Balloons as enemies of the stateA group of human rights activists was barred by police from floating balloons that were filled with leaflets criticizing the North Korean regime across the inter-Korean border after Pyongyang threatened to open fire if propaganda from the South entered its territory. A civilian group called the Fighters for Free North Korea protested and said the South Korean government was weak for yielding to the North Korean threat after trucks carrying activists and equipment to launch the balloons were blocked from entering Imjingak, a border village some 40 kilometers (25 miles) northwest of Seoul.
The government defended its decision to put up the barricade, saying the move was inevitable after a North Korean frontline unit moved its rockets and soldiers into firing positions. As a result, civilians living near the border were evacuated to bomb shelters under military orders, and outsiders were banned from entering the border village.
The leaflet campaign has drawn a mixed response from the South. Some believe such endeavors can accelerate the development of a grassroots pro-democracy movement in the North, while others snicker and sneer, arguing that it only gives the North Korean military an excuse to pick a fight. It is almost impossible as of now to gauge the real effect of the campaign. But when a civilian group posts news of a plan like this and publicizes the date and venue, such a bellicose response from the North is to be expected. It also raises the prospect of an attack on our soil and puts the entire country at risk.
Efforts to promote democracy and religious beliefs in the North should be carried out discreetly as they can raise inter-Korean tension, and other groups have carried out their leaflet campaigns quietly without provoking the regime.
Such projects can hardly be expected to reap rewards as it is relatively easy for the North Korean authorities to collect the leaflets. As such, the group’s decision to publicize its plan may have been just as motivated by a desire for self-promotion as anything else.
The government should continue to crack down on such campaigns. Some people will protest this as there is no legal precedent for it, but at the end of the day, any activity that puts residents and their property at risk and poses a threat to our national security should be deterred. Needless to say, one civilian group does not represent the nation’s official position on North Korea.