In May, the North Korean authorities put six high school students to public trial from the town of Nampo. According to the Daily NK, a Seoul news portal known to its sources in North Korea, during the trial they were charged with the “serious crime” of viewing more than 120 South Korean movies and series in the last year and recommending them to their peers.
With shackles on their hands and in the presence of their parents, the minors were found guilty. His punishment, five years of internment in a reeducation camp.
After years gaining millions of followers all over the world, south korean pop culture it has even been able to conquer the impregnable stronghold of neighboring North Korea. From movies to music videos, through series, hairstyles, dance steps or ways of dressing, its clandestine rise does not like anything to the authorities of the communist country, who have declared a kind of cultural war with which to put an end to this particular invasion.
In December, Pyongyang approved a law that punishes the possession of this type of material with up to 15 years of internment in a concentration camp, while the death penalty would await those accused of its distribution. Since then, official speeches and columns in the state press have distilled furious diatribes against “anti-socialist” or “reactionary” influences from abroad, which the Supreme Leader himself, Kim Jong Un, called “dangerous poisons”.
The Kim dynasty controls everything in North Korea. AP Photo
The newspaper Rodong Sinmun He warned North Korean youth a couple of weeks ago to adhere to the use of the country’s standard language, avoid foreign slang and follow “traditional lifestyles.” “The ideological penetration and cultural under the colorful banner of the bourgeoisie is even more dangerous than the enemies who take up arms ”, added the aforementioned newspaper. At stake is, they said, the future of the northern political system.
The Kim dynasty has ruled North Korea with an iron fist for three uninterrupted generations, in which the loyalty of its population – repeatedly plagued by hunger and other hardships – has been put to the test on numerous occasions. During this time, state propaganda has not hesitated to describe neighboring South Korea as nothing short of hell on earth, a place where food is scarce and beggars and criminals roam free.
But as foreign films, press releases and series began to cross the border illegally – first on video, then on CDs or USB sticks transported by balloons or human traffickers – that image began to leak. With the windows covered and the doors closed to avoid denunciations, the North Koreans saw on their screens snippets of “a life more free, open, rich and fun than the one that the North can offer,” wrote about the political scientist Robert E. Kelly.
Herein lies the threat to the regime. On the one hand, those images of prosperity and development may push North Koreans to try to seek a better life in the south. According to a 2020 survey, of the 116 North Korean defectors interviewed, 48% said they consumed South Korean culture before leaving the country.
On the other hand, experts say, these activities could bring about a change from within. “All those young people who consume South Korean pop culture they will get older and enter the institutions, bringing with it new ideas for change and moderation, “added Kelly.
The efforts of the North Korean authorities to eradicate this type of content are not new. But in recent times has become a more pressing problem if possible, given that the images of abundance and freedom in the south contrast with the growing narrowness caused by sanctions, floods and the closure of borders imposed in 2020 to stop the coronavirus.
Kim himself admitted in June that the food situation “is getting tense“, Just weeks after urging officials to prepare for another” tough march “against economic difficulties. It was the first time that he had used that term in public, which refers to the famine that the country suffered in the 1990s and killed hundreds of thousands of people.
“Now it is more difficult than ever to obtain information about what is happening inside,” Lina Yoon, North Korea chief researcher at Human Rights Watch, told this newspaper. In the past year, most diplomats and humanitarian workers they have left the country. In addition, the closure of borders has almost cut off the flow of defectors (in 2020 only 229 arrived in Seoul, four times less than in 2019), “another valuable source of information.”
And, at the end of last year, approved the aforementioned law against the possession of Chinese mobile phones, USB or memory cards. “Seeing their efforts, it seems that they want to cover any hole through which information leaks that could affect their stability,” he summarized.