Why Kim Jong Un is at war with North Korean jargon, jeans and foreign films
North Korea has recently passed an extensive new law that seeks to eliminate all forms of foreign influence – severely punishing anyone caught in foreign films, clothing or even using jargon. But why does he do that, he asks in his BBC article.
Yun Mi-so says she was 11 when she first saw a man executed for being caught in a South Korean drama.
His entire neighborhood was ordered to watch.
“If you don’t, it will be classified as treason,” she told the BBC from her home in Seoul.
North Korean border guards have made sure that everyone knows that the penalty for smuggling illegal videos is death.
“I have a strong memory of the man blindfolded, I can still see his tears flowing. It was traumatic for me. The blindfold was completely drenched in his tears. They put him on a stake and tied him up, then shot him.” , specified Yun Mi-so.
Imagine being in a constant state of lockdown without the Internet, social networks, and just a few state-controlled television stations trying to tell you what the country’s leaders want you to hear – this is life in North Korea.
And now its leader, Kim Jong Un, is stepping up repression with a new comprehensive law against what the regime describes as “reactionary thought.”
Anyone caught with large amounts of media content from South Korea, the United States or Japan is now facing the death penalty. Those caught watching them face up to 15 years in prison.
And it’s not just about what people are watching.
Kim recently wrote a letter in the state media calling on the country’s Youth League to take drastic measures against “nasty, individualistic, anti-socialist behavior” among young people. He wants to stop foreign language, hairstyles and clothes, which he described as “dangerous poisons”.
Daily NK, an online publication in Seoul with sources in North Korea, reports that three teenagers were sent to a re-education camp because they cut their hair like idols from modern Korean popular music and folded their pants over their ankles.
All this is because Kim is at war, which does not involve nuclear weapons or missiles.
Analysts say he is trying to stop foreign information from reaching people in North Korea as life in the country becomes increasingly difficult.
It is estimated that millions of people are starving. Kim wants to ensure that they still feed on the state’s carefully crafted propaganda, instead of getting a glimpse of life in the glittering South Korean drama set in Seoul, one of Asia’s richest cities.
The country has been cut off from the outside world more than ever since it sealed its border last year in response to the pandemic. Vital supplies and trade from neighboring China have almost stopped. Although some deliveries are beginning to pass, imports are still limited.
This self-imposed isolation has exacerbated an already failing economy where money flows into the regime’s nuclear ambitions. Earlier this year, Kim himself acknowledged that his people were facing “the worst situation we need to overcome.”
Daily NK were the first to obtain a copy of the law.
“It states that if a worker is caught, the factory manager can be punished, and if a child is problematic, the parents can also be punished. The mutual monitoring system promoted by the North Korean regime is aggressively reflected in this law,” he said. Daily NK editor-in-chief Lee San-yon told the BBC.
He says it aims to “shatter” any dreams or charms the younger generation may have about South Korea.
“In other words, the regime has come to the conclusion that a sense of resistance can be formed if cultures from other countries are introduced,” he added.
Choi Chen-hoon, one of the few deserters to escape the country in the past year, told the BBC that “the harder the times, the harsher the regulations, the laws, the penalties.”
“Psychologically, when your stomach is full and you watch a South Korean movie, it can be for relaxation. But when there is no food and it is difficult to live, people become dissatisfied,” said the fugitive.
Previous repression has only demonstrated how resourceful people have been in hand-to-hand broadcasts and watching foreign films, which are usually smuggled across the Chinese border.
For several years, dramas have been spent on USB sticks, which are now “common as stones,” according to Choi. They are easy to hide and are also encrypted with a password.
“If you enter the wrong password three times in a row, USB deletes its contents. You can even set it so that it happens after an incorrect password entry if the content is extremely sensitive. There are also many cases where the USB is set up so that it can only be viewed once on a specific computer, so you can’t plug it into another device or give it to someone else. Only you can see it. So even if you want to distribute it, don’t you can, ”adds Choi.
Mi-so remembers how her neighborhood went to extreme lengths to watch movies.
She states that they once borrowed a car battery and plugged it into a generator to get enough electricity to power the TV. She remembers watching a South Korean drama called The Ladder to Paradise.
This epic love story about a girl battling first her stepmother and then cancer seems to have been popular in North Korea about 20 years ago.
Choi says this is also when the fascination with foreign media has really increased – aided by cheap CDs and DVDs from China.
But then the Pyongyang regime began to notice. Choi recalls that state security raided a university around 2002 and found more than 20,000 CDs.
“It was just one university. Can you imagine how many there were in the whole country? The government was shocked. That’s when the punishment became harsher,” he said.
Kim Gum-hok says he was only 16 in 2009 when he was caught by security guards from a special unit set up to catch and arrest anyone who shared illegal videos.
He gave a friend several DVDs of South Korean pop music that his father had smuggled in from China.
He was treated like an adult and taken to a secret interrogation room, where guards refused to let him sleep. He says he was hit and kicked repeatedly for four days.
“I was horrified,” he told the BBC in Seoul, where he currently lives, adding: “I thought my world was over. They wanted to know how I got this video and how many people I showed it to. I couldn’t say. that my father brought these DVDs from China. What can I say? It was my father. I didn’t say anything, I just said “I don’t know, I don’t know, please let me go.”
Gum-hok is from one of Pyongyang’s elite families, and his father eventually bribed the guards to free him. Something that would be almost impossible under Kim’s new law.
Many of those arrested for similar crimes at the time were sent to labor camps. But this did not prove to be a sufficient deterrent, so the sentences increased.
“Initially, the sentence was about a year in a labor camp – this changed to more than three years in a labor camp. Now, if you go to labor camps, more than 50% of young people are there because they have watched foreign media content,” he said. Choi adds: “If someone watches two hours of illegal material, it would be three years in a labor camp. It’s a big problem.”
A number of sources have revealed to the BBC that the size of some of North Korea’s prison camps has increased in the last year, and Choi believes the harsh new laws are having an effect.
“Watching a movie is a luxury. You have to eat first before you even think about watching a movie. When times are hard to even eat, sending even a family member to a labor camp can be devastating. We had to risk so much a lot of watching these dramas. But no one can beat our curiosity. We wanted to find out what was going on in the outside world, “says Gum-hock.
For Gum-hawk to finally learn the truth about his country changed his life. He is one of the few privileged North Koreans allowed to study in Beijing, where he discovered the Internet.
“At first I couldn’t believe it (the descriptions of North Korea). I thought Western people were lying. Wikipedia is lying, how can I believe that? But my heart and brain were divided. So I watched a lot of documentaries about North Korea. “I read a lot of articles. And then I realized that they were probably true, because what they were saying made sense. Once I realized that there was a transition in my brain, it was too late, I couldn’t go back,” Gum said. hök.
Gum-hoek eventually fled to Seoul.
Mi-so lives his dreams as a fashion consultant. The first thing she did in her new homeland was to visit all the places she saw in the Ladder to Paradise.
But stories like theirs are becoming rarer than ever.
Leaving the country has become almost impossible with the current “shoot to kill” order at the tightly controlled border. And it’s hard not to expect Kim’s new law to have a more chilling effect.
Choi, who had to abandon his family in North Korea, believes watching one or two dramas will not undo decades of ideological control. But he believes North Koreans suspect that state propaganda is not true.
“The North Korean people have a seed of discontent in their hearts, but they don’t know what their discontent is about,” he said.
“This is discontent without direction. My heart is broken that they cannot understand even when I tell them. There is a need for someone to wake them up, to enlighten them,” said the Korean, who had fled the slave communist regime.