Since insight into North Korea is rare, as data or research is not available because of how isolated the country remains, insights from defectors and others involved with the country offer glimpses of what life is like on the inside.
For one, society in North Korea was highly fragmented by a class system.
There were three socio-political classifications that were based on North Korean citizens’ families, or their loyalty to the government, according to the Human Rights Watch’s Phil Robertson. These three groups were called the “core,” “wavering,” and “hostile” classes.
– The elites, those who fought foreigners, as well as those closest to the supreme leader, made up the core class.
– Peasants, laborers, and workers formed the second class.
– Those on the lowest rung were those who had opposed the elder Kim’s regime, or had previously worked with South Korea or Japan.
“And your life … ranging from residence, employment, education … is decided by the class system,” explains former North Korean diplomat Thae Yong-ho. “I was lucky to be born into the ‘core’ class, the ruling class. That’s why I was able to get [an] elite education and a good job, and I lived in Pyongyang in good apartments… [but] there is a very strict class system structure in North Korea. … North Korea is just like the feudal dynasty of the Middle Ages.”
Despite being part of the upper echelon, Thae said he definitely wasn’t going to miss the life he left behind.
“The Kim family does not care about the human rights of individuals,” he stated. “They only care about their own interest.”