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Two opposing views of “North Korean Defectors’ Day” in North Korea

News of South Korea’s establishment of a “North Korean Defectors’ Day” has spread to North Korea. North Korean authorities have made no official comment or criticism on the matter, presumably because they believe the news itself could cause social unrest.

A resident of an area bordering China interviewed by Daily NK earlier this month expressed criticism of the situation in North Korea and admiration for South Korean society after hearing the news. “We are treated worse than animals here, but people who have gone to South Korea receive care and support in an incomparably better environment. I can only admire their good fortune.”

The individual further said that he “regrets not leaving for South Korea while I still could” and that “the next time the opportunity arises, I’m absolutely determined to take the risk and go.”

However, a North Korean party official with a strong sense of loyalty to the government had the exact opposite reaction, demonstrating a clear difference in perspective between party officials and ordinary people.

The official told Daily NK: “Isn’t holding an anniversary for those who left the country because of their anti-revolutionary ideology a suppression scheme against the DPRK aimed at destabilizing our society?”

He went on to say that “it makes no sense to set an anniversary for people who are not even independence fighters. Besides, the party recently announced that the reunification of the north and the south is impossible and ordered us not to think of South Koreans as the same people. If the public finds out that South Korea has put forward such a policy, it will become a dangerous ideological weapon to increase their admiration for South Korea.”

In fact, many North Koreans have reacted negatively to the decision at the party’s plenary meeting late last year to reframe inter-Korean relations as “hostile bilateral relations” and to remove all references to reunification and the concept of one people.

The party official, for his part, insisted that he was “loyal to the party.”

He told Daily NK that “I know many loyal and high-ranking party officials, and I’m one of them. But I don’t think the concept of ethnicity is something that can disappear in an instant from a single directive. It’s definitely not because I’m an anti-revolutionary that I think this way. But even people who are loyal to the party think that it will be difficult to completely erase the concepts of ethnicity and reunification, as well as the clear historical facts that show that Koreans are one people with nothing but one set of orders. That’s why I think [Kim Jong Un’s] orders were not the best idea.”

The resident of the border region, meanwhile, expressed concern that inter-Korean relations might become more tense because of the North Korean government’s proclamation of “hostile bilateral relations.”

“If inter-Korean relations deteriorate, the authorities will intensify their crackdown, and we will have to tighten our belts for the sake of military strength,” he said. “I hope that at least inter-Korean relations won’t get worse than they are now.”

He added: “There are too many people starving. If possible, it would be great if relations with South Korea improved so that the South could give us aid in the form of food and other necessities.”

Different views on life in South Korea as a defector

Daily NK asked both people about how North Koreans perceive South Korean society and the lives of North Korean defectors within it.

“All the party officials know very well that South Korea is a free country where you can earn as much money as you work. The government is trying to scare the public by collecting only the bad cases and lecturing the people, but no party official believes such propaganda,” the party official said. “Everyone knows that South Korea will provide you with a home and some money, but for party officials there is no real need to leave if we can’t live as comfortably as we do here.”

In other words, party officials are fully aware that the North Korean authorities are spreading false propaganda, but they are not willing to risk defection if they are not guaranteed a comfortable life in South Korea.

The ordinary citizen, however, had a different view: “Defector families are the object of envy here. I would like to go to South Korea and travel as much as I want, wear what I want, and watch the movies I want without fearing for my safety.”

Translated by Annie Eun Jung Kim. Edited by Robert Lauler. 

Daily NK works with a network of sources living in North Korea, China, and elsewhere. Their identities remain anonymous for security reasons. For more information about Daily NK’s network of reporting partners and information-gathering activities, please visit our FAQ page here.

Please send any comments or questions about this article to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.

Read in Korean

March 19, 2024 at 12:30PM

by DailyNK(North Korean Media)

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