“For long periods the High seem to be securely in power, but sooner or later there always comes a moment when they lose either their belief in themselves, or their capacity to govern efficiently, or both” (Orwell 166). The “High”, in reference to Orwell’s quote, is the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea who themselves believe to be in complete control of its citizens, but will surely crumble due to the group’s recklessness of power. There are many parallels between the dominating political group, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, and the Party of George Orwell’s 1984.
One parallel is the deprivation of human rights within North Korea’s society, which corresponds with the methods of control the Party executes in 1984. The society within North Korea is deficient in everything due to the government’s lack of acknowledgement for its citizens. The amount of human rights violations North Korea has broke is off the scale, almost making it seem impossible that they have violated every conceivable human right (“North Korea country profile”). Millions of the citizens are malnourished and can barely pay for food with the wages they are given.
Although the government does not admit to this, there are “reform camps” that are in use that hold thousands of citizens for even the smallest of crimes. The general lack of humanity within North Korea mixed with the unwilling but unwavering devotion of its citizens allows the DPRK to keep its power steady, yet they are too comfortable with their amount of power. Kim Jong Un The absence of human rights in North Korea creates more political control, but in the long run creates political instability due to the impending threat of dissent and inevitable societal changes.
The lack of humanity in North Korea causes dissent, which disrupts the political stability of its government. The entire government system is corrupted due to the overwhelming power of the reigning dictator, Kim Jong-Un. In a sense, he is the Big Brother of North Korea–he sees all and all must obey. Resembling the methods of the Party, dissent is limited through the restriction of information and constant threat of death if they act against the views of the DPRK. Dissent in North Korea is mainly based on political criticisms such as anti-DPRK propaganda or failure to adhere to DPRK’s beliefs.
This brutality is especially shown within North Korea’s hidden labor camps. One account from a escaped North Korean defector, Shin Dong-hyuk, explains the atrocities faced in the camps: “Shin and his mother lived in the best prisoner quarters Camp 14 had to offer: a ‘model village’… There were no beds, chairs, or tables. There was no running water. No bath or shower… About thirty families shared a well for drinking water” (Harden 15). This excerpt from his biography, Escape From Camp 14: One Man’s Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West, shows the inhumane conditions within the camps.
The camps itself are human rights violations, but with the addition of torture and cruel punishments it makes it an even bigger offense. Being sent to the internment camps or, as it was first publicly noted as “reform through labor”, is possible for even the smallest of crimes (“World Report 2015: North Korea. “). There is also the “three generations of punishment” act where one’s family must also be sent to live in the camps, along with the next two generations (“World Report 2015: North Korea. “).
These unjust consequences set by the government are causing more citizens to openly dissent against the obscene rules of the DPRK. Small acts of dissent are beginning to rise. One was featured in James Jones’ documentary, Secret State of North Korea, where a woman is shown protesting an officer’s authority after being fined a large fee for a small offense. The willingness to speak up and confront authority is low but rising. Because of its inhumane living conditions and riskiness of rebelling within the country, many are seeking refuge in other countries, such as South Korea.
From there, they are given a home and money to get settled. More defectors and activists are beginning to aid in the rebellion against Kim Jong-Un’s regime. The harsh conditions that North Korean citizens have to live in have only recently come into light due to the fact that North Korea has kept its information within its country. Defectors are sending contraband, such as American currency, which has high value in the black market, and anti-North Korean leaflets using balloons (Suk). This is risky because several armed troops patrol along the borderline to look out for defectors and in some cases, shot them (Suk).
Although a dangerous process due to the unpredictability of North Korea’s police force, many defectors still send their criticisms of the regime. The government’s injustices will not go unnoticed and the masses will begin to dissent. In addition to rebellion, impending societal changes will have a big impact on North Korea’s government as influences from other nations are coming in. The use of technology influences public opinion about the nation, but technology is heavily restricted.
The citizens in North Korea are limited in almost every form of social media and the nation’s only service provider can monitor one’s information. Only a miniscule amount of North Korea’s population has the ability to access the internet, yet even then, the internet has been heavily censored to fit North Korean media. Defectors have been sending illegal USBs containing information since all news in limited and censored (Halvorsson & Lloyd). Some contain criticisms and even political cartoons aimed at Kim Jong Un. The regime’s biggest threat is information because the DPRK must control and warp it to fit the lies created.
The citizens in North Korea have little contact with the outside world without the help of defectors. Not only is information limited, misinformation is spread:“We heard South Korea was very violent and Koreans were always having their human rights violated and American tanks were around the cities, driving over people… And that there were all these demonstrations because rent and taxes were too high” (Branigan). The North Korean government creates a false image by informing its citizens of lies to preserve the image that their country is more successful than others.
The restriction of technology and media is similar to the Party’s method of restricting contact between Eurasia and Oceania to keep the masses ignorant of the world surrounding them. Ultimately, technology has a substantial impact on a government’s stability. Furthermore, women are becoming the breadwinners for their families instead of the men traditionally supplying the source of income. The women were expected to stay at home and care for the children, but there has been an uplift of women working in the black markets because their husbands do not make as much money working in the factories.
This social change has also led into an increase of empowerment for the women who were usually subject to their husbands. This empowerment has led to more women’s voices being heard. Their political views also being influenced by the workplace as the marketplace is the center for ideas and protests: “Women, because of their prominence in the market, are at the forefront of acts of civil disobedience…[but] civil disobedience is still extremely unusual in North Korea.
The protests are generally reactive and defensive in nature, but women are very prominent in them” (Lim). This makes women an important factor in the reform of the government due to their rising empowerment and willingness to fight for social change. It may seem that resistance is useless as the government has accumulated a substantial amount of power over its citizens, but millennials in North Korea–the generation that is 25% of the 25 million North Korean citizens–don’t see that as a barrier standing in their way.
In fact, it has encouraged more of the young generation to become active in politics: It’s in this environment of marketization that North Korea’s younger generation is taking shape.. Most never received food rations and have no warm memories of a stable regime. They’re more individualistic than their parents. And like American millennials, more young North Koreans aren’t waiting for the government or institutions to bail them out. They’re engineering their own survival (Wee).
The stability of the government and the regime had been based on the older generations who gave up resisting and conformed to the rules. The upcoming younger generations are beginning to rebel against North Korea’s rules and lose faith in Kim Jong-Un’s regime. One of their biggest changes from the older generations is the increased use of the black market, dubbing them the “black-market generation” (Wee). Unlike their parents, the current generation is given barely any food rations and North Korea’s economy has tanked, which forces them to turn to bartering at the black markets.
Although use of the black market is prohibited, it is the only way some can obtain basic necessities, such as food, soap and clothing. It also supplies essentials, though most have been enticed by the number of contraband found in the markets such as bootleg movies, USBs and electronics (Wee). The growth of black markets and its economy is essential to political reform because it makes citizens more independent from the government, thus causing more to criticize the practices of the DPRK.
Not only does the black market create complications for the government, it undermines the class system that the regime created. Kongdan Oh, a member in the Council of Foreign Relations, explained in her testimony to the council about the imbalance of the social classes: “No dictatorship can afford to grant its people social and political equality, but the North Korean regime has constructed a more elaborate model of political stratification, discrimination, and persecution than most dictatorships” (Oh).
Songbun”, the three-level class system within North Korea that mirrors 1984’s class system where it is divided into three political groups–the loyal “core” class, a suspect “wavering” class and the lower “hostile” class–the classes which citizens are born into determine the amount of freedoms and rations given. This is less of a problem now due to the availability of goods in the black market, which then decreases the reliance on the government and dismantles the government’s control on who gets food and how much.
Overall, younger generations are the key to reform in North Korea. The Orwellian society, in which freedom of expression and basic human rights are heavily limited, resonates within North Korea. But likewise to the Party, their weakness is that their stability is heavily based how well it can control the masses from rebellion. Although the government has amassed a large amount of power over its citizens, the threatening rise of dissent and ongoing societal changes will destabilize their powers.