A Country or a Prison? The Story of North Korea

We have the freedom to do so much in this world and yet we don’t realize it; we take it for granted. Imagine being told what television channels and movies you are permitted to watch, being forbidden from travelling abroad or even from just stating your opinion. It sounds like an unfamiliar, cruel prison, but unfortunately, this is a very real situation in North Korea today.

In theory, the politics of North Korea operates within a democratic multi-party framework. In practice, North Korea functions as a single party state, which means that only a single political party (in this case, the Workers’ Party of Korea) forms the government and no other party is allowed to run candidates for election.  (Though two other parties exist for namesake, but in reality they have no power and are legally bound to WPK). The political system is structured based on the principle of centralization; the decision making and all the activities in the country are restricted to the government being in power. Presently, Kim Jong-Il is the leader and he completely controls the government and the country. It is considered to be a ‘de facto totalitarian communist dictatorship’, where a single political person and party controls nearly every aspect of the people’s lives; severely restricting human rights and keeping a close watch on them.

It is very hard for an outsider to gain information on what truly goes on inside North Korea, as it is a very secretive country. The government does not usually permit foreigners into the country, and if they do, they keep an eye on them, not permitting them to talk to the local people. There are places and regions that are not open to tourists at all. The citizens of North Korea are usually not allowed to leave either; therefore most of the information comes from refugees.

The media is fully operated by the government- all the local newspapers, radio and television channels glorify and praise the leader, Kim Jong-Il. They have little or no access to the outside world and what is happening around them. In short, they are trapped inside a country, which constantly propagandises  to tell them that the way that they are living is the best, not giving them an option to think otherwise. If one is heard criticizing the government, it leads to immediate arrest.

As if it isn’t bad enough that your mind is being controlled and manipulated with, the citizens of North Korea are hardly allowed to travel within the country, let alone abroad. The government limits their access to transportation and fuel, and only the politically elite own vehicles. Often, as a punishment for political reasons, citizens and their families are forced to move to another region.

Being a communist country, there is no concept of private ownership or capital; all items right from food and clothes are handed out through a public distribution system. Disabled people are not accommodated in society. They are sent to camps, and if babies are born with a disability they are put to death instantly. People diagnosed with mental disorders are victimized.

Sometimes, girls as young as fourteen are forced into prostitution. Once they turn twenty five, many are ordered to marry one of the many guards of Kim Jong- Il.

It seems impossible to imagine a life like this; not owning anything, not being allowed to move around or even get to know what is happening in the world around you. There seems to be hardly any space for the people to even breathe. The system is outrageous and sad, and there seems to be little that any other  remote country can do to help because of its closed nature. Without access to information on what life is like outside, how will the people of North Korea ever learn that there is hope out there?

Niyantri Ravindran