Why a Revolution in North Korea Is Unlikely to Occur
Earlier this month, North Korea launched a long-range rocket — and failed. Although it disintegrated soon after its launch, this act was seen as a threat to regional security. And just last week, the North also claimed to conduct “special actions” that would turn South Korea to ashes within minutes. Former leader Kim Jong-il’s death last year led many to hope for a new era in the North’s leadership. Since Jong-il’s demise, North Korea has been led by Kim Jong-un but it seems is resistant to change and has stayed the same.
Unlike the recent uprisings which have happened early last year in several countries in Northern Africa and Middle East, it is futile to wish that a similar revolution in North Korea will ever happen. The citizens of North Korea are also not united by any thread whatsoever. Nobody dares to revolt against Jong-un’s regime.
In order to even ignite the idea of inciting a revolution, first of all, there has to be some sort of unity amongst the people. In most dictatorships today, citizens unite against the government in underground communities with little fear of persecution is because they have a reliable telecommunication network. Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak was toppled by college students who organized with Twitter. And the world learned about the evils of Libya’s Muammar e-Gaddafi through videos posted by Libyans on YouTube. In North Korea, however, the Internet and cellphones are practically nonexistent to the general population. It is against the law for most ordinary North Koreans to access broadband or mobile networks. The only people who have free access to the Internet and cellphones in North Korea are the elite officials of the country’s only party, the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) and foreign diplomats who hail from the very few countries that have diplomatic ties with North Korea. Even then, the rates for Internet access are exorbitant (up to $2 per minute).
Generally speaking, North Korean citizens have virtually no knowledge of what the outside world looks like. Despite having the permission to own televisions and radios, the only channel broadcasts allowed in the country are government-run stations, which continuously show movies and newscasts glorifying the self-reliant Juche ideology and of the great leaders from Kim Il-sung to Kim Jong-un. The only ones who can watch foreign broadcast stations are those in the regions bordering China. Even there, the television stations are constantly monitored by government officials. Anyone found watching or listening to foreign broadcasts risk being sent to a prison camp without a trial. Therefore, most people of North Korea have no idea that people outside the country are living with relative freedom to voice out their opinions or are able to physically emigrate.
There is also an extensive network of WPK loyalists and spies, who are willing to report any dissenting opinions or mere japes against anyone in Kim Jong-un’s administration. Anyone caught voicing such opinions can risk being sent to one of the labor camps without trial or worse, a death penalty. Those who report such dissents will be rewarded money and/or protection by the Party. So a lot of North Koreans can see that it is much better for them not to rebel against the government. If one makes fun of the government, what are the chances that one of your neighbors will simply let go of it without reporting to the authorities? Moreover, if one gets arrested and sent to a labor camp but manages to escape, the Kim Jong-un administration will, in turn, arrest several of that person’s family members no possibility of trial. It is thus quite evident how risky it is to speak against the government.
In North Korea, Kim Il-sung has a godlike status. With the official title of the “Eternal President,” it is compulsory for all citizens to display a picture of Kim Il-sung, Kim Jong-il, and Kim Jong-un side-by-side on their walls. Due to the deified status of North Korean leaders, religious freedom is suppressed. Out of a population of 22 million, the true adherents of Christianity and Buddhism –which are the two largest religions in the country— number just in the thousands. Even then, not all of them have the freedom to worship because their places of worship are government-monitored. Hence, it is evident that the true “deity” of North Korea for most North Korean people are its leaders. The propaganda even says that the leaders can control the rain and has the power to make sun rise or set. With the leaders (both living and deceased) declred deities, people might be even more scared of rebelling against the government.
All in all, the economy of North Korea, which is heavily centralized toward the Pyongyang government, is arranged in such a way that whether one gets constant food and electricity depends heavily on one’s loyalty to the government. If one is loyal, one will get a full stomach and constant electricity all year long. If one is just an ordinary citizen who shows neither extraordinary loyalty nor disloyalty, one will get limited food rations and limited electricity supply (which can be cut off on certain days). Pitiably, this is the best paradigm of a supposedly utopian Stalinist society: Direct control of the citizens by the government in their way of life, communication and financial means. Why risk danger for a whole family’s livelihood?
Thomas Andrikus is a student in Northern Kentucky University. His blog is at http://foreignprophecies.blogspot.com