Cha Ri-hyuk, who defected from North Korea in 2013, still remembers what it was like after his country’s supreme leader, Kim Jong-il, died in 2011: Trains stopped running, customers were kicked out of hotels and the price of a kilogram of rice soared from 5,000 North Korean Won to more than 30,000 Won, said Cha, a former North Korea artillery corps officer.
After managing to buy and cook a kilogram of rice for the women and children in his friend’s family, Cha and his friend survived for three days on nothing but 10 litres – more than four gallons – of potent North Korean alcohol.
“There were many people like us who were drunk during the period and they were covering their faces with newspapers with the news of Kim Jong-il’s death, pretending they were mourning,” Cha told listeners at a forum about regime change sponsored by the Defense Forum Foundation. “If they were found to be drunk during the period, they would be sent to the political prison.”
Cha joined 11 other defectors at the forum to discuss weakening the North Korean regime through informing ordinary North Koreans of its realities. He and others pointed out that the difference in mood among North Koreans could eventually be a key to dealing with the current North Korean regime, led by Kim Jong-il’s youngest son, Kim Jong-un.