Nur weni­ge Men­schen schaf­fen es, dem Regime des Macht­ha­bers Kim Jong-un zu ent­flie­hen. Eine bewe­gen­de Geschich­te mit wich­ti­gem Appell.

“It’s not easy to give up a world­view that is built into your bones and imprin­ted on your brain like the sound of your own father’s voice”, sta­tes Yeno­mi Park. “It’s not easy to give up a world­view that is built into your bones and imprin­ted on your brain like the sound of your own father’s voice.”

By say­ing so, the acti­vist nar­ra­tes the fee­ling of many North Kore­ans. “You have to tell the world that North Korea is like one big pri­son camp. If you don’t speak up for them, Yeon­mi-ya, who will?” After her mother said the­se words, Yeon­mi Park deci­ded to put asi­de her inse­cu­ri­ties, her fear and the shame she felt and to wri­te about her life, that star­ted in the most opp­res­sing coun­try exis­ting today – North Korea. „In Order to Live“ is a memoir of her child­hood in her home coun­try and her escape from it in 2007. 

Yeon­mi Park was born in the North Kore­an city of Hye­san which is sepa­ra­ted by the Yalu River from Chi­na. At the age of 13, she mana­ged to escape from the­re tog­e­ther with her mother and gain her free­dom. She knew not­hing of the out­side of world other than what she was taught in school. „Ins­tead of sca­ry fai­ry tales, we had sto­ries set in a fil­thy and dis­gus­ting place cal­led South Korea, whe­re homeless child­ren went bare­foot and beg­ged in the streets. It never occur­red to me until after I arri­ved in Seo­ul that tho­se books were real­ly describ­ing life in North Korea. But we couldn’t see past the pro­pa­gan­da”, accord­ing to Park. 

Living in an autocracy

The mani­fes­ta­ti­on of the Sta­te-led model of North Korea of attemp­t­ing to ensu­re an ade­qua­te stan­dard of living was the public dis­tri­bu­ti­on sys­tem, through which the Government of the Demo­cra­tic People’s Repu­blic of Korea dis­tri­bu­t­ed basic neces­si­ties. It was first enac­ted by the Soviet admi­nis­tra­ti­on in nort­hern Korea in 1946 and exten­ded under Kim Il Sung in 1957. Sin­ce the col­lap­se of the public dis­tri­bu­ti­on sys­tem and the ensuing fami­ne in the mid-1990s, peop­le have reli­ed on rudi­men­ta­ry mar­ket acti­vi­ty to access life’s basic necessities. 

Only through reports such as Yeon­mi Parks’, the living con­di­ti­ons North Kore­ans have to bear, beco­me trans­pa­rent. Yeon­mi paints the rea­li­ties of living in a world that is fil­led ever­y­day hor­rors, like watching peop­le die on the street. A world of collec­ting bugs to feed yourself and your sis­ter. A world, in which your father is send to pri­son camp. A world, whe­re a woman is bru­tal­ly and publicly exe­cu­t­ed for the inno­cent act of watching a ban­ned Ame­ri­can TV show. A world, in which it is drum­med into your brain that “even when you think you’re alo­ne, the birds and mice can hear you whis­per”, as Yeonmi’s mother often said. 

An esti­ma­ted 3.5 mil­li­on North Kore­ans have died from star­va­ti­on and rela­ted ill­nes­ses during the time oft the fami­ne from 1994 to 1998. Yeon­mi Park was one of the many North Kore­ans who had to live through this peri­od. Howe­ver, the full pic­tu­re of the stan­dard of living in the Demo­cra­tic People’s Repu­blic of Korea is far from clear due to the pau­ci­ty of data and other evi­dence. Accord­ing to arti­cle 25 (3) of the Socia­list Con­sti­tu­ti­on of the Demo­cra­tic People’s Repu­blic of Korea, “the Sta­te pro­vi­des all the working peop­le with every con­di­ti­on for obtai­ning food, clot­hing and housing”. Howe­ver, many North Kore­ans, that escaped this regime, say that if you just fol­low inst­ruc­tions com­ing from the sta­te, you star­ve to death. 

Covid-19 hits North Korea twice

In the Demo­cra­tic People’s Repu­blic of Korea, citi­zens enga­ging in rudi­men­ta­ry mar­ket acti­vi­ty often find them­sel­ves ope­ra­ting in an inse­cu­re legal grey area, which inhi­bits their pur­su­it of an ade­qua­te stan­dard of living. Yeon­mi Park’s father was one oft the many fathers try­ing to secu­re a live for his fami­ly and the­re­fo­re enga­ging in „ille­gal” tra­ding. He was arres­ted and sent to pri­son camp. In order to get to South Korea, Yeon­mi and her mother had to take a cir­cui­tous rou­te through Chi­na and Mon­go­lia. Along the way they put their lives into the hands of peop­le smugg­lers; they were abu­sed and sold into sex traf­fi­cking. Yeon­mi herself had to watch her mother being raped. 

With North Korea we are facing a cri­ses of tre­men­dous amounts. The huma­ni­ta­ri­an cri­sis is part of the big­ger ones. The Covid-19 Pan­de­mic led the tota­li­ta­ri­an coun­try to seal its bor­ders in Janu­a­ry, causing huge drops in its imports and exports with Chi­na, which accounts for almost all the country’s exter­nal tra­de. Lee In-young, the uni­fi­ca­ti­on minis­ter respon­si­ble for ties with Pyon­gyang, has war­ned of a wor­se­ning huma­ni­ta­ri­an cri­sis unfol­ding in North Korea due to Kim Jong Un’s reac­tion to the Coro­na Pan­de­mic. “I am con­cer­ned that the con­stant focus on the nuclear issue con­ti­nues to divert atten­ti­on from the ter­ri­ble sta­te of human rights for many mil­li­ons of North Kore­ans”, said Michel­le Bache­let, the UN high com­mis­sio­ner for human rights. In the face of com­ple­te eco­no­mic col­lap­se and vir­tual­ly total inter­na­tio­nal iso­la­ti­on, the seve­ri­ty of the enor­mous suf­fe­ring of the peop­le seems to be forgotten. 

Giving a voice to the voiceless

With „In Order to Live”, Yeon­mi Park suc­cess­ful­ly gives a voice to the North Kore­an peop­le, tal­king about what it means to live the­re and what future awaits for tho­se who escape or try to do so. More than two-fifths of the popu­la­ti­on, are under­nou­ris­hed, accord­ing to UN enti­ties ope­ra­ting in the coun­try. Dia­lo­gue about North Korea needs to hap­pen. We need to under­stand the sto­ries of the peop­le real­ly impac­ted by the Kim Government, tho­se living under the yoke of one of the cru­e­lest auto­cra­ci­es in modern day existence. 

Only through reports such as Yeon­mi Park‘s, the living con­di­ti­ons North Kore­ans have to bear, beco­me trans­pa­rent. Yeon­mi paints the rea­li­ties of living in a world that is fil­led ever­y­day hor­rors, like watching peop­le die on the street. A world of collec­ting bugs to feed yourself and your sis­ter. A world, in which your father is send to pri­son camp. A world, whe­re a woman is bru­tal­ly and publicly exe­cu­t­ed for the inno­cent act of watching a ban­ned Ame­ri­can TV show. A world, in wich it is dru­med into your brain that “even when you think you’re alo­ne, the birds and mice can hear you whis­per”, as Yeon­mis mother often said. 

In sei­nem Arti­kel über den Liba­non warf unser Autor Pylyp einen Blick auf ein tief erschüt­ter­tes Land.

Bild: Pixabay/Michael Gaida
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