During my trip to Seoul this summer, I met extraordinary people who escaped North Korea and are involved in service projects throughout South Korea. I was particularly inspired by North Korean defectors who are now college students in Seoul who want to “achieve unification of the two Koreas on a small scale by working with South Korean native peers through service projects.”
Esther Eom left North Korea several years ago and has been engaged in service projects over the past several years in Seoul. She is currently directing an NGO called “UNI SEED,” which engages university students who are South Korean natives and North Korean defectors to serve homeless people in Seoul. She believes that individual students can achieve what politicians currently cannot: unification (on a small scale) between North and South Koreans.
Additionally, she and her fellow NGO members want to signal to South Koreans and others that people who escaped North Korea are not solely dependent on South Korean NGO and government handouts. This young generation of North Korean defectors want to prove to themselves and others that not only can they survive, but also serve those in their new country.
Every third Saturday, UNI SEED cooks North Korean food, packages them into individual meals (rice, North Korean side dishes, and North Korean soup), and hands them out to homeless men and women in Seoul Station, a high-traffic area. They hand out the meals, and then go around the station to collect any and all trash that resulted from these meals. I was invited to their recent meal event and was inspired by how passionate, determined, and creative this group is.
There are other similar groups at churches and university campus across South Korea who want to achieve unification on a small scale by inviting South Korean native and North Korean defector students to work together on service projects and build trusting friendships through social events.
Keep an eye out for UNI SEED, Esther Eom, her colleagues, and for similar organizations. The power of a single individual truly cannot be underestimated!
Hyeonseo Lee graciously offered to do a Q&A with Parlio, an online forum for intelligent conversations on issues that matter. Please read her Q&A with Parlio on this link. She carefully answered every question that was asked on our platform and I guarantee that you’ll learn a lot from her Q&A!
She defected from North Korea and has become a very vocal North Korean human rights activist over the years. You gotta pick up a copy of her recently published book: The Girl with Seven Names. Her Ted Talk captured global interest in her story and the larger issues she spoke of, which you could watch below:
I”m a community manager at Parlio, so if you have any question, let me know. Please join Parlio today!
After I interviewed a few folks at the Unification Media Group for a book that I’m working on, they asked me to do an interview about my background as part of a weekly program they broadcast into North Korea, targeting young North Koreans who secretly listen to their radio program. The specific program hosts young guests from all over — United States, South Korean, North Korean defectors — to talk about their personal goals and dreams. The goal of this program is to inspire hope, dreams, and strength among North Korean youth. My interview ran long (because I’m long-winded), so it was split into two parts. The radio programs have already been broadcast into North Korea.
At the beginning of every program, the radio program host reads the opening lines in Korean (excuse my rough English translation):
“If you raise a chicken egg, a chick will hatch. If you raise a duck egg, a duckling will hatch. American President Lincoln had a dream to free slaves, and eventually emancipated slaves in his country. Similarly, the dreams that human beings raise will become reality. For the North Korean young people who are listening to this program, what kind of dreams do you hold dear in your heart? Now is the time for us to deliver the stories of young people who have passionately followed their dreams and made them into reality.”
If you have ideas of programs or content that you’d like to have broadcast into North Korea, or if you want to write a letter or speak to North Koreans through these radio programs that secretly broadcast into North Korea, contact me any time!
The Seoul-based “Unification Media Group” is the umbrella group for Radio Free Chosun, Open Radio for North Korea, Daily NK, and OTV.
Ji Seong-Ho walked 6,000 miles with just one leg and one arm on the crutches that his father made for him to defect North Korea for the second time to reach freedom in South Korea.
He was caught during his first attempt to escape North Korea, and was beaten severely by North Korean soldiers. When I met with him a few weeks ago in Seoul, he told me that the worst part of being punished by the soldiers was their fury they expressed at a “disabled freak” for bringing dishonor to their country. People like him were supposed to die in silence, not make a mockery of North Korea, they said.
He now runs an incredible organization titled “Now, Action, & Unity for Human Rights.” His organization is raising funds for him to move into a new office to continue the work his organization does: rescue North Korean children, raise global awareness about human rights violations in North Korea, and broadcast radio programs into North Korea for North Korean people to illicitly listen to. I watched him walk up the stairs to his tiny office on the fifth floor (no elevators) and thought, “my goodness. Humans are truly capable to overcoming any obstacle.”
I just made my contribution to his campaign on this site. Please check out the site and make your contribution today!
Normally, I try to avoid re-posting articles on the blog (even though there are so many good ones out there!) but this one was too good, too interesting, and too unique to not re-post.
Mr. Yeong-Jin Jang arrived in South Korea in 1997 after escaping North Korea and only recently came out to tell his story in an autobiographical novel, “A Mark of Red Honor.” Also, read this interview he gave with Mr. Choe Sang-Hun at New York Times, where he speaks of feeling like a “double alien” in South Korea.
Song Byeok went from being a North Korean propaganda artist to political prisoner to now a dissident artist. His work will be exhibited in New York City for the next few weeks (May 7 – June 13) and I’d love for anyone in NYC to check his work out. This is an extremely unique show.
The exhibition, titled “Looking at the World’ is “dedicated to all those who have suffered from the physical and psychological abuses of a flawed government pivoted on the lack of human rights and freedom.”
Please check it out and share it with people you think may be interested. If you have Kim Jong Un’s email address, feel free to forward this to him!
This paper will make a case for the U.S. government to pursue three strategies if its operational objective is to force North Korea to reappraise its own interests. Individual self-determination and access to information—two properties the Kim regime fears most for its citizens to possess –are the short-term goals for North Koreans. This objective and two goals do not necessarily equate to regime change.
Even at its best, information fracking does not portend rapid changes in North Korea. But it does offer the best prospect for creating conditions for the government to consider incremental political changes. The more informed its citizens are, the less North Korea’s political leadership will be able to simply eliminate all the “bad seeds” in society by relegating alleged criminals and their relatives to political prison camps or worse. Otherwise, there will be no one left to rule over. Success of information hacking requires enlisting a broad range of stakeholders as part of its three-pronged strategy:
Strengthen covert operations to hack into North Korea’s information channels and support internal dissidents.
Increase funding for NGOs in the U.S. and South Korea to transmit outside media into North Korea and provide business skills to North Koreans.
Bolster training for North Korean defectors, the primary liaisons between North Korea and the outside world, in journalism, IT, and social media
North Korea has one of the worst — if not the worst — health care systems in the world. I’ve known this for a very a long time, but this point was driven home for me when one of the North Koreans I spent my day with today, a North Korean doctor, told me the following:
“I was trained as a doctor in North Korea, but feel immense guilt because I was unable to save lives in the very profession that is defined by saving lives.”
He, his colleagues, nor his hospital simply did not have the resources necessary to serve patients. Surgeries like appendectomies without anesthetics; sending patients armed with prescriptions and the hope to find medicines on the black market; “sterilizing” syringes with salt to reuse on the next patient; washing blood-soaked cotton balls for future re-use; storing hospital-made saline solution in beer bottles for patients’ IV are some of the memories that this doctor has of his working days in North Korea.
The sheer multidimensional inhumanity of this country is so unquestionably blunt. I hope that the sweeping quantitative descriptions of this regime — numbers of deaths, percentage figure of the population that’s starving, the pennies that the average North Korean citizen makes per month, the number of people in prison camps, the number failed defections — do not make consumers of this information jaded to the individual haunting experiences that painfully comprise these numbers.
If you’re interested in learning more about this doctor’s story, and those of other North Koreans who are currently doing a tour of events on the East Coast, check out my previous post for their event details!
The North Korea Strategy Center and Woorihana are on a East Coast tour to share their insights and perspectives on how to drive change inside North Korea. Their public events are listed below. If you have any specific questions about any of the events below, please send me a note!
I’m also attaching their press releases in English and Korean.
Suzanne Scholte and her North Korea Freedom Coalition are leading up Save North Korea Refugees Day this Monday. If you’re in DC, please consider showing up to this event. I’m copy/pasting her press release below.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
North Korean Escapees, Activists Call for Action to Save Refugees: Events at State Department, Chinatown
WHEN:Monday, September 22, 2014
Press Conference 4 pm at US State Department — across from C Street entrance
Dramatic Demonstration at 5 pm Chinatown — US-China Friendship Gate (7th & H NW)
(Washington, D.C.) … Members of the North Korea Freedom Coalition (NKFC), joined by North Korean escapees, will hold a press conference outside the State Department at 4 pm on Monday, September 22, 2014 and stage a demonstration at 5 pm in Chinatown to highlight the increasingly horrific situation facing North Koreans trying to escape to South Korea and other countries.
The dangers facing North Korean refugees has continued to escalate since Kim Jong Eun took power and China has recently stepped up deportations of those trying to help North Koreans making the situation increasingly dire. Even the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on North Korea decried China’s treatment of refugees when they concluded North Korea was guilty of crimes against humanity and gross violations of human rights.
“There is absolutely no reason for China to continue their brutal policy of repatriation,” said NKFC Chairman Suzanne Scholte. “North Koreans are the only refugees in the world who have an immediate place to go for resettlement as they are recognized as citizens of South Korea, and they have also been safely resettled in the United States and other countries.”
While NKFC has regularly highlighted China’s cruel action, it is also calling for the United States to do more.
Present at both events will be refugees who have resettled here who are deeply grateful to the United States but believe more must be done including Jo Jinhye, who established NKinUSA to help rescue North Koreans. Jo, who has testified before the UN Commission of Inquiry and the US Congress on the situation, will reveal current information on refugees in immediate peril.
“While China is guilty of horrific treatment of North Koreans, the United States must do more to help,” said Jason West, a spokesman for NKFC who is helping organize the events. “There are refugees right now who have been held in detention centers in Thailand for months simply because they want to resettle in the US.”
Each year NKFC has marked September 22nd as their annual Save North Korean Refugees Day as September 22nd marks the anniversary of the day in 1981 when China became a signatory to the Refugee Convention, an international agreement it violates every time it forces a North Korean back to North Korea.
The public is invited to participate in support of NKFC’s simultaneous calls for the United States to take more action to save refugees AND for the government of China to end their brutal, inhumane, and horrific treatment of North Korean men, women, and children. The public can sign their online petitions to President Xi Jinping and President Barack Obama to save North Korean refugees.
The North Korea Freedom Coalition is a nonpartisan coalition founded to work for the freedom, human rights, and dignity of the North Korean people. The Coalition has public member organizations representing millions of people around the world along with many individual members. The Coalition also has private members that provide humanitarian relief inside North Korea and members in China and other nations that feed, shelter, and rescue North Korean refugees. For further information, please visit www.nkfreedom.org.
Upon it's public release, Voice of America wrote up an article and broadcast this story directly into North Korea to its listeners. If you can read Korean, check this article out written by Mr. William Kim. If you want the audio file (in Korean) that was broadcast into North Korea today, please email me and I'll be happy to send it to you.
독재정권의 붕괴 다룬 '독재에서 민주주의로' 한국어판 출간
독재정권 붕괴에 기여한 것으로 알려진 책 ‘독재에서 민주주의로’(From Dictatorship to Democracy)의 작가 진 샤프 박사. (자료사진)
전세계 여러 독재정권 붕괴에 기여한 것으로 알려진 책 ‘독재에서 민주주의로’(From Dictatorship to Democracy) 의 한국어 번역본이 출간됐습니다. 관계자들은 북한의 민주화를 염원하는 모든 사람들에게 유익한 지침서가 되길 바란다고 말했습니다. 김영권 기자가 취재했습니다.
세르비아 민주화 청년운동 오트포, 우크라이나의 오렌지 혁명을 주도한 포라 학생운동, 미얀마 민주화 운동에서부터 아랍의 장기 독재정권을 무너뜨린 ‘아랍의 봄’까지.
제3세계 민주화 운동가들의 바이블(성경)로 불리는 미국인 진 샤프 박사의 책 ‘독재에서 민주주의로’ 한국어판이 인터넷을 통해 처음으로 출시됐습니다.
샤프 박사가 설립한 알버트 아인슈타인연구소는 지난 11일 40여 개 언어로 번역된 이 책의 한국어판이 완성됐다며, 하버드대학 케네디대학원 산하 벨퍼센터의 북한 전문가인 백지은 연구원이 작업을 주도했다고 밝혔습니다.
아인슈타인연구소의 자밀라 라키브 소장은 12일 ‘VOA’에 이 책이 독재사회의 변화에 미친 파급효과를 볼 때 한국어판 출간에 대한 기대가 크다고 말했습니다.
[녹취: 라키브 소장] “It explains that very clear way…”
‘독재에서 민주주의로’는 독재의 실체를 구체적으로 해부한 뒤 이에 저항하는 매우 명확한 전략과 방법을 제시하기 때문에 북한에도 적용할 것들이 많다는 겁니다.
지난 1993년에 첫 출간된 이 책은 독재정권에 저항하고 권력을 약화시키는 198 개 비폭력 방법들을 구체적으로 소개하고 있습니다.
90여 쪽에 달하는 책에는 조직과 단체를 표현하는 상징물과 색깔, 현수막 준비에서부터 독재정권의 동원과 정치행사 불참, 침묵, 파업, 거리시위에 이르기까지 독재체제에 저항하려는 사람들에게 필요한 구체적인 준비와 방법들이 자세히 담겨 있습니다.
‘CNN’ 방송과 ‘뉴욕타임스’ 신문 등 미국 언론들은 과거 이 책이 소개한 방법이 어떻게 반체제 운동에 적용됐는지 일부 사례들을 소개해 관심을 끌었었습니다.
가령 지난 2004년 우크라이나의 오렌지 혁명은 단체의 깃발과 상징적 색깔을 표출하라는 이 책의 18번째 방법이 적용돼 오렌지색 물결이 혁명을 주도했다는 겁니다. 또 2000년 세르비아의 슬로보단 밀로셰비치 독재정권 저항운동에 등장한 구호와 스티커, 티셔츠, 포스터 등은 7번째 방법인 표어와 풍자만화, 상징물 준비에서 영감을 얻은 것이라고 언론들은 지적했습니다.
미 언론들은 지난 2009년 이란의 반정부 시위와 2011년 시작된 아랍의 봄 등 여러 반정부 시위에서도 이런 방법들이 매우 구체적으로 적용됐다고 소개했습니다.
이 책의 저자인 샤프 박사는 장기 독재정권 붕괴와 민주화에 기여한 공로로 노벨평화상 후보에 두 번이나 오른 바 있습니다.
또 반 세기에 걸쳐 독재정권 붕괴에 관한 30권의 책을 집필한 데 대해 ‘현대 비폭 저항운동의 대부’, ‘혁명가들의 최고의 친구’, ‘독재정권의 악몽’으로 불리고 있습니다.
라키브 소장은 북한의 철저한 폐쇄성, 그리고 정권의 세뇌와 공포정치 때문에 책의 효과가 적을 수 있다는 우려는 다른 나라의 전례로 볼 때 기우일 수 있다고 지적했습니다.
[녹취: 라키브 소장] “We deal with many different countries and activists from many different societies……”
과거 이 책을 접한 많은 운동가들 역시 자신의 나라 상황은 이를 적용할 수 없을 만큼 독특하고 훨씬 참혹하다며 비관했다는 겁니다.
라키브 소장은 그러나 이들은 결국 적용할 수 있는 방법들을 찾아냈고 불가능을 가능으로 만들었다며, 북한도 예외일 수 없다고 강조했습니다.
이 책의 한국어판 출간을 주도한 하버드대 산하 벨퍼센터의 백지은 연구원은 11일 ‘VOA’에 북한의 변화를 꿈꾸는 엘리트 지식인들과 젊은이들이 이 책을 접할 수 있길 기대하고 있다고 말했습니다.
[녹취: 백지은 연구원] “North Korean defectors who used be elite…”
번역본을 먼저 읽은 엘리트 출신 탈북자들의 반응이 매우 좋았기 때문에 한국 내 다양한 탈북자 그룹들을 통해 구체적인 전략이 짜이고, 궁극적으로 북한의 민주화를 염원하는 엘리트들에게 책이 전달되길 바란다는 겁니다.
백 연구원은 USB와 단편영화, 만화책 등으로 만들어 대형 풍선, 육로 등을 통해 북한에 보내는 방안들이 있다며, 이미 구체적인 방안을 추진하는 이들이 있다고 말했습니다.
Back in July, I organized the North Korean panel at Google’s conference on Illicit Networks in Westlake, California. Ranging from the regime’s elite party members to the country’s forgotten orphans, ten North Korean defectors flew in from Seoul to join us at the INFO conference. Each shared parts of his/her extraordinary story of survival and excruciatingly painful quest for freedom. Their experiences, individually and collectively, is a testament to the invincibility of human resilience and spirit. I had the opportunity to work with this team of ten for the seven months leading up to the conference–from arranging flight tickets (which was a nightmare) to crafting the North Korean panel and lab. I wish I could share every detail of this unforgettable team of ten. Since no one has the time for that, I will share some paraphrased stories and personal take-aways from the four days I spent with this team in Westlake Village, California.
Paralyzing fear of North Korean spies
Only after the conference ended did I learn that some men doubled up in their hotel rooms out of extreme fear that there were North Korean spies at the conference to kidnap or kill them. One night, a pair of men took turns staying up and keeping guard of the windows and room door, just in case. Hyeon kept asking me for floor plans of the Four Seasons hotel because he wanted to memorize the exits for each floor in case he had to escape from spies. These men were not watching for anyone in particular; they were scared to death of any spy sent from the regime.
Border guard who defected
Hyeon was a border guard (about 5 feet 4 inches tall) who was trained to shoot to kill North Koreans attempting to escape into China. (Defection is a highly treasonous crime that warrants sentences to prison camps or execution. Relatives are also punished per the state’s guilt-by-association policy.) He used to let some defectors pass when no guard was watching, an act that put his family at risk. A close friend once begged for Hyeon to let a poor orphan pass into China. Even after heated arguments with his wife, who insisted that her husband not engage in a bribeless illicit act, Hyeon let the defector pass. Months after, Hyeon defected himself. He crossed the Tumen River, and for ten full minutes, he sobbed for the first time, feeling unbearably guilty for betraying his country. A year later, he sent for his wife and four year-old son, both of whom live with him in Seoul now.
The orphan that Hyeon let pass into China is “Paul,” who also joined us at INFO. Check out one of my previous posts where I wrote extensively about my chat with “Paul.”
Free as nature
On the second night of the conference, the 250 participants sat at assigned tables for dinner. Against a beautiful backdrop of mountains, trees, and a constructed waterfall, I sat next to Mrs. Choe, a former elite party member who bragged about being overweight while living in Pyongyang to show off that she used to be part of the wealthy elite class (she now runs a small restaurant in Seoul). She constantly scanned the sea of well-dressed and happy people around her, and for the first time, she let her cold guard down. She tearfully told me, “People here remind me of nature. Just like the trees, wind, and water, people here behave so freely. They laugh whenever they want, can eat and wear whatever they want, and say whatever they want. I even heard someone joking about Obama’s ears! I would love for my former 250 employees at my clothing factory in North Korea to experience such freedom. Some of my employees had to choose which child to feed at night because of the constant scarcity of food.”
Pool and Politics
After dinner each night, some people would head into the hotel bar and hang out. Around midnight, I saw two separate games of pool going on; one among North Koreans, and another with a more diverse group of players. I suggested that they merge teams, and for the next hour or so, I saw North Korean defectors, a former Ugandan child soldier and an American diplomat play a game of pool, laughing, drinking, and betting with one another, all the while having no idea what the other person was saying, yet having one hell of a time. While watching that boisterous game, I thought of just how arbitrary political boundaries and consequent ethnicities are. The handsome brunette U.S. diplomat happened to be born in a free country, where kids don’t see corpses of political prisoners carted around villages to scare people from defecting, which is what his pool teammates from North Korea were all too familiar with. The five foot-three 29 year-old North Korean who shared pool tips with his new Ugandan friend shared photos of their wife and girlfriend, and without sharing a single word in common, they were able to connect over unconditionally loving another human being.
Why do Americans care?
Throughout the conference, some of the North Koreans repeatedly asked people, especially American men (who they are trained to hate), “why do you care about North Korea and our people?” Everyone’s answer was the same: “because we’re all equally human, and since North Koreans happen to be born under difficult circumstances, we want to do what we can to share what we have and simply help.” People were utterly stunned by this answer. The very people who they thought killed and ate Korean babies, indiscriminately raped women, and were waging war on North Korea were saying that they thought North Koreans were equal to Americans, and they were interested in listening to their stories and doing what they could to help. This was absolutely shocking to this team.
Per the panelists’ request, we agreed to have the North Korea panel off the record. The lab, however, was based on Mr. Heung-Kwang Kim’s organization North Korea Intellectual Solidarity, which he is quite public about. If you’d like more information about these particular ten participants, please do not hesitate to reach out to me.