In the past years, everyone has read one article or another about North Korea. Apart from a handful of facts from people who have been allowed to visit, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea remains a mystery to us. However, the stories about how people live and are treated seems too familiar. You might not be able to think of what it reminds you of, but if you happen to read (or re-read) George Orwell’s 1984, surely your mind will drift to North Korea.
For those who are not familiar with the story, I’d like to give a short introduction. 1984 is a novel written by George Orwell in 1949 and, at the time, showed a resemblance to Stalinism. While readers tended to associate the novel with communist Russia, that is no longer the case. 1984 follows the story of Winston Smith who is a part of the proletariat, or better known as the Proles. The story shows a lot about the totalitarian superstate of Oceania, which is in complete control of their population. Not only do they control the media and modify history, but they also shorten the language to such an extent that inevitably people will not be able to form complex ideas and won’t have the needed tools to express their revolt against The Party. If someone happens to doubt or even reject the government’s ideas, they are submitted to torture and/or execution.
The realization hit me several months ago when I was watching a show about North Korean escapees talking about their food rations. After putting some thought into it, it honestly terrified me how Orwell’s cautionary tale has come to life. While the economy is capable of feeding the entire population, many suffer from malnutrition.
However, the issue is not the food, it seems. People in North Korea don’t possess even basic human rights of expression. Not only that but they are rejected economic and political freedoms. Similarly to the fictitious state of Oceania, North Korea has full control over the population’s daily lives and activities. Employment and access to food are decided upon depending on the person’s Songbun, which is their status based on their loyalty to the state. To draw a better comparison between Oceania and North Korea, we need to go into the raw brutality and maltreatment of people who have committed political crimes. Most are sent to labour camps, in which they are worked into submission, under nearly slave-like conditions. Public executions are also a threat to people who dare to go against the government. Labour camps also provide “re-education” to their prisoners, who can only resume their position in society if they have been politically rehabilitated.
To go more into the spirit of Orwell’s dystopia, we can look at their media. Which is pretty much non-existent. North Korea has only one channel on television and the content is handpicked carefully by the government. Internet access is rare and limited to whatever content the government considers as suitable. There is no such thing as multiple points of view in the medial aspect; there is only one – anything the government considers as the truth. The radio stations are under the state’s control and are purposed to flatter their leader. A feeling of Nationalism is achieved by brainwashing the population and directing their hate toward an enemy, similarly to the Two Minute Hate ritual in 1984. Not only is the population’s frustrations transferred to an outside entity, but they are also continuously fed propaganda. The abuse of media has lead to distortion of the truth and since there are no sources where the population can double-check the legitimacy of the information, they choose to mindlessly follow and believe everything which the government throws at them.
Once you start thinking about it, you will realize all the similarities between the novel and the bitter reality of North Korea. Orwell might have intended the novel as a wake-up call, but the fact is that it’s truly terrifying that not only did it happen before, but it is happening all over again.
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