Monthly Archives: March 2014

North Korea fires on South Korea

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A day after raising the possibility of further nuclear tests, North Korea has engaged in provocative live-fire exercises near the South Korean maritime border, leading to an exchange of fire between the neighbors.

South Korean news agency Yonhap reported Monday that the North had begun the drill just after noon. The South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff confirmed that some North Korean ordnance landed in South Korean waters and that the South responded with fire.

Yonhap reported that the North fired “several” artillery shells, to which the South Korean military responded with self-propelled artillery fire. The South Korean K9 howitzers have a 24-mile (40-kilometer) range.


South Korean proposal to North Korea to bolster humanitarian aid and bilateral exchanges

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Uncertainty lingers as to whether South Korean President Park Geun-hye’s proposals to bolster humanitarian aid to North Korea and bilateral exchanges will lead to a turnaround in the strained ties, given high military tensions and mutual distrust.

Aimed at laying the groundwork for reunification, Park’s proposals for “humanity, co-prosperity and integration” included extending aid to mothers and their babies; building infrastructure in the North in return for rights to develop underground resources; and increasing bilateral exchanges in various sectors.

“At this point in time, Park’s proposals are likely to be perceived by Pyongyang as a ‘poisonous apple’ ― a package that ultimately seeks to achieve reunification by absorbing the North,” said Cheong Seong-jang, a senior research fellow at the think tank Sejong Institute.

Pyongyang maintains its bellicose stance toward Seoul. On Sunday it threatened to conduct a “new type” of nuclear test and continued its verbal criticism of President Park.

Amid annual South Korea-U.S. military drills, the North has fired off dozens of ballistic missiles and short-range rockets in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions.

[The Korea Herald]

Religious Persecution in North Korea

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The Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), the report issued by the United Nations Human Rights Council, has a section dealing with “Religious Persecution” that also gives the history of Christianity in the isolated Communist country, where churches had thrived before the events of 1950-1953 civil war that left it a divided land.

As of 1950, Christian Solidarity Worldwide quoted an estimate of more than 28 percent of Korea’s population that had a religious belief. The 1950 Yearbook of the Workers’ Party of Korea placed the figure at almost 24 per cent.

The Korean War and pre-Kim Il Sung-ism movement periods have been described as the most vicious in the persecution of religious believers. “Religious people were killed, exiled and imprisoned. Christians were said to have been targeted the most as the movement of Christianity was much more organized than the other religions and because of its supposed connection with the USA.”

[Ecumenical News]

North Korea sees Christians as ‘serious threat’

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The recent 372-page U.N. Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea that shows North Korean leaders considers the spread of Christianity a particularly “serious threat.”

This is because “it ideologically challenges the official personality cult and provides a platform for social and political organization and interaction outside the State realm,” says the report.

“Children are taught to revere and idolize Kim Il-sung, Kim Jong-il, and now Kim Jong-un. Plaques with slogans, posters and drawings expressing gratitude to the Supreme Leader are found in kindergartens irrespective of the children’s ability to fully comprehend these messages.

It said, “Christians are prohibited from practicing their religion and are persecuted. People caught practicing Christianity are subject to severe punishments in violation of the right to freedom of religion and the prohibition of religious discrimination.”

The report said one estimate suggests there are between 200,000 and 400,000 Christians still professing their religion secretly in North Korea despite the high risks.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay  welcomed the report and said “its findings need to be treated with the greatest urgency, as they suggest that crimes against humanity of an unimaginable scale continue to be committed in the DPRK.”

[Ecumenical News]

A revival of North Korean Christianity

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In 1988, North Korean authorities suddenly decided to build a Catholic and a Protestant church in Pyongyang. North Korean refugees say that many Pyongyangites were shocked one day when they saw a building in the neighborhood that looked remarkably like a church (from propaganda pictures), with a cross atop its spire. For decades, North Koreans had been told that such places could possibly be only dens of spies and sadistic butchers (their reaction was perhaps similar to the average D.C. resident if they found a big al-Qaeda recruiting center in their neighborhood, complete with a large neon sign).

At present, there are four officially tolerated churches in Pyongyang (two Protestant, one Catholic and one Orthodox). Opinions are divided on how authentic these activities are. In any case, these political shows in Pyongyang should not distract us from the real revival of North Korean Christianity, which quietly began in the late 1990s in the Sino-North Korean borderlands. In the late 1990s, many North Koreans fled to China trying to escape a disastrous famine in their country. In 1998-99, the number of such refugees peaked at around 200,000.

Most of them established good contacts with ethnic Koreans in China. By that time, many Korean-Chinese had been converted to Christianity – which is increasingly seen worldwide as the major religion of the Korean diaspora. Thus, refugees came into contact with South Korean missionaries and/or their ethnic Korean converts, and many of them were converted. It helped that Korean churches in China were perhaps the only institutions that were ready to provide the refugees with assistance and a modicum of protection. Experienced refugees told novices that in the most desperate situation, when all else fails, they should look for a church.

Churches were also very involved with a kind of underground railway that helped North Korean refugees in China to move South. Inside South Korea, church communities are the major institution that provides otherwise generally neglected North Korean refugees with support and protection. One should not therefore be surprised that a significant number of North Korean refugees convert to Christianity soon after their arrival to the South.

Meanwhile in China, from around 2000, many missionaries began to train refugees to spread Christianity in North Korea proper. Many converts were indeed willing to take the risk and go back to their native villages and towns with Korean-language Bibles and other literature. Thus, North Korea’s catacomb church was born.

The North Korean government does not look upon such developments favorably. If a returning refugee is known to be in contact with missionaries he/she will face far more severe punishment. For the average non-religious border crosser, the punishment is likely to be a few months of imprisonment, but known religious activist is likely to spend 10 years in prison.

Nonetheless, the risks do not deter either missionaries or converts.


North Korea’s irreconcilable relationship with Christianity

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It is not widely known, but a significant part of the first generation of Korean communist leaders – people born between 1900 and 1920 – came from devote Christian families.

Kim Il Sung himself (grandfather of present leader Kim Jong Un) was no exception: Both his parents came from families of early converts to Christianity.

Until the Korean War, Pyongyang was a major stronghold of Korean Christianity. In the colonial days, it was not known as the “Jerusalem of the East” for nothing: in the 1930s Christians constituted some 30 percent of the population of the city (at the same time, only 1 percent of all Koreans were Christians).

However, communist ideologues were very hostile to religion, which they saw as the “opium of the masses.” In the Soviet Union under Stalin, the church was not officially outlawed, but it was subjected to systematic harassment. In the late 1940s the North Korean government co-opted the small number of church ministers willing to collaborate – these people were called “progressive churchmen.” Kang Ryang Uk, a Protestant missionary and distant relative of Kim Il Sung, was the most prominent of these collaborators. The vast majority of believers, however, were subjected to discrimination. The result was a massive exodus of Christians to South Korea.

From around 1956-57, North Korean authorities began to close down all the few surviving churches and religious associations in the country. From then on, the North Korean media claimed that North Korea was the only country free of “religious superstition.”

Christianity became the object of near constant and virulent attacks in the North Korean media. While all communist states sponsored anti-religious activities and propaganda, in few countries of the Communist Bloc was this propaganda as vicious as in North Korea.

In propaganda publications churchmen were not merely reactionary, but national traitors. As every reader of North Korean magazines and books knew well, churches were all controlled by foreign missionaries, who were mercenary spies of the foreign imperialists, or sometimes sadistic killers who fantasized about butchering the Korean nation. One recurrent topic of North Korean propaganda was missionary involvement in “organ snatching.” Missionary doctors were alleged to steal kidneys, eyes and bone marrow (among other things) from those innocent Koreans who were stupid enough to come to a missionary hospital. Alternatively, naive Korean patients were subject to diabolical experiments, conducted by the same missionary doctors.

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Net worth of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un

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According to Celebrity Net Worth, Kim Jong-un is currently valued at $5 billion. Earlier last month, a joint investigation conducted by the South Korean and American governments revealed that the North Korean dictator and his family controlled these assets, distributed throughout more than 200 foreign bank accounts in multiple countries.

Kim Jong-un’s late father Kim Jong-il, reportedly lived a ridiculously wealthy lifestyle. Some examples:

  • In a 2001 train trip Kim Jong-il took to Russia, he had a 16-car private train that was stocked with crates of French wine and live lobsters.
  • Kim Jong-il’s former private Japanese sushi chef revealed Mr. Kim had a wine cellar stocked with 10,000 bottles, and indulged in pricey shark fin soup on a weekly basis.

A recent U.N. report found that Kim Jong-un also isn’t afraid to spend generously. According to the report, Kim Jong-un tried to import luxury Mercedes-Benz vehicles, dozens of pianos, and high-end musical equipment. He’s also a fan of fine liquor, specifically cognac.

The report estimates that state spending on luxury goods increased from an average of $300 million a year under Kim Jong-il to $645 million in 2012.

Meanwhile, the current Gross Domestic Product per capita for North Korean residents is at about $1,800, according to a 2011 estimate from the CIA. Compare that to the $32,400 for its neighbors in South Korea, $49,800 in the United States, and $9,100 in China.


NGO to help disabled North Koreans

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A Belgium-based NGO has plans to send over $1 million in aid this year to North Korea to help the disabled there.

The Belgium branch of Handicap International has earmarked $1.12 million for this year to support medical and rehabilitation facilities in North Korea to promote the health and wellbeing of the disabled there, according to reports from the Voice of America, citing an e-mail from the agency’s official Dominique Delvigne.

The budget is also to be spent for such projects as nurturing teachers in charge of special education for visually- and hearing-impaired people, and assisting the North Korean Federation for the Protection of the Disabled, the official added.

The NGO, established in 1982 to help disabled and vulnerable people began to help physically challenged people in North Korea in 1998 at the request of the KFPD.

According to the report on disability published by the World Health Organization in 2013, some 3.4 percent of the population in North Korea suffered from a disability as of 2007.


North Korean anti-South-Korea propaganda falling on unbelieving ears

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North Korean textbooks describe South Korea as a “fascist, military dictatorship” filled with “poverty and starvation,” but fewer and fewer North Koreans are buying the propaganda.

North Korean textbooks teach that South Korea is dominated by “foreign powers” that trample on the Korean people and “taint” its history, language and way of life. The North also teaches students that the U.S. must be driven out and South Korea liberated. Textbooks say U.S. soldiers stationed in South Korea “fire guns in broad daylight, plunder homes and rape women.” There are also rumors that North Korean defectors have their “eyes gouged out and limbs severed” if they go to South Korea.

But North Koreans from all walks of life prize South Korean-made products. One North Korean trader who crossed over the border into China said South Korean products are traded illicitly in open-air markets and can be sold at high prices if the removed labels are shown to customers.

Another North Korean said, “North Koreans know people in the South are better off, because they watch South Korean TV shows and movies. High-ranking officials and fairly well-off families all have South Korean products at home.”

Around 12 million North Koreans are believed to have access to South Korean TV shows. A government source said South Korean TV can be accessed from areas south of Sinuiju in North Pyongan Province and Wonsan in Kangwon Province.

A survey of 200 North Korean defectors last month by Media Research showed 70.5 percent of them had watched South Korean TV and other media content in the North.

[Chosun Ilbo]

North Korea lays out ideology via children’s books

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Brainwashing the next generation is a big deal in North Korea. Research suggests that Kim Jong-il and his father Kim Il-sung could be the authors of some fiercely ideological children’s tales, according to an Australian academic, Christopher Richardson, who is researching North Korean children’s literature for his PhD at Sydney University.

Boys Wipe Out Bandits, first published in 1989, is “adapted from a story the Dear Leader ‘one day’ dreamed up as a child himself”, writes Richardson, in which “cultural impurities, capitalist degeneracy, and rampant individualism are defeated by the pure virtue of the collective”.

Although the story was published in his name, Richardson is skeptical about whether Kim Jong-il really wrote it. “Even the publishers in the DPRK maintain a degree of ambiguity about the authorship of these tales, attributing the stories to Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il, while acknowledging they were written down by someone else,” he told the Guardian.

Richardson also mentions another book: the anti-American fable The Butterfly and The Cock, apparently said to have first been told by Kim Il-sung and then written down. It tells the story of how a cockerel, intended to symbolize America, sets out to bully other animals, but a butterfly – representing North Korea – steps in.

A Winged Horse is another children’s story from Kim Il-sung, in which the country is under threat from Japanese invaders, but a child saves the day on a flying horse. Writes Richardson, “Whereas the invaders are grotesque and dysmorphic, the three boy heroes are beatific, round-faced, rose-cheeked and neatly groomed, especially the youngest. Almost feminine, he has wide liquid eyes, like a cherub. Their bodies incarnate Korean simplicity and virtue.”

He was also surprised to find the stories themselves were “quite enjoyable”. “I was astounded that children’s books (purportedly) written by Kim Jong-il and Kim Il-sung were vastly more readable than one would expect from any political leader in the democratic west, still less a severe authoritarian,” he said.

He said that when he has shown his collection of North Korean children’s books to defectors, “their response has usually been to recall that while enjoying the more colorful and adventurous tales as children, they were not so interested in overtly militaristic and political stories”.

So far, Kim Jong-un has not – as far as Richardson can tell – written his own children’s book, but he anticipates it won’t be long until North Korea’s latest leader steps into the children’s literature arena.

[Read more in The Guardian