On Friday 5th of October we launched Nothing To Envy at a packed event at the Frontline Club. Over 100 people joined us to hear about the project and listen to the speakers: North Korean Defectors – Kim Song-ju and Choi Joong-hwa, expert North Korea analyst – Aidan Foster-Carter and Amnesty researcher – Rajiv Narayan. This is the first of a series of events that we will be hosting over the next few months to help give context to the project and raise awareness about the issues it addresses.
Nothing to Envy Director, Andy Glynne introduced the evening with a short teaser for the film and spoke about why this project is so important. The majority of us seem to know very little about North Korea and the human rights abuses that take place there at the hands of the state and the ways in which ordinary citizens are affected by this.
“The basic freedoms that we take for granted are sadly missing in North Korea.”
Aidan Foster-Carter started the discussion with some important historical context, giving us an overview of how things have (or haven’t) changed since the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea was established. He talked about the cult of personality that surrounds the leaders, who are deified: “If you’re told your leader is God and then they die of course you’re going to cry” and stated that in his experience the North Korean discussion tends to focus on their nuclear capabilities, and that human rights tend to get played down.
“One country, two worlds… South Korea wastes more food than North Korea eats.”
“Whilst the situation in North Korea isn’t easily remedied, one thing we can change is how much people know about it.”
Aidan Foster-Carter was followed by Choi Joon-hwa and Kim Song-ju, defectors who gave vivid accounts of what life was like for them in North Korea. They described the premature loss of family members, the effects of poverty and indoctrination, and also detailed the brutalities they encountered upon repatriation after attempts to escape. Choi Joon-hwa stated that, “you cannot even attempt to think about leaving the country until you are ready to face death”. The consequences of defecting and speaking ill of the regime are far-reaching and mean harsh punishments for family members who are labelled as being ‘guilty by association’.
“The media often simplifies the situation… words cannot describe the situation in North Korea”
“As soon as I crossed the Tumen River I knew that the North Korean regime had deceived us”
We then heard from Amnesty International’s Rajiv Narayan who gave us some of the facts about North Korea’s human rights situation: approximately 200,000 people are currently imprisoned in labour camps; 2million (although this is a conservative estimate) people died in a famine in the 90s.
“The main problem we face with North Korea is lack of information”
We then moved onto a Q&A session, where audience members wanted to know how the defectors learnt about the outside world, and if/by what means media gets through. Kim Song-ju said that “very privileged few have access to radio, TVs etc. in North Korea so there’s virtually no knowledge of the outside world”. Choi Joong-hwa added that, “the Arab Spring was an uprising of mainly poor people – we need to mobilise the poor in North Korea using something other than digital means.”
We would like to thank everyone who attended this event, and our fantastic speakers without whom it would not have been possible.
Keep an eye on our Events page or sign up to our Mailing List to find out about future events.
Photos by Julia Sukan del Rio