November 20, 2020

Korea’s “Berlin Wall” Must Fall

By Kim Myong, Senior North Korean Escapee

Edited by Greg Scarlatoiu, HRNK Executive Director

(Written for the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea on the 31st anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall)

Thirty-one years have passed since the fall of the Berlin Wall. That historic moment gave hope for reunification of the Korean Peninsula. Yet, the Korean people still live divided in their once unified homeland. The dark clouds of the Cold War are still hovering over a wall even higher and more impenetrable than the Berlin Wall.

It is a wall of mistrust, hatred, and confrontation erected along the 38th parallel, which has separated, since 1945, a nation that lived united under the same political system for over 1,000 years. This is a nation that, for its 5,000-year history, shared the same blood, language, and culture.

Born in North Korea, the world’s most repressive country, I lived a brainwashed life under the successive rules of Kim Il-sung, his son Kim Jong-il, and grandson Kim Jong-un. Now, although late, my new life in the Free World has begun.

Back in my home country, I left the spirits of my parents and ancestors who died long ago, and my brothers and sisters whose whereabouts I do not know. I do not even know if they are still alive or not.

And there live my beloved fellow countrymen who are fooled by the regime's propaganda that their “leader and regime are the best,” and remain blindly loyal for generations to the world's worst rulers.

This is why every November I have mixed feelings, thinking of a question that obsesses me: can the democratic revolution in East Europe, sparked by the fall of the Berlin Wall, be replicated in North Korea?


North Korean Society Weakens the Minds of Its People.


Over the past seven and a half decades, North Korea has been pursuing an old-fashioned ideology that even Russia, the motherland of communism, abandoned almost three decades ago. They have turned the northern half of the 700-mile-long Korean Peninsula into a human rights wasteland, where the majority of people starve and live in extreme poverty.

Despite their recurrent lip service, those who control North Korea hate their “dear fellow countrymen” in the South, and seek every opportunity to unify them under communism.

Most of the North Korean people do not understand terms and concepts such as “freedom,” “human rights,” and “democracy.” The reason is simple: They have never experienced the essence of these terms in their real life.

Their ancestors, like all other Koreans, had long lived under the totalitarian rule of the feudal Chosun Dynasty for 500 years, and experienced Japanese colonial rule for four decades in the early 20th century. With the influence of Confucianism and other religious beliefs, they became more accustomed to living up to their obligations as subjects rather than exercising their rights as citizens, and to obeying the established rule rather than opposing it.

When Korea gained independence in August 1945, a communist regime was established in the North to support Kim Il-sung’s dictatorship, while a government aimed at liberal democracy was established in the South.

North Korean communists have distorted the concepts of freedom and human rights that exist in the human subconscious, claiming this is the privilege of the rich, who can get anything they want in exchange for money. They have also defined individuals as “members of a collective society guided by the leader,” completely denying the natural attributes of individual human beings as well as their basic rights.

In addition, they have perverted the essence of democracy, claiming it is a political tool representing only the interests of capitalists. Eventually, their “original” version of democracy was made into a mere tool to preserve the Kim family’s grip on power.

From early childhood, North Koreans are forced to sacrifice everything they have for the “greater good,” for society rather than for themselves, and for the “great leader,” who is defined as the “top brain” of society.

Furthermore, the people of North Korea are brainwashed into employing the “revolutionary perception of life,” which claims that a life devoted to society will continue forever, even after physical death. In the Kim family regime’s North Korea, absolute obedience to the supreme leader is the road to eternal life.

Along with brainwashing, North Korean communists keep society closed. They try hard to block the inflow of information from the outside world to prevent any internal seeds of democratization from germinating.

“There can be a space on the pavement for weeds to grow, but there should be no empty space in the people's brain for any (forbidden) ideology to penetrate.” According to this absurd logic, the regime injects only the ideology and policy lines of the “great leader” and his cult of personality into the brains of the people who are hungry for knowledge of the outside world.

Ultimately, many people in North Korea, who have neither seen nor heard of the outside world, are indoctrinated, fooled, and coerced into believing the lies and propaganda of the regime. They are not allowed to think, speak, or behave as human beings. They are denied their fundamental human rights to personal choice and individual opinion.


From the Roots of Dictatorship, a More Vicious Dictatorship Grows

History proves that the more generations of absolute rulers that a dictatorship creates and the longer it survives, the more vicious it becomes. During his 50-year-long term in office, Kim Il-sung purged all his political opponents and perfectly laid the groundwork for a one-man dynasty.

Kim Jong-il exiled his half-brothers to foreign countries. He thought that they threatened his leadership. Kim Jong-il purged most of the senior executives of Kim Il-sung’s era by framing them as American spies under the unprecedented 1997 “Sim-hwa-jo Sa-eop Incident (“Intensification Operation).”

Then, the Public Security Department picked “scapegoats,” officials who were blamed for sabotaging the country’s food supply and contributing to the famine. Eventually, 30,000 officials and their families were rounded up. Many of them were imprisoned or executed.

Kim Jong-il also spent all the resources of the country on developing nuclear weapons and on satisfying his unlimited greed to enhance his own wealth, regardless of whether millions of people starved or not.

Kim Jong-un, a young dictator in his 30s, who rules North Korea today, far outperforms his predecessors in terms of inhumanity and brutality. He acceded to the throne upon the sudden death of his father Kim Jong-il in December 2011, unprepared and with little experience for assuming his role as supreme ruler of North Korea.

The North Korean people hoped that this young leader, who had studied abroad, would lead the country on a new path of reform and openness. In his early days at the helm, Kim Jong-un wanted to win the people’s confidence. He showed a seemingly open-minded personality to the public, by keeping his arms locked with his wife’s, allowing foreign songs and Mickey Mouse masks at national art performances, and inviting a former NBA player to Pyongyang.

However, it did not take long for Kim Jong-un to reveal his real personality. Paranoid and distrusting of the people around him, he executed a lot of them and recklessly even murdered his uncle and half-brother to consolidate his power. Just like his father before, he even executed people for watching South Korean movies.

Kim Jong-un does not care about the economy of the country, which is already on the brink of collapse. He has been pedaling towards the final phase of nuclear development. He believes that one day, he will have control over the fate of the entire Korean peninsula by threatening the lives of South Korean people with his nuclear arms and other weapons of mass destruction.

However, what the North Korean people want is not a country armed with nuclear weapons. All they want is simple, but so important for one’s personal happiness: a country where everyone can live peacefully with their neighbors, eat rice and soup with meat, wear a silk jacket and pants, and live under a tile roof.


The Embers of Human Rights and Democracy are Smoldering, but Alight in North Korea

Despite all the repression and hurdles, the admiration for the Free World, and the desire for democracy germinating quietly in the minds of North Koreans, they have been living for decades under the brutality and the repressive tyranny of the Kim family.

North Koreans are very envious of the remarkable economic prosperity that their compatriots in the South have achieved. While eating rice, choco pies, and tangerines from Jeju Island with “Made in Korea” labels, which were distributed after South Korean President Kim Dae Jung’s visit to Pyongyang in 2000, many North Koreans have dreamed that one day, they will be better off by being unified with South Korea. To them, the Free World, including South Korea, is a beacon of hope and information flowing in from outside is a nutrient that awakens them and opens their eyes.

When I was studying in Pyongyang, a senior student whom I held in the highest respect as my elder brother was suddenly arrested by the agents of the Public Security Department for being involved in an anti-government secret society. He never returned to school.

My friend’s brother, who lived in the same neighborhood, was taken away in the middle of the night with his whole family to a political prison for having written graffiti on a building’s wall, reading “Let’s overthrow Kim Il-sung!”

North Korean society looks peaceful when seen from the outside, and "Long live the great leader!" can be heard everywhere in public places. However, behind the scenes, barely visible embers are alive. There are people who want to overthrow the dictatorial rule of the Kim family.

The North Korean authorities, who fear that these embers will cluster together and turn into flames to overturn the regime, have dispatched their eyes and ears to monitor the ideological leanings of all people, wherever they may be. “Birds hear words during the day and rats hear words at night.” People are always aware of the meaning of this proverb, and never speak their mind at their workplace or at home.

However, just like magma, which long boils and moves deep underground prior to erupting into lava onto the Earth surface, the hidden anti-government sentiment of the North Korean people, who have been suffering for a long time under the oppression of their dictator, will explode one day with deadly, devastating energy.

The “Berlin Wall” of the Korean Peninsula Will Collapse when the North Korean Spring of Democracy Blossoms


On the occasion of the PyeongChang Olympic Games held in 2018, North Korea launched a peace offensive vis-à-vis the Free World as if their testing of nuclear weapons and missile firing belonged to a far-distant past.

Some people misunderstood the situation and thought that Kim Jong-un had made a comeback as a leader of a normal state to revitalize his national economy by receiving aid from the United States in exchange for giving up his nuclear weapons. However, what Kim Jong-un wanted was neither to abandon nuclear weapons nor to revitalize the economy. His real intention was to exchange the old Yongbyon nuclear reactor for an easing of economic sanctions, just to “protect his purse”. In addition, he wanted to gain as side benefits the cessation of loudspeaker broadcasting to North Korea as well as the suspension of U.S.-South Korea joint military exercises.

North Korea worked hard to “improve” inter-Korean relations first in order to initiate, as a next step, a summit with the president of the United States and to continue to execute fundamental Kim regime tactics.

In the end, the South Korean president was nothing more than just a bridesmaid who helped the North Korean dictator meet the U.S. president three times to engage in attempted fraud. It was fortunate that the United States did not accept Kim Jong-un’s offer and refused to ease the sanctions regime.

Even now, some political leaders in the Free World, including in South Korea, seem to believe that Kim Jong-un will give up his nuclear weapons if denuclearization talks continue, while ignoring North Korean human rights issues. That is a fanciful delusion.

Allegedly in order to maintain inter-Korean dialogue momentum under the Moon Jae-in government, South Korea has neither co-sponsored nor co-drafted General Assembly and other UN resolutions on North Korean human rights. This is, by no means, a gesture suitable to a country that has grown into a democracy.

If the Free World turns a blind eye, even temporarily, towards North Korean human rights issues, it will make dealing with North Korea ever more difficult, and the Spring of Democracy in North Korea will never come. The only person who will benefit from this neglect is the North Korean dictator.

The Free World should abandon any illusion that if denuclearization is realized, human rights issues can automatically be resolved. Human rights, denuclearization, and other security issues, are closely interrelated. They must all become part of the working agenda in all negotiations with North Korea.

It is vital to voice the concerns of the international community on the North Korean human rights situation at all United Nations fora, to put pressure on the North Korean government, and to press engagement with the North Korean regime to improve the human rights of their people.

The South Korean government should safeguard the existence and operations of non-governmental organizations that send information to North Koreans who are hungry for truth and news from the outside world.

The North Korean authorities should not turn away from the international community's requests to improve the human rights of their people. They should cooperate with the United Nations and its Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

The safety of a nation can by no means be maintained with nuclear weapons or weapons of mass destruction. Rather, it is in the hands of the people, who will decide the destiny and future of the country.

If North Korea raises the status of all their citizens as equal members of society, and if it ensures and upholds their equal rights and liberties, there will be no country in the world that will threaten such a nation.

The “Berlin Wall” on the Korean Peninsula will finally collapse when the Spring of Democracy blossoms in North Korea. Dramatic improvements of the human rights and living standards of all North Korean people will certainly follow.