North Koreans interviewed in secret

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North Koreans interviewed in secret

Secret interviews of 14 North Koreans paint a dire portrait of their country, who described chronic food shortages, rampant drug abuse, a crippled economy and dissatisfaction with their regime’s political system.

Greater Korea United, an organization led by conservative scholar Park Se-il that promotes unification, and the Committee for the Democratization of North Korea revealed the interviews at a press conference yesterday, including video of the in-depth conversations.

“Ever since the currency reform, it has become more difficult to make a living,” said one man in a video. “So many people killed themselves.”

Another North Korean man said, “Ice [crystal meth] is circulating all over North Korea, and most of the children of high-ranking officials are said to possess it,” adding, “I heard that they have a big market that sells the ‘happy drug,’ and people say you die when you take it.”

Greater Korea United said that it interviewed the 14 North Korean residents in secret after they were snuck into a Chinese city near the North Korean border in August. Six of the 14 North Koreans allowed the interview to be videotaped while the rest only allowed voice recording.

The North Koreans ranged in age from 30 to 60 and were from Pyongyang, Rason and Hamgyong Province. Their jobs ranged from office workers to farmers, and some were housewives. A soldier was also among the 14 North Koreans, Greater Korea United said. The interviews were organized with the support of Chinese citizens who know Kim Bong-ki, 55, director of Greater Korea United’s Yeongdeungpo chapter who does business in China.

In the interviews, conducted in a survey-like format, the North Koreans described suffering from extreme poverty and relying on dangerous narcotics for medical purposes.

Eight of the 14 described their country’s political system as “very unsteady.” The same number said that they were willing to escape North Korea. Ten of the interviewees said the country’s economic situation had gotten “very bad,” and 12 said food distribution had been either cut off or was unsteady. Six North Koreans said that they couldn’t afford to see a doctor or buy medicine, while two said they relied on narcotics for pain.

Most of the North Koreans thought negatively about North Korea’s hereditary leadership system but said they were resigned to it. While half of the interviewees said they were dissatisfied with the current political system, only two said they opposed a third-generation hereditary leadership.

“I respect leader Kim Il Sung, but I am pessimistic about Kim Jong-il and Kim Jong-un, who don’t have any accomplishments to parade,” a man in his 40s said. “But it’s difficult to comment about hereditary leadership.”

Greater Korea United also announced the results of a survey conducted by GH Korea, a polling firm.

According to GH Korea, which surveyed 524 North Korean defectors in South Korea in September, 72.1 percent said they escaped North Korea because they had financial difficulties, and 54.6 percent of respondents said they were sending money to the North. The survey also found that 60.7 percent of respondents feel “proud to be a member of South Korea,” and 71.6 percent said they believed “North Koreans will surrender to the third-generation hereditary.”

Moreover, 71.6 percent of respondents said they hoped for unification, but only 31.9 percent said they would live in the South in the event of unification, while 39.5 percent said they would return to the North if the two Koreas unified.

Asked why North and South Korea haven’t become unified, 38.7 percent of respondents said it was due to North Korea’s hereditary system, while 56.7 percent said they thought it was due to China’s opposition to unification.


By Yim Seung-hye [sharon@joongang.co.kr]

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