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The Realities of Living in North Korea

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Since the beginning of time, many kingdoms and empires have formed and fallen. The resilient ones were able to transform themselves into countries be it autocratic nations/states. In history, we have seen many cases of autocratic leaders such as the Nazi Party and The Soviet Union. Most autocratic countries have managed to transform themselves into democracies or have toned down the human rights abuse and extreme autocracy. There are a few countries in the modern age that are Autocratic or Dictatorships such as Saudi Arabia, Belarus, UAE, Brunei, Turkmenistan and Eritrea. All the listed countries have managed to make living conditions reasonable and significantly cut out the extremist way of leading a country according to UN Human Rights Guidelines. However, North Korea has not cut down on its extreme autocratic views and human rights abuse. I will be further discussing the origin of the Kim Dynasty, their philosophical belief known as Juche and the resulting atrocities that followed.

The first leader of the country after the end of Japanese Rule, in 1948 Kim Il-Sung came to power and brought along with him the state philosophy known as Juche which would later be adapted by his successors, son Kim Jong Il and grandson Kim Jong Un. Juche is Kim Il-Sung’s self-proclaimed “original, brilliant and revolutionary” contribution to the nation. It mandates “man is the master of his identity” and focuses on becoming self-reliant and strong to achieve true socialism. Juche is very similar to Marxism as it emphasizes, the man (individual), the nation and its sovereignty. The Kim Dynasty has used Juche as a way of justifying their cruel and inhumane government policies. Juche Ideology pushes the notion of agricultural independence and lack of dependency on the outside world. This ideology has been passed down to the third and current generation leader of North Korea, Kim Jong Un.

The state controls everything, and effectively keeps an eye on its residents using an extensive reconnaissance and informer network. The economy is also carefully controlled and the government channels large amounts of money into its nuclear program despite significant deficiencies in food, fuel and other essential necessities. North Korea’s media is the most controlled on the planet. Their citizens get all their news, information and entertainment from state media, which unfailingly portrays the leader as supreme via propaganda tools in its media, education system and cultural beliefs. In today’s age, mobile phones in north Korea are more common than they used to be, but they are restricted to local calls only, making an international call comes at a very large price. Internet Access is only available to a select few individuals in Pyongyang who are what the rest of the world calls “the 1%”.

Individuals indicted for political violations are regularly sent to labour camps, which includes extremely hard labour work in mines and forests. Amnesty International has described the labour camps as ‘harsh beyond endurance’. Prisoners face torment and beatings by guards, and females are left defenseless against sexual misconduct and rape. One of North Korea’s most harsh policies is collective punishments, which means if one member of the family commits a crime, the entire family or other members of the family can be imprisoned or sent to labour camps. When government policies are not followed, punishments are brutal, the death penalty is very casually given to any prisoners and executions are public as a deterrent for any other possible people committing crimes. North Korea also detains foreign nationals which it suspects are spies for other countries and very often mistaken an actual tourist for a spy driving away tourism to the country. North Korea has also falsely imprisoned American tourists in attempts to use them as political pawns against sanctions and other political benefits For Example, In 2018 before the US-North Korea summit 3 American prisoners who had been imprisoned in labour camps for “anti-state activities” were released as a gesture of goodwill. The close-knit communities only believe in the propaganda published by the government which largely depicts an outside evil enemy trying to encroach on North Korea and their supreme leader is alleged keeping them at bay, which in my opinion is absolutely delusional and is clear evidence of a megalomaniac.

Women’s rights are liberally violated, many accounts portray the immeasurable inequality in North Korea even though it presents itself as an equal society amongst its citizens. Women face torture, rape and other sexual abuses in labour camps and prisons. Moreover, culturally women are not viewed as an equal hence their oppression is widespread. Resulting from the sexual abuse and rape, many children are forced to live life poorly. Although education is provided, the curriculum consists of state propaganda and misinformation about the world. From a very early age, the state restricts people’s knowledge of the outside world to better manipulate and control the masses.

Kim Jong Un’s Father Kim Jong Il lead the most repressive government of all time ruling by way of fear and prioritizing power above all else. Kim Jong Un is following in his father’s footsteps as growing up he witnessed his father Kim Jong Il oversee mass famine, entrenched abuses, personality cult, and mass starvation. However, under Kim Jong Un’s rule, North Korea is not as sealed off from the outside world as it used to be. In the past few decades, many North Koreans have defected from the state and travelled to China and South Korea and then around the world. These defectors have exposed the reality of life in North Korea to an even deeper extent with first hard experiences and accounts of witnesses of the regime’s extremism. Also, many news and investigative journalism outlets have managed to get permission to film inside North Korea. Journalists are always escorted, monitored and restricted by a government liaison. “It feels like they only want you to see limited parts of their world as the rest of it might be beyond bearable to see” says a Vice Journalist who officially got permission from the government for this “controlled” tour of limited parts of the capital.

Every year thousands of North Korean defectors manage to reach South Korea where global broadcasting networks have established contacts in South Korea to be able to get the firsthand accounts of the people who have suffered the atrocities. Upon more and more information getting out, the world has decided to take a stand and fight back. There is only one way to get information to the North Korean population without the government’s censorship controls and that is via short-wave radio stations that are run by foreign NGO’s. The flow of information is via multiple methods. Information physically flows across the borders in mobile phones, USB flash drives, DVD’s, and other digital media content. Some NGO’s have even been putting USB flash drives in glass bottles and floating it across the East and Yellow Sea. These methods of getting information of the outside world to them is the only glimmer of hope in North Koreans right to accurate diverse news and information.

Upon taking power in December 2011, Kim Jong Un started North Korea’s Nuclear Race which was very alarming for a lot of countries but especially United States because of North Korea’s depiction of United States in its propaganda as the evil outside enemy, it’s a tug of war between the two countries. In February 2012, Upon US sanctions being applied Kim Jong Un temporarily suspended its nuclear enrichment operations in exchange for tons of food aid, the deal eventually was void after North Korea fired a missile at a military parade. Further from 2013 to 2016, North Korea’s Nuclear program kept advancing despite international pressure in the form of sanctions and isolation. During the Obama administration in September 2016, Kim Jong Un had tested more short, medium and long-range ballistic missiles than his father and grandfather combined. The United States and other neighboring countries were alarmed. Upon Trump’s arrival in 2016 November, North Korea seemed like it was ready to come to the table for negotiations as Donald Trump also a “yugely” self-proclaimed “best dealmaker ever” was willing to entertain North Korea’s political games agreeing to the US-North Korea Summit in 2018. During 2018, North Korea showed hostility and anger towards United States which lead to many deals failing and summits being called off. In 2019, the second summit ended early without a deal due to sanction negotiations falling apart. Trump then visits North Korea to revive talks with North Korea. In my opinion, this game of tug of war between the two countries is claiming countless lives and allowing North Korea to further oppress its citizens. At present, North Korea is conducting nuclear and missile tests very frequently taunting Japan and United States. Kim Jong Un even went as far as insulting Trump by calling him an “erratic old man”. North Korea claims to have operational nuclear inter-continental ballistic missiles that are capable of reaching US-Mainland, I personally believe that North Korea will not prosper in the coming years if it goes to war as it already has an isolated economy and war is expensive. Whereas countries like the United States encourage war as most weapons manufacturing companies are American. In my opinion, we live in a sad world where war is the most profitable business.

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