On August 6th the CEO of North Korea Intellectual Solidarity, Kim Heung kwan, addressed delegates participating in Sungkyunkwan University’s annual international forum known as Han On. The all student-organized event was designed as an international venue where participants could bond while learning about the country’s vibrant culture and various attractions. Kim’s talk titled “My Homeland is North Korea” was one of several types of sessions available to the participants. With the assistance of translators, Kim began by engaging the South Korean students in the audience saying that “unification will be owned by the younger generation” and that he has “no doubt that unification will come true” in their generation.
He then went on to talk about some possible scenarios for unification. It is generally accepted that the majority of college-aged South Koreans tend to view unification unfavorably due to the costs involved with developing the North. Kim recognized this and saw the lecture as an opportunity to mention a few benefits to unification rather than focusing on the costs. Two of the benefits he noted were an increase in the size of Korea’s territory as well as a better quality of life.
Another point he emphasized was that people, particularly the younger generation of South Koreans, should not think of North Korea as a country “composed of only three dictators.” Kim added that North Korea is a country of people “your age, who are full of curiosity and want to learn new things.” He also noted how parents “sacrifice themselves to educate their children” a common attribute shared by Korean families from both the North and the South.
Following his comments regarding unification, Kim switched gears to talk more about his organization and their current projects. He described North Korea Intellectuals Solidarity as an all defector group comprised primarily of North Koreans who received higher education prior to escaping southward. Kim told the audience to think of NKIS as a think-do-tank rather than a think tank in the more traditional sense, since they try to focus on real action not just theory. When describing NKIS’s vision Kim summed it up in one sentence, “intellect and information destroys despotism.
The obvious challenge with sharing information in North Korea is the government’s security apparatus. Naturally, strict censure regulations make it very unlikely that NKIS’s vision will ever turn into a reality. Kim likened North Korea to a “dome made of metal where the people are trapped inside and can never be connected with external society.” He jokingly said that North Koreans do not get a headache from too much information since there is only one TV channel. However, the dome is not impregnable and Kim believes that in order to “pierce a hole the dome” NKIS needs the latest technology.
Challenges that arise when attempting to circumvent a government’s censorship policies are not anything new. Kim shared some interesting examples that illustrated the extent to which the North Korean authorities would go to prevent information from getting into the country. He said that at customs, authorities are attempting to confiscate all USBs due to the fear that after sifting through all of the files, most of which are usually games, they will find some harmful information. Kim also said that computers are connected to special measuring devices to evaluate whether or not they are sending secret satellite transmissions to other countries. He reminded everyone that North Korea is one of two countries in the world, the other being Myanmar, where the public do not have free access to the Internet. Kim also added that there are roughly 2.5 million desktops in North Korea, almost all of which are not connected to the world wide web.
North Koreans who own technological devices like computers and CDs or DVDs must have them cleared by the North Korean authorities before they can legally keep them in their homes. Kim explained that all computers are registered at local police stations and all CDs are censored, which doesn’t seem all that surprising. He added that although people might be getting slyer when it comes to concealing questionable content the authorities have also stepped up their efforts. Kim said that in the past, people used to switch contents in their TVs and computers when the authorities were in close proximity to their homes. However, now that the authorities started to catch wind of this, they have begun to shut down the power in areas prior to searching so people cannot remove the context from the devices.
After his remarks, the students had some time to ask a few questions. One of these regarded his opinion on the recent revelation of Kim Jong un’s wife and if he thought it was indicative of a more “open atmosphere” in the North. Kim responded by explaining that in North Korea women generally must walk one step behind their husbands carrying pretty much everything, so the fact that they were shown next to each other was rather unusual. However, his opinion is that Kim Jong un is “like an actor who tries to show outsiders that we are not like before.” That is not to say that Kim does not think reform in North Korea is possible. It is his opinion that reform is possible only after the “destruction of the political system” because the current system is “taking all the creativity away from the people.”
In summary, Kim remains confident that as more North Koreans are exposed to information about the South people will be more likely to ask questions about themselves and of their government.