college professor in computer operations in North Korea from 1993 to 2003 before escaping North Korea in 2003.  He is a computer science professor at Kyonggi University and a researcher at the Institute of North Korean Studies.  He said,” I feel that there is the need to work together with other defectors for common information, efforts and goals. I feel the sense of duty to actively participate in the task to spread the reality of the situation in North Korea.”
In addition, news reports indicate signs of increasing resistance against the regime inside North Korea.  In 1989, university students in Pyongyang distributed leaflets criticizing the regime. Many daring acts of defiance against the regime have occurred in North Hamkyung Province, which is a poor area that has been hard-hit by North Korea’s perennial famines.  In 1996, many high-ranking officials in this province were implicated in a coup attempt against the regime.  The organizers included battalion commanders, the provincial chief secretary, and even vice directors of the National Security Agency.  40 participants were murdered and 300 others severely punished.  The coup collapsed because the North Korean regime, like many other totalitarian regimes, operates a tri-lateral system of control over the military in which political committees, military commanders, and secret police agents cross-check each other.  Yet the simple fact that this coup occurred at all indicates that the spark of freedom remains alive in the hearts and minds of even high-ranking North Korean officials.

 One report from 2005 indicated that 10 to 30 anti-regime groups are active in three provinces along the Sino-Korean border: Hamkyung, Yangkang, and Jagang. These groups started to emerge after the death of regime founder Kim Il Sung in 1994. In late 2004, an incredibly brave group of young people risked their lives to distribute a flyer on behalf of the Young People’s League for Freedom.  The contents of this amazing flyer are available below.
According to the DailyNK, the secretary general of the Citizen's Coalition for Human Rights of Abductees and North Korean Refugees from China, Do Hee Yoon, personally obtained a video in December, 2004, which proves the existence of anti-regime groups inside North Korea.  The video shows members of the youth opposition group distributing their flyer to 1.17 Factory of Hoiryeong province and to the entrance of Daeduk-ri town of North Hamkyung province. The banner posted in the factory included the statement, "Defeat Kim Jong Il. Let everyone stand up to throw out the dictator regime." Kim Hee Sung, pseudonym of a defector who worked in this exact factory, verified the location of the factory where the banner was

 A brave man in his 30’s from the province read out a declaration appealing to the North Korean people to overthrow the regime and seeking Western support for their struggle.  He said,”Who are you, Kim Jong Il? You are a dictator. The people will not forgive you and will throw you out of the regime. We demand freedom and democracy…. Refusing to work at a factory that does not provide neither food nor any compensation is justifiable…"We hope the U.S. and other countries send us support and empathy without hesitation for our 'Young People's League for Freedom' that will expand the fight to end the Kim Jong Il dictator regime throughout the world."

I am moved and inspired beyond words by the moral courage of the North Koreans who posted this flyer and video calling for regime change and seeking outside support for their revolt against the regime.  These people risked their lives and I pray for their safety.  In addition, if this group can be properly identified and verified with the help of North Korean defectors, then the West should immediately send all possible forms of help, including military aid, to this group.  This video is powerful testimony to the universal human yearning for freedom which is opening the hearts and minds of the North Korean people to new possibilities for liberation from tyranny every day.


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