Conformity in North Korea

A collaborative writing project for English 10B

by Andy Adams, Savannah Coulter, Chris Covrett, Jared Gootjes, Paige Ike, Hayden Kargol & Will Yared

Intervarsity Press
A regional map of North Korea found at http://www.operationworld.org/country/korn/owtext.html

Imagine living in a world where your family as well as yourself are severely malnourished. All you want is a cure for the knotting hunger in your stomach, but you and the rest of the country can do nothing about it. The poverty around you is consuming the citizens as the military gets stronger. Everything you do is restricted and is limited by the government. This is a daily struggle for the citizens of North Korea, a country with a dictator in power.  In North Korea, every part of the citizens’ lives is regulated by the dictator in power, Kim Jong Un. This includes religion, travel, media, food, military, and speech. Though this may seem shocking, heartbreaking and unethical, it is in fact a reality for the people of North Korea. North Koreans have conformed to their current government by media restrictions, the current food situation, travel restrictions, and religion.

Let us introduce you to a situation that may seem unimaginable. 

To start off, how much time do you think the average American spends on the internet a week? According to The Technology Review, the average American spends 24 hours a week online. We use the internet for almost everything, including communicating with people, researching, learning about what’s going on in the world, etc. Using the internet has become an integral part of our daily lives, but imagine if you could only use the internet for knowing what’s going on in your country. Our collaborative team spoke to a South Korean citizen named Derek Stelma who has been to North Korea as part of a Non-Government Organization. He went to North Korea nine years ago and is very knowledgeable about the current situation in North Korea. Sharing the news about the current situation and the large conformity of its citizens is very important to him. In a personal interview with him, he stated, “They have an intranet, not an internet. So the information they access is just basically inside North Korea.” This goes to show North Korea’s media restrictions are very strict and shows that North Korea doesn’t want outside media to be shown to their citizens. North Koreans are forced to conform to not having the knowledge of what’s going around the outside world, and many North Koreans want the current situation to change.

While continuing our conversation with Stelma he told us something shocking; he said the Non Governmental Organization, or NGO, tries to help out the citizens. They hide secret USB ports in 2 liter bottles filled with rice to throw into rivers so that North Koreans can get a taste of what’s going on in the outside world. However, battling back against conformity could lead to serious punishment for the citizens. According to the article “Brutal and inhumane laws North Koreans are forced to live under” by Mike Wright and David Urban, “The NGO, Freedom House, reports that listening to unauthorized foreign broadcasts, watching foreign TV shows and possessing dissident publications are considered ‘crimes against the state.’ Those caught face execution or being sent to labour camps.” As you can see, conformed North Korean citizens will risk their own lives just to discover media from the outside world.  

In North Korea, not knowing where your next meal is coming from or not knowing if a medical issue you have will be taken care of is not an uncommon situation. According to UN News, An estimated 11 million people in North Korea — over 43 percent of the population — are undernourished. They are at risk of becoming malnourished because their diets lack sufficient vitamins, fat, minerals, and protein.” This goes to show that almost half of North Korea’s population is in need of better food and water. Without solving this problem the percentage will only grow higher. Malnourishment can lead to all sorts of health problems, but these problems will only go unsolved due to North Korea’s lack of medical assistance. UN News reports that There is a shortage of drugs and medical supplies and equipment, making it very difficult for medical authorities to meet the needs of all the people in a way that would pass basic humanitarian thresholds.” The lack of food and supplies creates a downward spiral for the vulnerable North Koreans, and they have no choice but to suffer hunger as the government puts their money into the military rather than its own citizens. Many of the citizens are constantly hungry, but are forced to conform to North Korea’s militaristic ways.

Traveling to most people may seem like something of a day to day activity, but in North Korea leaving your country could cause you to have a criminal record. Even with this restriction many North Koreans risk their lives every year to escape the corruption of their country. According to The Telegraph, “Those who are caught face time in labour camps or execution. Even those who successfully make it out of the North can still be persecuted by government agents and there are reports of defector’s families being punished in their absence.” So, even if a person manages to get out of the country, the family of that individual is at risk. From this information the extreme restriction in the country and the corruption that goes on in North Korea is clear to see. 

In America we have been granted the freedom of religion by the first amendment, although in North Korea they are not as lucky to be granted this right. According to The Telegraph, North Korea’s official religion is called Juche, a fusion of Marxism and Korean Nationalism created by Kim Il-Sung. North Korea is an Atheist state, as well as irreligious with main religions being Shamanism and Chondoism (Hinduism), as well as small numbers of Christian North Koreans. There is no freedom of religion in North Korea, even though the North Korean Constitution said it was guaranteed. Those who are discovered practicing other religions could face persecution and end up in labor camps.  Those who end up in labor camps “face dire living conditions and are likely forced to provide hard labor,” according to USCIRF. Derek Stelma said, “Being caught with the Bible is one of the highest crimes against the country.” As Stelma explained in his interview with us, life and freedom is very limited for North Korean citizens. Even something as simple as practicing one’s religion of choice is stripped from them. Once again, this shows how much the citizens of North Korea are forced to conform in their current government situation. The consequences of going against the North Korean ways of life are so large that conformity is a life or death decision. 

To conclude, North Koreans are forced to conform to their current situation. They have to deal with struggles with media, their well being, travel and religion. Many North Koreans want a change in their current lives, and people like Derek Stelma have seen it first hand. Under the rule of Kim Jong-Un, North Korea remains among the world’s most repressive countries. The government greatly diminishes basic liberties as defined by the United Nations, including freedom of expression, religion and conscience, assembly and association. It prohibits political opposition, independent media, and civil society. It’s truly easy to see the rights and freedom you have in America when compared to this communist country. Currently, there are many ways to help the people of North Korea, including finding an NGO or other group to donate supplies that will be sent overseas to those in need. Now that you see how fortunate we are to be living in America, what will you do to make a difference?