Ha-Neul Park, 24, is from Hoeryong, near the border of China in North Korea. She was told her whole life that she lived in the best country in the world. This was before her defection, eight years ago. Afterwards, she realized the truth about what was going on there.
“I was wondering if I was crazy, if it was real. Was it a dream?”
Ha-Neul Park had been so brainwashed that she questioned her sanity the moment she stepped out of North Korea when she was sixteen. With the help of her aunt, who strongly opposed to the regime, she crossed the Chinese border to join Japan.
She was led to believe she lived in one of the best countries in the world. She soon discovered that her beliefs, values and ideas were the result of intense propaganda.
“All my life prior to that day, I was taught there was no richer country than mine. I believed that North Korea was the best country in the world. We had no idea what the ‘real’ outside world looked like. Then I realized — when I saw all the new technologies, the cars, and the skyscrapers. At this moment, everything I thought I knew collapsed.” she said, nervously. Everything she knew about her country and the world, she learned it in school: “When we were children we were taught how to build tanks to ‘kill these American assholes’. When we were making snowmen, it was to shoot them using rocks and wishing them to die. Mathematics and algebra problems were ‘There are four imperialists, I kill two of them, how many of them are left?’ ” Banners and posters typically featured the western world, especially the US, as a brutal imperialist aggressor and South Korea or Japan as Washington’s allies.
At that time, she thought that this was normal, justified. The Occidental world wanted to undermine her country, make it evil. “Even though Kim Il Sung is seen as a villain by most of countries leader, in North Korea he’s above everything. That was our ideology, and I lived my life in strict adherence to it.”
North Korea’s regime is as strong as ever because it has convinced people; all the Korean citizens truly believe that the government is legitimate. Every government announcement is taken seriously by Koreans. For example, the government announced that they invented the hamburger or that they discovered a cure for diseases such as AIDS.
The tool North Korea used to convince them of these ideas is a philosophy called “Juche”. From this, it explores themes like racial pride and purity, the military power, devotion to the state, social control or demonization of the USA and Western Europe.
“No one could think differently. Everyone had to follow the Juche ideology, we had no choice. I realize it now.” she adds. That’s why she defected.
Eight years later, Ha-neul, now living in Japan, has built a life for herself, far away from her native country. She’s now working as a manga editor in Shonen Jump editions.