|A Viewpoint and Questions from Experience on International Assistance to North Korea|
A Viewpoint and Questions from Experience on International Assistance to North Korea
Myung Ho BAK
Former Captain, DPRK Air Force, ROK
To begin, I would like to thank everyone around the world, who has taken interest and put in efforts for the improvement of the human rights situation of the North Korean people. Moreover, thank you for giving me the chance to talk at such an important conference. I have come here, not as a person representing a privileged class, but to speak on behalf of the common people of North Korea.
There is a North Korea proverb ‘When rain comes from the sky, Buddha receives the bow (One man sows and another man reaps)’. It means the wrong person receives the gratitude when it was someone else that offered help. For the past 10 years, Korea and many people from all around the world have sent aid to help North Koreans suffering from extreme food shortages and difficulties. However, the lives of the weak and the majority of the ordinary common people have hardly improved. It is because there are individuals, who have benefited by misusing aid sent by the international society. Subsequently the discrepancy in living standards between the special provinces, such as Pyongyang and Gaeseong, and the majority of regions has become even more severe than before, exacerbating social conflicts and widening the gap between the privileged classes and the common people.
Despite it, the awareness of the North Korean society and the people is changing day by day. Of course it does not obvious to judge whether the change is for the better or for the worse, and whether it is changing the rigidly maintained North Korean society in the direction of fundamental improvement.
However, one thing I would like to emphasize is that if the international community sincerely wants an improvement of human rights and opening and reform in North Korea, then it should objectively look into what is actually happening inside, rather than clinging onto the vague optimism and idealistic hopes. Please look back and evaluate whether various efforts of the international community are actually helping the weak and ordinary common people rather than relying only on the false promises of the North Korean authorities or their propaganda.
In May 2006, I made a wooden boat to escape with my family. We followed the west coast, crossed the NLL and arrived in South Korea. I have been in the North Korean army for a long time and even after I was discharged, I worked in various places in charge of the munitions. While working there, I was able to clearly observe why much of the foreign aid was not being distributed to the ordinary citizens and also why the soldiers were not being fed properly. Today, I plan to explain to you the recent situation in the North Korean army and the society in general, as well as the changing consciousness of the people and the general atmosphere in the country.
The food, which the army eats and sells
These days North Korean citizens do not expect to receive outside aid in the first place. Since about 2003, even if you were not a worker of a collective farm, but were working in factories or doing business; you would have to donate 15 kg of rice to the country, under the name of “Patriotic Rice Donation,” and in case of receiving foreign aid, you need to hand in 40~50 kg of rice for having received aid. Of course those who cannot afford it do not donate and put it off, but doing so is risky, so people have come to a conclusion that it is better to take nothing and eat nothing.
Needless to say, army ranks at the top when it comes to receiving food supplies. ‘The home front supply’ is referred to provision of commodities to the Korean People’s Army, and the west coast district units are better off than the central region and east coast district units. The west coast region is located near the ‘breadbasket’, they register for rice that is growing nearby and they only take care of the vegetables.
On the other hand, the central or the eastern military districts are being mobilized for the rice cultivating campaigns, so they receive rice from the state from December to March and after that they take control of the nearby areas in order to secure food supplies. By ‘taking over,’ I mean, for example, that if the military unit in Pyongsan, Hwanghae Province needs 1 thousand tons of rice, they procure the necessary amount from the regional collective farm. In North Korea, there is an organization that takes charge of the food supply, called the Food Department of the Korean People’s Army, commonly known as the ‘514 unit,’ and this institution determines from which area and which collective farm each of the military units should take the food from. Then, the militarily unit having been assigned its portion will directly go to the cooperative farm to receive it, or will go to the fields and collect it itself.
Moreover, ‘514’ informs each of the military units which port the food aid will be coming in and asks to collect it from there. It has become a systemic operation in which South Korea and the international community would send in rice through the ports and the military would go in first. When moving food supplies from the port, soldiers usually dress like ordinary people and camouflage the military vehicles as private ones and deliver the supplies to the military base. Moreover, it has become a custom for the military to sell part of the food aid in the markets to procure other materials. In the end, ordinary people cannot get the humanitarian food supplies without paying for it. How can this be called aid? Why do people have to pay high price for the donated food?
I have spent a big part of my life in the North Korean army. I was neither a high-rank military official nor a private soldier, and even after being discharged, I worked on a privileged position, so I did not have to starve or be hungry. I did not escape because of hunger, but left North Korea because I came to know of how the world outside was like by listening to South Korean radio programs. When I came to South Korea, I was relieved to know that my predecessors had not stayed still and have been disclosing the realities of North Korea on the internet and that there were many brave people making their voices heard despite the overwhelming atmosphere directed toward helping the North Korean regime. However, when I think of how the North Korean people are fighting by choosing not to not work and engaging in slowdown tactics and sabotage with a hope that the North Korean system collapses, it is frustrating to think that the leaders of South Korea are rather focused on saving the North Korean regime. When I first came to South Korea, I did not want to stand in front of the media, but seeing how the South Korean government thoughtlessly provides rice to North Korea propagating that it is a help for the North Korean people, it didn’t seem right to me to remain quiet, therefore, I started to inform of the realities of North Korea.
Humanitarian aid – but for whom?
Actually, if North Korea stopped receiving aid from the international community for about 5 years, the government would not be able to sustain itself. Many North Korean people are familiar with the following quote of Yun Hyung Mook, “General Kim Jong Il! If you demand from us to take one more march, you will have no more supporters.” Among the twenty million people in North Korea, there are quite a lot of people, who can survive without their rations. In the past, starving people looked up to the government as the only means of survival. These days, however, they all have found ways to survive on their own. Therefore, just until recently, the situation stabilized enough to such extent that some of the government officials became worse off than the common people.
However, ever since the international community, including South Korea, began recently sending aid to the North Korean government, prompted by the nuclear weapons crisis to coax North Korea, the government has gained confidence and is again ordering its people what they can do and what they cannot do. The aid to North Korea is actually making the lives of the ordinary even more difficult. For North Korea to change, the state must lose its power first. The government officials should not be able to comfortably receive their rations. In 1994, there was an incident, in which a battalion commander had failed to feed his soldiers. He called the company commander, who called the platoon leader, who called the division officers and commanded them to go outside for three days to find food for themselves and to return. Since going AWOL had been legitimately granted, who would return to the base? Countless number of soldiers hasn’t returned for several months. In reality, the troop had disbanded, but even when a deserter appeared, it was not reported to the superiors, and the higher rank officials did not care much about the situation of the lower ranks.
The number of runaway soldiers continued to increase, yet no one paid attention to them, and the news of them were not reported to the central office. When the company commanders got together, they joked around saying, “We’re not commanders but division officers.” When they received recruits from the central unit, the size equaled up to just one small unit. Although they lacked many soldiers, nothing was done to fix this problem. I have been part of the army for 20 years, and many times I had thought it would be better not to receive anything if we were to get this little. There were also many times when I felt that it would be better if my unit remained dispersed.
At the time when the military units were dispersed, it was hard for the government to control the people. If North Korea were to pursue reform and open its doors to the international society, the government officials would not be able to receive aid and would need to go out to find ways to live in order to survive. This is how the North Korean people think.
During the presidency of South Korea’s last president, it seemed that many Korean people believed that a war would start if they brought up the North Korean human rights issues to the table or did not send rice to North Korea, but I am of a different opinion. That’s like saying that if tributes were not paid, it would result in war. The reason that North Korea has been unable to start a war over the past 50 years is not because it has been afraid of South Korea, but because it has been afraid of the US. However, the North Korean government propagates to its people that because North Korea is a powerful country, both South Korea and the US are all bribing North Korea. They explain that ‘South Korea is paying us because it has lots of breadbaskets and is scared of our strong military power.’
In reality, North Korea may be able to start a war but would not be able to withstand a long-term all-out war. In the mid 1990’s, South Koreans were afraid to enter a war with North Korea in fear of its long-range missiles, which would leave Seoul in ashes. However, North Korea’s weapons placed near the border are all underground, and these underground bunkers are very damp. When I visited the army bases in South Korea, I found that they are very well maintained, unlike in North Korea. Even if North Korea has weapons kept underground, they are useless if they are not maintained. The temperature in the underground bunkers is around 6 degrees, and the humidity reaches 85 degrees and higher. These weapons cannot stay underground for more than a week, thus they must be occasionally pulled out and dried in the sun. However, North Koreans are unable to move the weapon due to the lack of oil. In fact, we lack oil even to clean our personal AK rifles. Obviously, we lack the oil to maintain our bigger weapons. When North Korea conducted a military exercise few years ago, it was able to do so by having barely saved up enough supplies for quite a long time. It is best to see it as a show. Being able to maintain normal fighting skills is the most basic requirement. Yet, at this point, it is hard enough to even regularly repair and provide proper maintenance of weapons.
The North Korean Army, the unknown area deprived of human rights
In North Korea teenagers of 17 years old, the peak age of growth, are sent to the military and suffer, so in terms of human rights, the military would be the most treacherous place. Although there are many people, who died of starvation in the army, the problem is not mentioned. When I was in the army, many young students were sent for recruitment without having been able to graduate. In North Korea, graduation takes place in August, yet the boys are recruited in April, before graduation, so they are not able to graduate. Ever since 2000, illegitimate early graduation in March is taking place, and the students are recruited to the army.
In most cases, the young boys, who are sent to the army, end up running away because they cannot adjust to army life or are sent back because of malnutrition. In North Korea, the second ultimate human rights vacuum after the political prison camps is the army. As the number of runaway soldiers rose due to the daily beatings and malnutrition, education centers were built within the army ten years ago. Military prisons, ‘606 batch’ in Hwechang district, South Pyongan, and ‘607 batch’ in Wangja ri, Jungpyung district, South Hamgyong, were built, and they are equipped with torturing instruments, called “ipjakki,” which forces one’s mouth open to make the soldiers acknowledge their crime by imposing pain. In North Korea, a “jakki (jack)” indicates the instrument used to lift cars for repairing, but since this tool is used to force one’s mouth open, it is called an “ipjakki (ip meaning mouth).” These army camps require much harder labor than regular prison camps. Although soldiers are only required to stay one year, most of the soldiers die before completing their term. These soldiers in the ‘606 and 607 batch’ are living in such pain that their wishes are to be transferred quickly to ordinary prisons.
The truth and falsehood of emergency rescue aid appeals to the international community
Recently in South Korea, the suspicion over the possibilities of North Korea tearing down the dam on purpose, in order to receive aid from the international society, was raised; it is possible that it was time to renovate the dam and so it was torn down at a time when flood came and the international society started to provide aid. Yet, there is a good reason to be suspicious. The North Korean government systematically mobilizes people when the UN or foreign countries come in for field monitoring of the emergency rescue aids. For example, it orders people to bring little popcorn in lunchboxes so they can appear as pitiful as possible so that they win over various kinds of aid.
However, the common people are only used for this game, and do not receive proper help nor receive the aid. The people do not greatly despair even if their houses get swept away, and do not expect much from the government. Officially, houses are state-owned in North Korea, but since it has gotten harder to live, houses are openly bought and sold at cheap prices, and thus it is easier to earn money and buy another house than restoring it.
I believe that 'Harmonica Residence’ (a collective residential area) is one of the primary causes of the 3 million deaths from starvation. If the starved from the city had gone into the hills to get something to eat, they would have at least avoided death. But, due to the North Korea's policy on residence control, all the houses except for the private residences of the officers have been turned into collective villages, thus do not have enough land to at least grow corns, and needed to just depend on the state and wait for death to come. If it were not for the collective village reform and residence control policy, not as many people would have died.
The organizations that support North Korea raise their voice saying we need to send more grains to North Korea because they are in absolute shortage of food, but all along there has been almost no one, who has received outside support and help. It is a farfetched, forced claim to say that the grain sent by the international society is being distributed to the common people. The North Korean Government have become ruthless since mid-1990s to an extent that they even collected raw materials from the common people to make few candies, which then they would give out to children on, Kim Jong Il’s birthday, one of their national holidays. This is the reality of North Korea, which the North Korean government proclaims as being the children’s heaven and does not envy anyone.
The international society, including Korea, has been continuously providing humanitarian aid to North Korea. They are worried that if they stop providing support then the people in North Korea might face a really difficult time, but people have already been living all this time in their own ways without receiving a single pair of socks from the government. In the end, the people who benefit from the humanitarian aid are only those in power and the privileged.
The shadow behind Gaeseong Industrial Complex & the North - South exchanges
There are people in South Korea who say that thanks to the success of the 2nd North-South Korea Summit in 2007, soon there will be peace on the Korean Peninsula and that a new era in the preparations for reunification has begun, which sounds like a persuasive propaganda.
But the North Korean defectors, including myself, who have been living in North Korea until recently, want to stop the one-sided aid to North Korea, led by unrealistically optimistic predictions. It may be hard for you to understand us asking to stop the aid for North Korea, when it is our homeland and where our family and relatives are all in. But one thing I assure you is that imprudent aid will never be a help to the North Korean people, but rather result in empowering the bad men of power and prolonging the regime violating human rights and ignoring justice.
It might be difficult to instantly understand when I emphasized that the people of North Korea rather wish for the system and society like today to collapse and to start anew. But looking from the perspectives of the weak and ordinary common people in North Korea, it will be easy to understand. These days in North Korea there is something called ‘a closed zone.’ You probably have heard of ‘a special economic zone’ or ‘a special zone’ but not about ‘a closed zone.’ You will never know how discomforted the North Korean defectors were just before the presidential election, last December, seeing the election pledges of the presidential candidate Jung Dong-Yong. He mentioned the Gaeseong industrial complex as being of a great help to improving the lives of the common people in North Korea, and that he would engage more in such North-South cooperation and railroad project.
But it seems to me that he does not really understand how such attempts are inflicting great change and pain on the common North Korean people’s lives and generate greater economic gap between the privileged class and the common people. For example, they have blocked all the roads near Shin-po city saying they are going to build a light-water reactor and converted it into a ‘closed zone.’ The railroad went straight through Shinpo city and since people couldn't use trucks or rear-cars, which are their only means of transport of goods, they had to go around Dojil Mountain for about 100 li which is approximately 40 km. Even if you had the money to get on the train they would stop the train before the Shinpo construction area for hours and sometimes they would drag down the people who were traveling on the roof of the train due to the lack of seats into a freight train lest foreigners or South Koreans would see them. It is suffocating and painful experience to go through for the Shinpo city local residents. It may be a good thing for those in power and for the government but it forces local residents to remote and secluded places in the mountains causing much more inconvenience and discomfort.
There are 20,000 people from North Korea working in the Gaeseong industrial complex. They are not ordinary people. In the eyes of the South Koreans and foreigners they might seem like ordinary workers but it is not so. They are people from the families and relatives of those in power, who receive privileges unimaginable for the common North Koreans. Since the country is so panic-stricken and the atmosphere is so tough wherever you go, the privileged classes and the officers want to send their sons and daughters to a safe and comfortable environment. The place they most refer to is Gaeseong industrial complex. In the end it is the privileged class of North Korea, who benefit as they use their power to give the job to their family members and to do favor for their relatives, while people with money bribe to get the job at the Gaeseong Industrial Complex. This in the end results in increasing loyalty towards the leader and strengthening of the state power.
The temptation of regional development and its real state of affairs
Some voices in South Korea say that because of the difficulty in North Korean economy, 70% of necessities are imported from China. They also say that since the mining rights have been handed over to China, North Korea is turning into China's colony. Therefore people say that South Korea has to aid North Korea more in order to decrease the power of China over North Korea and effectively increase the degree of dependence of North Korea on South Korea.
But people who say this are those who don't know much about the North Korean common people’s reality and like to write based on the talks that go around. North Korea cannot be understood with only a common sense. Let me talk about the mines. The mines have stopped being functional since Arduous March in late 1990s. It's been left deserted for too long and has been filled with water. Even if we were to revive it with electricity, it's quite impossible.
Ko-won coal mine in South Hamgyung Province is known to have over 10 million tones of anthracite but the situation there isn't any better. The delivery system has been disabled due to electricity problems, so they have to use a method where the coal is carried out of the mine vertically, which is very dangerous. The air gets thin below 20M from the entrance so mothers and children pump air into the mine manually while fathers get the coal out of the mine assisted by someone pulling a bucket full of coal from above. Lots of coal miners work all day and the government buys the coals at a very low price. Though the miners don't get much money they think it is better to live this way than to die. This is the reality of North Korea.
People not mobilized, slowdown tactics/sabotage
Don’t things like economic depression recover one way or another or find a new way after ten years? South Korea recovered from the IMF crisis, of the end of the 1990s, after about ten years. However, there are reasons to why it is hard for North Korea to recover after ten years, despite the continued large amount of aid given by South Korea and the international society.
The North Korean society today is completely different from what it used to be. More than anyone else, the ordinary people are driving North Korea into the direction of retrogression rather than trying to develop it into their home country and a place for livelihood. No one willing to devote oneself to work for the country can be seen. This is because people now realize that this society is not a place to live and think that the country should collapse and start all over again. People are in reality on strike and there is no place properly working. At the peak of famine, absences without permission to leave were serious because people went out searching for food in places like the market; now even though people go to work unwillingly, no one works properly with passion. Literally, people are just guarding their seats without working.
In some ways, the force that is making the North Korean government to choose change seems to be coming out from the ordinary mass, who rather hope to retrogress the North Korean society so that it would preferably collapse. For most of the North Koreans, the atmosphere is to boycott. The term boycott is said to have appeared when a caretaker of a fief of an English aristocrat tried to evict the tenants, who could not pay the rent, and instead was evicted himself when faced with the resistance from the united tenants; in some ways it is an irony that a boycott movement by the workers is taking place in North Korea, which propagate itself to be a heaven on earth. The whole country is aimed at not working, the middle rank executives also do not work, and at the bottom of the society the thought that the country should quickly collapse is rampant. People are refusing to work because they are thinking and are conscious of it. The North Korean people may appear benighted but that is certainly not the truth. The general social atmosphere to not work comes from the realization that the more one works hard at work or listens to the government, the more the state demands from, steals from, and harasses the people.
If you get on a train, such atmosphere can be easily detected. Because it takes about three days once one gets on the train, people quickly become friends, even if they did not know each other before. As it is hard for everyone, unlike in the past, people are not precautious against each other or fear someone would report one to the state. No one talks of life as easy and everyone only complains. These days, no one stops another when one complains. When at work or at self-criticism sessions and at the Situation Analysis Meetings twice a week, it is hard to complain, but on a train, because people know they will soon separate and go their own direction anyway people frankly speak what’s troubling their minds.
There is no place left for Kim Jong Il to reach out hand to. This is because the situation is bad enough that the military food supply is not fully procured. It is hardly understandable in the situation when the food aid is provided with the amount more than enough to fulfill the military food supply needs, but the reality is that even the military food supply cannot be satisfied, not mentioning even the common people needs. Even in the army, the top ranks smuggle or sell the rice to buy other necessities. If the military is being this bad, each and every area of the national economy is in general in a much more difficult state. Even though the national economy is in crisis, the individual economy is nevertheless better since everyone thinks up of ways to live.
In 2005, the North Korean government set out home inspections against all farmers in South Hwanghae Province, in order to seize from the people the rice supply for the military. This happened because, when the Party Secretary falsely reported that food distribution had been completed, Kim Jong Il ordered him to offer 30% of it for military food supply. The urgent Party Secretary went house to house and collected rice from the people. Nicely put it, it was ‘collecting,’ but in real terms it was forcible confiscation of all the food that had been hidden in the houses and nearby grounds, fully mobilizing the power of the party, prosecutors and the police, accusing the people of not donating food for the army. People have garnered it through self-cultivation and trading, but the Party Secretary resolutely took it away accusing people of theft. As the people became enraged, the government tried to press the public opinion by shifting the blame on the Secretary and replacing him. As such incidents kept taking place, there was no desire to work, and now choosing not to work at all continues. Thus, there is no way that the rice will grow at cooperative farms, and since providing for the army food supply is difficult, it is needless to mention the public rations.
It is now too hard for the North Korean economy to grow and recover on its own. It is not necessarily because there is no social infrastructure or material foundation, but because of the mindset that no matter how hard people work it does not become their own, people have given up and are unknowingly pursuing sabotage, which makes this even a bigger problem. That the North Korean government had lost public support and faith is a more important problem than starting on development and investment right away. This is because people pursue sabotage with a widespread hope that the system ‘crumbles to the bottom.’
The government was aware of this and carried out many inspections because things were not working out due to the slowdown. Yet, as more inspections are conducted the ability to endure tends to progress. People have become very bright in evading inspections and escaping the pressures from the top, and have become natural in having dual thoughts, different in and out. ‘The government is demanding me to do it like this, so I should bare the present situation by saying yes for now.’ Perhaps because the North Korean people have been educated and adapted to not express as one thinks since childhood, all North Koreans have become actors. They say one thing in the official situations, and talk something else in real life.
The commonness of trimmed reports; the struggle for individual survival over the party life
In the 1970s, political consciousness throughout the society was strong, and so in order to look good to the government, creation of false reports about for example producing 1,200 tons when having produced only 1,000 tons was common. However, now, on the contrary, if someone produced 10 tons, he would report that only 5 tons were produced and then take the rest for himself. It is the way people learned to survive.
On the other hand, the idea that the regime has to collapse fast and that they need to start anew is being shared not by only few people. When I was in North Korea, I used to talk a lot with the people around me; starting from “Is this our way of socialism?” to “Would the government really not know of the situation like this?” North Korea is not a society where superiority and creativity rules, but where physical force and state power are compulsively mobilized and, if one doesn’t obey, one is cruelly punished. Even when the society becomes a total chaos, one cannot directly criticize the system and, even if one does, the top executives would not be hearing of it. It has been achieved through the broadcasting and writings of the North Korean defectors, who had come to South Korea, which ended up going into Kim Jong Il’s eyes and ears; but since the South Korean government has been avoiding to aggravate the relations with North Korea for the past decade, it has been hard for the North Korean defectors to take active measures.
The regulation of the markets and the reemergence of “grasshopper markets”
As the North Korean government has started to regain strength through the South Korean and international aid, it has been consistently pressuring the market, the only means of survival left for the North Korean people, in order to stop it from developing into free market. Recently, the individually run farm lands were confiscated and those below the age of forty were forbidden to sell at the market. The government has been constantly carrying out such deeds in order to strengthen control over the people.
However, now, as the North Korean people have been living on their own, separated from the government, and because they distrust the government, they are continuously building black markets, using more illegal and irregular methods, as the government regulates and oppresses them more and more. Beginning to dissemble the big markets, the little ‘grasshopper markets,’ which are made by twenty to hundred people running around here and there, are again increasing in number. In the army we have commonly used terms of ‘concentrate-disperse’ strategy or ‘battalion (large troops) – small troops’ strategy and the ordinary people in North Korea are applying these militaristic methods in their daily lives, in order to escape the government regulation and oppression.
Radio broadcasting to North Korea and the changes in perceptions towards South Korea
The North Korean government is responding very sensitively towards the information from the outside. It seems that the people possessing cellular phones, who can contact with the outside, make up to about 2~3%, mostly residing along the border region. The North Korean government feels threatened and is increasing random inspections and regulations under the name of ‘Campaign,’ but even if they are preposterous policies and orders from the party, but because people hear too many orders, most of them disrespectfully listen in one ear and out the other ear. The people would say ‘Just need to be careful and endure for about ten days.’
When I heard that the number of North Korean defectors, who had entered South Korea, had reached six thousand in 2004 through the radio, I had a sudden impatience of the time running out and thought that ‘now there really is no time left.’ I used to listen to the KBS radio broadcasting for North Korea since the 1990s, and would go to sleep after listening to programs mostly like News Focus and News Review.
These days, even the North Koreans gather by twos and threes, in small groups and share their thoughts and opinions; and the reasoning among those, who secretly think it would be better to go to a war and the country to quickly collapse, is that if the situation gets tense, they would surrender to South Korea. However, I do not think that many North Koreans will come to South Korea, even if their country falls apart. Most of them will just go on living at home, if they will be allowed to live in human conditions and if the control loosens up a little.
North Koreans have the systematic lifestyle engraved in them from childhood and, if good leaders win the hearts of the people, everyone will follow, and the reconstruction of a new state may be much easier than it is worried. Because North Koreans have been so oppressed, if they are let to live in just a bit better off conditions, they would cheer with joy. Were there to be a reunification, the number of those returning home among the North Korean defectors, who already have come to South Korea, would be big. The North Korean people have seen and experienced mistreatment in their country, so they think it is rather a relief that South Korea is economically well-off and has high international reputation.
The nation-state, called North Korea still stands because it is capable of controlling people through government power and physical force. I believe that continuing the unilateral aid without a change in methods or a proper evaluation, when the atmosphere in North Korea is as such, will not be a humanitarian aid but a sentimental paranoia.
In the past, not many knew that ‘Daehanminguk’ (Republic of Korea) was the same word for South Chosun or South Korea, but now quite many do. Since the modern history of the Korean peninsula begins from ‘Daehanjeguk’ (the Great Korean Empire) of the modernization era which came with an end of Chosun Dynasty, it is right to use the national name of Republic of Korea, but there is no way for the North Korean people to know that the name ‘North Chosun’ was made by North Korea at will. Since no longer even the KBS radio, which used to broadcast to North Korea on history deals with it, many misunderstand the different terminology as the South Korean divisionist trend to divide the country into two in order to block reunification by even changing the name of the country.
In North Korea, it is hard to know of the outside news without the broadcasting to North Korea done by South Korea. However, since June 2000 North - South Summit, the South does not broadcast properly and it has been hard for the North Korea people to hear news from the outside. In the past, things like leaflets and candies used to fall into the North Korean region driven by balloons, but since the 2000, such things have vanished. At the time when people were starting to get to know more of the outside world and the dissatisfaction against the North Korean government was building up to its peak, rising in its effectiveness, the Summit with the South came and even broadcasting by KBS stopped. In the 1990s, it was helpful because there was so much good information, but since 2000, it has reduced.
When talking of human rights of the North Korean people, various things are mentioned, such as the freedom of speech, the right to be free from unfair punishment, the right to live, but I believe that the right to know of what is taking place in the world and the right to freely listen to independent information is also very important. Other human rights problems are usually long-term ones, but the right to listen to free information, even if discreetly, is something that the international community could give instantly to the North Korean people.
Recently, private radio broadcasts to North Korea from South Korea or the United States are increasing, but in reality, the KBS broadcasting frequency can be most easily caught. It is clear to listen to, there are many good announcers, the voices are nice and the pronunciations can be heard clearly. That is why it is most shameful that KBS has not been radio broadcasting to North Korea properly with good contents lately. The currently run private broadcastings to North Korea mainly notify about the situation in South Korea and the world, which is also important, but in reality it is more helpful for the North Koreans to be informed of the events and situations taking place in different parts of North Korea. Knowing what happened where and how things are taking place, makes people to find their ways to live on their own. I hope you will devote more attention to the rights to independent knowledge of the North Korean people.
Wanting to regain the country where people are the true masters
To tell you about my case, my motivation to escape North Korea came from thinking of the North Korean defectors as being the patriots. In other words, I thought that because the man in power had ruined the country and its people, there was no longer a country to feel patriotic about. Instead, I escaped North Korea with the desire to regain my country where the people were the true masters. I had for long served the country as an army officer, and even my parents were people of merit for participating in the Korean War, so I did not have much trouble living, since I did not have any class and family background obstacles. Despite that, I preferred to escape. I had admired the South Korean society as I had listened to the KBS radio broadcasting, and having personally come to South Korea, my thoughts proved to be right.
However, because I was afraid that my family and I would be cruelly punished if we went to China and were caught, I decided to take the direction of crossing the 38 degrees line. My wife and my son came with me. Since my son soon had to go to the army, I hurried in taking them out.
Worrying more of being caught and repatriated by the South than the North
I came down from Hwanghae province on the west of the peninsula, which the North Koreans call ‘Ttinghae province.’ The people there are innocent enough to have waved the South Korean national flag when the Korean Army came and then waved the North Korean flag when the Korean People’s Army came, but because many had took the sides of South Korea during the Korean Civil War, people call the province ‘Ttinghae province,’ which is intended to look down on the region as being a bit stupid. There have been people in the past, who have tried to escape from Hwanghae province and were caught in the middle and brought back. This was why the people of Hwanghae came to think that, if one escapes to the South, he/she would be repatriated.
Before I escaped from North Korea, the fear of being caught by the South Korean marines and sent back to the North was a big problem, since it takes about three hours or more to get to the South by passing through the NLL. It had occurred to me that since the scientific technology of the South is more developed, it would be easier to be caught by South Koreans than the North Koreans. That is why I picked the day when the fog stayed for several days. It took 25 hours to sail the boat. As to the boat, I found an engine and screws and made it into a motorboat by myself. In order to not get caught by the South Korean marines, I tried my best to get in touch with the civilians. The place we arrived in was called Wooldo (Wool Island), Incheon, and I went looking for the fishermen and explained that I came from the North. The man was the village headman and handed us over to the police.
I now live in Kyunggi Province, and at first I worked as a deliveryman and also as a carpenter. My wife is going out to a restaurant and is working hard. In any case, it is a society where you get paid as much as you work, so living is not much of a problem, but since I came out of North Korea in order to fight back the country deprived by the men of power, and have not been able to do so, I feel ashamed. I solicit to those gathered here to strive on, and give my word to try harder, small may it be. Thank you.