Brainwashed Youth of North Korea

28 08 2015

NK children in PY subway(, AUGUST 25, 2015) If there’s one thing you wouldn’t expect Gen-Y to do, it’s rise up in support of a “sacred war” and pledge their “faith and will to annihilate the enemies”. One million North Korean millenials have vowed to defend their country as tensions with the South boil over, at least according to the state-run Korean Central News Agency. We’re used to antagonistic rhetoric and displays of strength from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, but the strangest aspect of the latest confrontation is the visible enthusiasm of the country’s teens.

This positivity abounded in the capital, Pyongyang, yesterday, with truckloads of young soldiers singing martial songs driving around the city and large crowds materialising for impromptu rehearsals of activities planned for the ruling Workers Party’s 70th anniversary in October. By evening, people had gathered around televisions in public places — not to learn the outcome of crisis talks with the South, but to watch the debut of Boy General, a popular cartoon revamped for the first time in five years at the order of Kim Jong-un. It may seem like unusual teenage behaviour, but experts say it’s no surprise. It’s what they’ve been trained for since birth.

Citizens in North Korea live in a bubble sealed off from the rest of the world, where they have no choice but to adhere to the status quo. They are expected to show the unerring devotion to their leader that was demonstrated when Kim Jong-il’s subjects took to the streets wailing and tearing their hair after his death, in scenes that baffled the world. Young people growing up under the totalitarian regime have little freedom of movement, means of communication or economic independence. Foreign film and literature are banned and they are taught a revised version of history in school, learning songs of worship that praise the ruling Kim family.

“The young generation don’t know much about life outside,” Dr Leonid Petrov from ANU’s College of Asia and the Pacific told “They’re curious about what’s going on but constantly brainwashed that the world is hostile.”
Kim Jong-un has made a great show of being a progressive young leader, introducing new freedoms including letting people eat fast food, allowing them to own mobile phones and permitting women to wear pants and jewellery and ride bicycles. But the regime continues to exercise control over these changes.

“Life in North Korea is pretty artificial,” said Dr Petrov. “There’s access to fashionable clothes in Pyongyang, where people can see, but in rural areas, even if you have a mobile phone there’s no electricity, or access to the web. People eat a little better now but life is pretty difficult.” For most young people, there’s little time to think about politics before they begin their mandatory service in the Korean People’s Army at 17. It can last as long as a decade for men, while women serve for around seven years.

With young people not leaving the military until their mid-20s, many commentators see the slightly older generation of “in-betweeners” as the state’s best hope for rebellion. Middle-aged people, known as jangmadang, have little interest in a revolution after surviving the Great Famine of the 1990s, focusing on becoming pioneers in a more capitalist market, explains Professor Kim Sung-kyung, from the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, South Korea.

The youngest members of society are increasingly influenced by trends from the outside world, she told the NK News, such as fashionable clothes and eating pizza — but these advances are “superficial” and carefully managed by the government.
Prof Sung-kyung says the real subversion comes from those in their late 20s taking the opportunity to “punch holes in the regime in their everyday lives” through “secretive experiences they can share each other, without being caught by the government”. As young people start to share ideas, smuggling videos and USBs in from South Korea, there is an opportunity for freedom: which is exactly what the state is so working hard to suppress.

It’s when citizens dissent that the harshest side of Kim Jong-un’s dictatorship is revealed. Park Ji-hyun left North Korea with Chinese traffickers during the famine, forced to leave her dying father behind. After six years, she was reported to the authorities and sent back. Classified as a defector, she was sent to a labour camp and worked to the bone, clearing mountainsides with her bare hands. “You could say the whole of North Korea is one big prison,” she told Amnesty International.

Eventually she was discharged with tetanus in her leg and, homeless and sick, managed to make a second escape. Her story shows how hard it really is. It’s estimated that hundreds of thousands of North Koreans, including young children, are enslaved in prison camps, and arbitrary arrests and public executions are commonplace, according to Human Rights Watch. The organisation says it’s this, along with the lack of political opposition, independent labour unions, free media or civil society that constitute the real challenge to youth empowerment.

“It’s very easy to manipulate people when they’re locked in a country without information,” said Dr Petrov. “They blame the outside world’s blockades for lack of food and so on. “North Korea has been mobilising people since the Korean War in the 1950s. Creating a crisis is part of the game. It’s a country frozen in time and needs mobilsation for something to change. People are prepared to go to extreme lengths.”

When we hear stories about defectors or progressive material slipping into this repressive society, it’s tempting to think it’s only a matter of time until the regime is overthrown. The young people who swore allegiance this weekend somewhat dispel that notion. Propaganda is key. Defector Jang Jin-sung, formerly one of Kim Jong-il’s poets, said he fully believed the rhetoric he helped to spread. That was, until he obtained special permission to visit to his hometown and saw corpses piled on the pavement, realising for the first time that the famine rumours were true.

The propaganda is psychological and emotional, he told The Guardian. People are not willing to risk the lives of their families by speaking out, and they are so isolated they have “no concept of basic human rights” anyway. Jang himself had to flee execution. “If anyone thinks North Korea is opening up, they are completely mistaken,” he said. While the state recently started allowing some tourism, such industries are controlled by the elite. “If there was any hint of real change,” added Jang, “ … the whole thing would collapse.”

The current atmosphere illustrates that. The stand-off began with explosion of landmines south of the heavily fortified border, which Seoul said had been planted by the North. The South responded by blasting a barrage of world news, pop music and criticism of Kim Jong-un’s oppressive government from loudspeakers along the border. The North denied involvement in the mines and demanded it cease this “psychological warfare” or face attack.

By Saturday, the DPRK had mobilised more than 70 submarines and undersea vehicles, according to Seoul’s Defence Ministry, and artillery fire has been exchanged. It’s unclear what will come of the talks. Analysts in Seoul say the North fears the broadcasts could demoralise its frontline troops and inspire them to defect. This forceful response shows it knows only too well the power of propaganda, and is determined not to let its young people hear it.

Titanic struggle for unification keeps the two Koreas apart

3 04 2013

War and peace in Korea(Leonid Petrov, Australian Financial Review, 3 April 2013)

At the beginning of every spring Northeast Asia is marked by resumed tensions between North and South Korea. Naval clashes in disputed waters, skirmishing across the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), military drills and strong-worded rhetoric are hardly novel. Nevertheless, this year we are witnessing inter-Korean tensions reaching unprecedented heights. Something that looked like a seasonal aggravation of a slow-motion war now threatens to slip out of control and become a full-scale war between the two halves of the divided peninsula.

The Korean War, which started in June 1950 as a war to unify Korea, was effectively turned by the UN into an international conflict, where a coalition of sixteen countries, led by the United States, fought North Korea and China. Miraculously the conflict did not explode into World War III where the use of nuclear weapons would have been almost certain. Resulting in a stalemate and fragile truce, the Korean War left behind the two irreconcilable regimes – with capitals in Pyongyang and Seoul – frustrated and increasingly adamant to resume the war and accomplish national unification.

Compromise and reconciliation were not in the two Koreas’ political vocabulary until the early 1970s, when the post-war economic development of North and South Korea became comparable. This was when the International Red Cross organisation helped separated families from the North and South meet for the first time since the fratricidal conflict. In 1974 Pyongyang approached Washington with a proposal for a peace treaty; the North Koreans also approached Seoul with a comprehensive plan for peaceful unification. However, the continuing ideological and economic competition of the Cold War in the region precluded the restoration of peace.

Since then the Republic of Korea (South Korea) and the US have staged biannual joint military drills, which take place in the West (Yellow) Sea, south of the DMZ, and in the East Sea (Sea of Japan). During these drills, the allies deploy new types of weapons and tactics, including a simulated nuclear strike. Since the collapse of the Communist Bloc, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) has developed its own nuclear and missile programs as a deterrence. But neither of these preparations have helped resolve the persisting security dilemma. Seoul and Pyongyang continue to see one other as sworn enemies, each waiting for the imminent collapse of the other, providing the opportunity for unification.

Even the temporary détente in relations between North and South, known as the decade of the “Sunshine Policy” (1998-2007), did not fully dissipate mistrust and animosity in Korea. Pyongyang continued building its nuclear and missile arsenal, while Seoul continued regular joint military, naval and air drills with its US ally, deploying ever more advanced weapons of mass destruction. As a result, negative inter-dependence has been created in relations between North Korea and US allies in the Asia-Pacific region. North Koreans blame the United States for all its economic misfortunes, while the US and its regional allies, including Australia, always find faults in Pyongyang’s actions and intentions.

Last week, after 60 years of slow-motion war thinly covered by the 1953 Armistice Agreement, Pyongyang finally found the courage to call a spade a spade. The ambiguity of the current situation is no longer tolerable for North Koreans, who are tired of sanctions, double standards in international relations, and nuclear bullying. The situation of “neither war nor peace” has already led to famine, stagnation and isolation of this rich and strategically important part of Northeast Asia. By proclaiming a “state of war” with South Korea and the US, Kim Jong-Un is simply reminding the world about this unresolved problem inherited from the Cold War era.

Originally published by the Australian Financial Review as “Titanic struggle for unification keeps the two Koreas apart” (03/04/2013)

Also published by Sharnoff’s Global Views as “War and Peace in Korea”

NKorea Suspends Disabling Nuclear Facilities

26 08 2008

SEOUL, August 26 (Itar-Tass) – North Korea announced a decision to suspend disabling its nuclear facilities over the violation by the United States of the understandings, reached at the six-party talks on denuclearising the Korean Peninsula, says a statement by the North Korean Foreign Ministry, circulated by the KCNA news agency on Tuesday.

BBC News has also reported that work was suspended on 14 August, a foreign ministry spokesman told the state news agency KCNA. North Korea says it took the step because the US failed to remove it from a list of state sponsors of terrorism. But the US says it wants to agree more stringent verification processes before it does so.

North Korea finally submitted a long-delayed account of its nuclear facilities to the six-party talks in June – and was expecting to be removed from the US list of terrorism sponsors in return. But that move has been delayed amid wrangling among the six parties – North and South Korea, the US, China, Russia and Japan – over how to verify the North’s declaration. The North has also threatened to restore facilities at its main Yongbyon plant – where the main cooling tower was spectacularly demolished in late June in a symbol of Pyongyang’s commitment to disarmament.

Mutual Trust Broken in Six-Party Talks

by Leonid Petrov, OhmyNews (27 Aug. 2008)

Last month, when US State Department decided to remove the DPRK from its list of terrorism-sponsoring states, we knew that the Congress had time until August 10 to enact a joint resolution that would block this from happening. No action was necessary to allow it to pass, and as of August 11, 2008, Secretary of State Rice would have completed the rescission. Obviously, something went wrong (see the list of State Sponsors of Terrorism here) and North Korea learned about it immediately. Hence, the work on disabling the nuclear facilities was suspended on 14 August. But why did North Korea make this statement only today, 26 August?

It’s logical to presume that the last two weeks were marked by the military confrontation in the Caucasus, an event too dramatic for the world to notice a minor development (or the lack of such) where North Korea remains in the list of rogue states. Today, when the world is again deeply in the sate of Cold War, characterized by the return of ideological bi-polarity, North Korea’s statement sounds dramatic and threatening enough. In the minds of Pyongyang strategists this confrontation has never ended. But now, when Moscow and Washington again look at each other through the screens of anti-missile radars, North Korea knows that it is not alone. The old “zero-sum game” continues with new fervor.

Apparently, “substantive talks” on verification between the two sides still continue. What else can be verified? Do North Koreans really have any undeclared secrets that make Americans so nervous that they break their promise easily? Only time will show. Surely, to “suspend” the disabling of its nuclear facilities is one thing, but to “reverse” this process is completely different. For the time being, Pyongyang can continue blackmailing Washington with a mere “suspension”, while hinting at further possible steps in this direction as a deterrence. Had North Koreans have some undisclosed nuclear programs, they could reactivate them very soon to start the game all over again. Had they not (meaning that they have been bluffing to squeez economic assistance from the West), they certainly need to develop one, simply to keep the stakes high.

In any case, the positive dynamic of the previous 18 months (since February 2007) is now history, and mutual trust is broken. The adopted principle of “action for action” now works against the common interest, quickly being reduced to “an eye for an eye”. Hopefully, the world will not become blind in the process, as Mahatma Gandhi once warned us.


Ким Чен Ир открыл второй фронт

Андрей Иванов, “Kommersant”; Леонид Петров, Канберра
27 August 2008
Пхеньян обвинил вчера США в нарушении договоренностей по свертыванию северокорейской ядерной программы и объявил о том, что не только приостанавливает мероприятия по выводу из строя своих ядерных объектов, но и рассмотрит вопрос о восстановлении уже разрушенного оборудования. На этот шаг северокорейское руководство вдохновили действия России на Кавказе, поставившие Москву на грань конфронтации с Западом.
В распространенном вчера заявлении северокорейского агентства ЦТАК говорится, что с 14 августа КНДР приостановила процесс денуклеаризации, оговоренный в соглашении, достигнутом 3 октября 2007 года на шестисторонних переговорах по северокорейской ядерной программе в Пекине. Кроме того, отмечается в заявлении, северокорейское руководство собирается рассмотреть “вопрос восстановления объектов в Йонбене до их прежнего состояния”.
Это рискованный шаг. Но, как считают эксперты, сейчас Пхеньян, недовольный нарушениями американцами их обязательств, может на него пойти, расценив российские действия на Кавказе как готовность Кремля вернуться к конфронтации времен холодной войны. Северокорейскому руководству такое развитие событий даст лишнее оправдание для свертывания начатых было реформ и новые козыри в дипломатическом торге с США. (See the full story here…)