I recently watch a documentary on North Korea, and I will admit that I was astounded. I’ve never been very good at keeping up with current event-ask me about Brexit, I’ll look at you gone out. I guess I kind of shelter myself from things that I don’t think really matter to me or my life, regardless of whether they actually do or not.
However, when one of the opening narrative lines of this documentary was “Most people in North Korea don’t even know what the word Internet means.” I took notice. Was this country so oppressive that things in this modern age were that guarded?!
The documentary focused on three people, all of whom had contacts in the North, they would converse via telephone for minutes at a time, to avoid being caught by the signal blockers or call interceptors and pass on information. The people on the North end of the phone calls were literally risking their lives to take these calls. Two out of the three South Koreans had actually fled North Korea and started new lives in the south. One of these people was a lady called Mrs Lee, who was my age and had fled totally alone in her early 20s leaving behind her sick mother and younger sister. She had continued on to meet a man whom she married and they had a young baby together. Her entire life was centred around the extremely sparse contact with her family back in the North, she appeared to have no other exsistance outside of this. Her mother was having to walk between 1-3 hours into the mountains bordering China just to make a two minutes phone call to her daughter. It was so heart breaking.
Another of the people was a guy who used to be in the North Korean military and had fled to the south some years earlier. He was in contact with two Senior army members back in the North who would pass information back and forth with him. There came a point where he lost contact and was very worried about the welfare of his contacts. He got his brother on board to help reconnect and they eventually discovered that the two men had been arrested immediately after their last phone call. He was absolutely devestated, and to see a grown man readily showing his emotions on TV like that really hit home at how difficult it must be. He ended up bribing the North Korean officials to spare his friends’ lives and instead they received three years in prison, for a phone call.
Statistics say that 120,000 North Koreans are imprisoned for trying to make contact with the outside, with a population just over 25 million that is quite a staggering figure. Not only are there that many in prison but those who are ‘free’ can only expect to earn around $2000 annually, from what the contacts said, a lot of their private income is being paid into the government and many people are living on very basic means. One of the contacts stated that members of the army had resorted to eating cornflour due to a severe lack of proper food. He also explained that families were sending fit young men into the army, who were now wasting away and dying.
Everything that I saw on this program shocked me to my core and it got me thinking, I am so lucky to live in the UK. We are free, were are protected, we have the NHS for crying out loud, which so many people complain about yet we are one of the only countries to have entirely free healthcare (aside from the prescription charge, which I’m beginning to think is not that bad at all) and we might complain about our government but every prime minister that I have lived through has been slagged off, I don’t think the British will ever be happy with whoever is running the show. But they keep us going do they not? We aren’t at war. We aren’t in poverty. We have our freedom. And we certainly aren’t being oppressed the way the North Koreans are.
I think it is time that we took a very close look at where we are and how fortunate we are. Some of us bring in more money than others, some have a fancier home but the majority of British people are doing just fine. Just be thankful for that.