[Daily NK] As extra-strong sanctions are implemented against the nuclear weapons-obsessed Kim Jong Un regime, suggestions have been made to facilitate fundamental power changes in the North by enlightening the consciousness of North Korean residents from the outside and supporting their democratization efforts.
The international community has focused its efforts of damaging the regime on blocking the sources of its funding. At the same time, additional efforts should be poured into undoing the foundational structures that support the oppressive power of the totalitarian, hereditary dictatorship from the inside.
In order to accomplish this aim, North Korean residents should be contacted directly, supplied with outside information, and empowered to act as the driving force of domestic change. A number of the restrictions that have blocked up information flows - such as signal jamming or the difficult and dangerous task of disseminating leaflets - can be overcome by launching a consolidated, organized effort to break through to the North Korean people.
Since the late 1990s, Kim Yong Hwan (pictured left) has been leading the charge. He worked as a North Korean democratization advocate in China for 13 years and is a researcher for Network for North Korean Democracy and Human Rights (NKnet). In an interview with Daily NK, Mr. Kim said, “North Korean resistance work means embracing the North Koreans who give trouble to the Kim regime and helping them to form underground organizations and undertaking measures to promote regime change in the long term.”
Mr. Kim continued, “When engaged in the North Korean democratization movement, the first step is to contact defectors and North Koreans spending a short amount of time in China. It is important to inform them about the corruption and contradictions made by the ruling class. Some people might say that the North Koreans know better than outsiders about the intricacies of their country, but just as it is hard to know the shape of a forest when standing inside it, North Korean residents are missing access to information about the nature of the Kim regime.”
Mr. Kim then described the next steps: “After informing North Koreans about the true state of affairs in their country, it is important to give them factual accounts about how the outside world is progressing, about the fundamentals of democracy theory, and about the specifics of how the modern world developed. Only after going through these stages did we begin to cultivate the desire for democratization and help organize underground resistance groups.”
According to Researcher Kim, the ultimate aim of the North Korean democratization movement is to establish underground organizations in every region. Then, when ruptures in the regime begin to appear or the oppression becomes unbearable, these groups will rise up to lead a revolution. Because the risks of detection are high, NK Net has elected to pursue a long term strategy of waiting for an emergency situation to seize the opportunity that leads to revolutions rather than attempting to destroy regime facilities or launch a haphazard uprising.
“While developing the revolutionary movement in North Korea, I was constantly worried that our North Korean partners faced torture, execution, and punishment to their relatives if they got caught. Because of this, the democratization movement advocates had to overcome considerable fear to deliver and circulate USBs and CDs containing information from outside the country,” Kim said.
Including Mr. Kim, four members of the democracy movement were detained for 114 days by China’s Ministry of State Security in March of 2012. They received a permanent deportation afterwards, but this was temporarily suspended. There were multiple leaks that led to this problem, not to mention the fact that border security has been extra tight in recent years. Because of these hurdles, it has been difficult to continue the measures that NK Net used in the past to launch their democratization activities.
Despite this, Kim has called for more attention and dedication to the organization and the support of democratization efforts given the present circumstances. He asserted that considering the current consciousness level of North Korean residents, the probability of being able to make significant changes through these types of inroads has increased. Party and leader loyalty are at an all time low and money making has become the most important thing to most North Koreans. These trends offer a good lever for which to begin strengthening resistance organizations.
“As the democratization movement is developed, we should contact residents, give them outside information, and provide democracy education so that we can accelerate the process of consciousness change. When the residents interact with this kind of media and information, they are confronted with the regime’s lies and gradually become more trusting of the outside world. There are already plenty of residents who have undergone this transformation. This makes it easier to continue the trend and increase the scale of the movement,” Mr. Kim continued.
“Even if high-class cadres and well-off residents do not favor regime change, the desire for economic improvement is strong throughout North Korean society. So, it might be possible to invest in these individuals to help support the organizations. In the past, after residents were informed about the truth, they lost their loyalty to the party and the ruling elite and developed a sense of passion and justice about the democratization movement. However, because it is hard to adequately interact with a large enough proportion of residents in this way, money and other lures will have to be utilized to attract more individuals to the cause.”
For this aspect, Mr. Kim is hoping for South Korean government assistance.
“In order to get a fundamental solution to the ‘North Korea problem,’ it is absolutely necessary to see a regime change take place,” he explained. Therefore the resolute commitment and investment of the South Korean government is a must. If a mere 0.1% of the South Korean GDP (1 trillion KRW/867 million USD) or even one third of that figure (300 billion KRW/ 260 million USD) were used to support consciousness change and democratization movements in the North, the results would be considerable.
“The hardest thing about conducting democratization activities is the constant lack of funds. Supporting the democracy advocates who are risking their lives with enough money to conduct activities and make a living was difficult because of this insufficiency. As we expand the scale of these operations, the scale of the North Korean authorities surveillance will also increase. To deal with this fearsome prospect, financial support is crucial,” he concluded.