Imagine if you were sent to a concentration camp by your government for watching La Casa de Papel on Netflix. Unfortunately, what seems like an unfathomable joke to us is a definite reality for the people who live north of the 38th parallel. The 38th parallel north is a circle of latitude that lies 38 degrees north of the Earth’s equatorial plane. More commonly known as the Demilitarized Zone, or the DMZ, this line divides what used to be one united Korean nation.
The history of the border
Although it is an increasingly popular tourist destination, the history of the border must be remembered. Stemming back to 27 July 1953, the DMZ was instituted in an agreement between North Korea, China, and the United Nations. More recently, it has been brought to the public eye thanks to Kim Jong Un’s crossing of the border on 26 April 2018, the first time it has been crossed by a North Korean leader since its construction 75 years ago. Still technically in a state of war, it was only recently that South Korea decided to dismantle the high decibel speakers that blared K-Pop music and other propaganda across the border to their media-deprived kinsmen, in an attempt to entice soldiers into defection.
Media have played a central role not only in the cold war between the North and the South, but also in brainwashing the masses. In an excerpt from a book innocently titled Guidance for Journalists, the late North Korean leader Kim Jong-il leaves an impressive legacy of self-promoting propaganda. Exceedingly confident in his love for himself, he writes, ‘’It is advisable that the newspapers carry articles in which they unfailingly hold the president in high esteem, adore him and praise him as the great revolutionary leader.’’
North Korea has ranked dead last in terms of freedom of speech
The result of his diligent teachings can be seen till this very day. The state-owned Korean Central News Agency controls all media outlets in the country, leading to nothing but raving reviews of their beloved dictator. In 2017, Reporters Without Borders gave North Korea a ranking of 180 out of 180 nations in its World Press Freedom Index. To put it simply, North Korea has ranked dead last in terms of freedom of speech, a ranking that has been exceedingly consistent since the creation of the Index in 2002.
The USB is mightier than the Nuke
It is an understatement to say that North Koreans are cut off from the outside world. However, there is still hope despite the media blackout. Dennis Blair, a former director of US national intelligence, stated that “the kryptonite that can weaken North Korea is information from beyond its borders”. Organizations such as Liberty in North Korea and the North Korea Strategy Center work to break through the barriers set up by the regime in order to pierce through the veiled minds of the citizens.
If someone has never experienced or seen life any differently, how are they to know any better
One crucial way that they do this, is by launching balloons across the border containing USB flash drives that hold South Korean entertainment and news about the outside world. Media such as South Korean television shows provide a visualized alternative to the life that North Koreans lead. After knowing nothing but constant oppression, it is powerful to be able to see the proof for a different way of living, opening up new paths for imagination. If someone has never experienced or seen life any differently, how are they to know any better?
What can you do?
The Holocaust may be over, but atrocities that are at least equally as bad continue to take place as a nation chooses to exterminate its own people in camps some might say are more cruel than Auschwitz, just because they attempt to access media and information from the outside world. In this case, knowledge truly is power. Flash Drives for Freedom is an initiative by the Human Rights Foundation that sends flash drives across the border, disrupting the regime by loosening its hold on the minds of citizens. You can play your part by donating, buying merchandise, or mailing flash drives to Flash Drives For Freedom, c/o Forum280, P.O. Box 268, Palo Alto, CA 94302, in order to free the Hermit Kingdom.
Cover: Karla Sawyer/Pixabay / Final Editor: Iris Ausems