In North Korea, it’s no surprise that fear, stress, and anxiety affect most citizens on a daily basis. Under Kim Jong Un’s strict regime, citizens have no access to any media that is not first controlled by the government. That means no movies, books, television shows, or songs from other countries. For people in other parts of the world, living without our Netflix account seems like a nightmare, but North Korean citizens live without basic principles of human rights every single day.
Having zero control over your life is beyond detrimental to mental health and physical wellness. Some North Koreans are familiar with the lack of freedom they have, but nearly all of them don’t even understand what the world is like outside of their country. In North Korea, propaganda has taught citizens that they are the strongest, and that war advancements come before anything else. Their government tells them that they are the purest race and teaches them how to behave, as well as how to think. They are allowed no form of self-expression outside of what North Korean leaders allow. Their leaders are looked up to as Gods, while citizens struggle to survive–let alone have an individual personality.
North Korean citizens are given no freedom, and most aren’t even aware of the damage it does to their wellness. Living in fear and portraying the emotions that are expected of them have become the norm. To highlight the oppression, a city named Kijong-Dong was built solely for propaganda by former dictator Kim Jong Il. Located in the DMZ, this relatively advanced city has no residents. This city is known to South Koreans as Propaganda Village, whereas North Koreans call it Peace Village.
In western cultures, wellness consists of many factors such as food, mental health, physical activity, and disease prevention. In our society, we are so concerned with our body image, social media, and FOMO that we don’t even realize how people in other countries are lacking basic necessities. All of the factors we consider when it comes to our wellness is only possible due to the society we live in. If you are starving, you will not care if your fruits are GMO.
In North Korea, wellness begins with the ability to have self-awareness, which is only possible through the help of outside influence. The only real way to escape the oppression is to be smuggled out physically. However, this is only possible for a few citizens at a time. The first step towards freedom is made internally not physically. There have been many brave individuals who risked, and often lost, their life to inform North Koreans of their oppression.
One successful campaign, which continues today, is flying balloons with anti-propaganda material, from outside North Korea’s borders. Some of these balloons fly further than 120 miles carrying 20 lbs of liberating materials. The balloons would be easy to spot and prevent if they had to land. Most of the balloons have timers to drop the materials once they’ve flown far enough into North Korea. Originally balloon anti-propaganda campaigns lead by South Korea launched leaflets across the border to explain to North Korea citizens their oppressive state. Leaflets turned into cassettes, which turned into DVDs and DVD players, and eventually even included flash drives and satellite phones.
In 2016, the Human Rights Foundation (HRF), started “Flash Drives for Freedom” in hopes of spreading western media to North Koreans so they can have a glimpse of other cultures and countries compared to the unfair one they live in. Along with the help of wholesale flash drive producer USB Memory Direct and Forum 280, the Human Rights Foundation collects new and used flash drives from people around the world who are willing to donate it for freedom in North Korea. Once the flash drives are donated, different forms of media such as movies, books, television shows, and music are uploaded to them. Some of America’s favorite shows and movies like Friends, The Hunger Games, and 22 Jump Street are smuggled across North Korea’s border through hundreds of USB drives.
The success of this movement is seen through some of the North Koreans who have been able to escape their country and start a new one elsewhere. One famous North Korean refugee and activist is Yeonmi Park, who realized the oppression her country’s leaders were placing on their citizens after watching a pirated copy of the hit Western film The Titanic. Although the film had a sad ending, she saw the freedom and opportunity western cultures have compared to what was allowed in North Korea. Hollywood blockbusters that were smuggled into her country gave her a taste of freedom and changed her view of North Korea from a place she believed was the greatest on Earth, to the place she feared. Today, Park works toward achieving the self-expression she had always dreamed of by spreading awareness of North Korea’s harsh leadership and working towards finding a way to making North Koreans aware of the brainwashing she endured as a citizen there.
While the question still remains if wellness is ever truly possible in North Korea many steps are being made towards significant change. Activist and groups work endlessly to find ways to show North Koreans the life they deserve through media. The dream of freedom in North Korea continues, but the fight for authentic self-expression and wellness won’t end until a significant change is made.