North Korea’s “worse-than-Stalinist” regime is losing the battle to isolate its citizens from the outside world. Activist groups like North Korea Intellectuals Solidarity and Daily NK are using “liberation technology,” including cell phones and laptop computers, not only to pump news and information into the closed state, but also to give North Korean people a voice.
Daily NK, the Seoul-based media NGO, has now published a unique book – NK People Speak, 2011, which provides a fascinating insight into North Korean life and suggests that the regime has lost whatever credibility and legitimacy it ever had. A brief sample:
- What do you think of Kim Jong Il [right]?
They say that during his onsite inspections, the General eats rice balls and sleeps very little, all for the happiness of the people. But I hear he imports delicious foods, so for what reason would he eat rice balls? The Party propagandizes to deceive the people. I do not believe it.
- What do you think of Kim Jong Eun?
I don’t have any interest in him. The third generation succession is feudalist. In 1964, Kim Il Sung said he would create a country where all eat beef soup and rice and live in tiled houses, but 50 years have passed and it still hasn’t happened; so when will it? It took less than 30 years for China, so what is so what is wrong with us?
Simon Roughneen describes the risks activists face in ending the silence about what the National Endowment for Democracy‘s Carl Gershman called “this dark, famished, and inaccessible corner of the world.”
“I am always worried about security for those who report information to us from inside,” said Byoung-Keun, a North Korean working in Seoul as a journalist for The DailyNK, a news website focused on telling the world what is happening in possibly the world’s most closed-off society.
Byoung-Keun is a pseudonym, because the former North Korean state official cannot divulge his real name to PBS MediaShift. Doing so could lead to reprisals for family and former colleagues living in North Korea, or even an assassination attempt on him in Seoul, if other recent reports about defectors being targeted by Pyongyang are true.
In North Korea, Internet and cell phone use are restricted to senior government officials and foreigners — and then closely monitored. The only media is state-run, and for those interested in unwittingly funny triumphalism predicting the imminent collapse of western capitalism, then the Korean Central News Agency has it all. More seriously, however, punishment for North Koreans caught passing information outside ranges from imprisonment in the country’s gulags – which some estimates say hold a mind-boggling 200,000 political prisoners – to death.
According to a story by another Seoul-based media group with an eye on the North, Open Radio for North Korea, the Pyongyang regime says anyone caught using a Chinese cell phone should be deemed a spy.
Eun Kyoung Kwon of Open Radio for North Korea told MediaShift there is a renewed drive to “crack down on anti-socialist behavior,” in the North Korean regime parlance. The back story is ongoing tensions between North Korea, and its wealthy, technologically advanced neighbor to the south — which is strongly backed by the United States, and a coming leadership change in Pyongyang.
Defectors are also providing a rich source of information on life in the Hermit state. One account “sounds almost like Alexander Solzhenitsyn describing the life of the ‘zeks’ in Ivan Denisovich“, said Australian parliamentarian Michael Danby, a member of the World Movement for Democracy‘s steering committee.