Jangmadang generation at the forefront of social change inside North Korea

These days, markets throughout North Korea are not just a place for buying food, clothes and household goods. They have also become the clearing house for information from the outside world, a place where USB sticks loaded with foreign movies and soap operas can be bought.

A documentary, Jangmadang Generation, came about after North Korean escapees kept telling Sokeel Park, South Korea country director for LiNK (Liberty in North Korea), that the change inside the country was important. LiNK decided to make the film, to show that young North Koreans are not brainwashed automatons and are not just victims. That they have agency, and that they are at the forefront of social change inside North Korea.

“This is the most closed and repressive country in the world,” said Park, who directed and narrates the film. “But we wanted to let the audience see North Koreans are relatable people, to see that many of these people have experienced incredible loss and tragedy, but to also see the dynamism that is happening across the country.”

All the members of the Jangmadang Generation featured in the film escaped to South Korea, where they are now studying at universities or making their own way in the world. While older North Koreans often struggle to adapt to the fast-paced and ruthless capitalism of the South, people of this generation usually settle right in.

“Our generation grew up learning about and seeing freedom while being repressed by the government at the same time,” Huh Shimon said. “So our desire for freedom is strong.”

Asked to define freedom, he said: “Freedom means being able to work in a certain place if you want and not if you don’t want, being able to do your own business if you want, living where you want and being able to go where you want.”

[Washington Post]

Stop funding food aid to North Korea?

Excerpts of Guardian opinion by Jang Jin-sung, once one of Kim Jong-il’s favorite state poets until he defected in 2004:

North Korean exiles will tell you that the international community must stop funding food aid. We say this for pragmatic and humanitarian reasons.

Today, the fatal threat for the regime lies not in the outside world, but within the country itself. More specifically, this is the jangmadang – an underground economy arisen from the ashes of economic collapse in the 1990s, and which consist of market activities taking place beyond the remit of the regime’s control mechanisms.

This fundamental transformation from below, the notion that lives may be lived outside the domain of loyalty to the system, is the greatest imminent threat to the regime’s power – which is held in place by inculcating the cult of the Kim dynasty, surveillance controls and the coercive mobilization of its subjects.

In today’s North Korea there are two rival forces in battle: the forces of the regime and the forces of the market. The former’s interests are better served by the maintenance of existing party, military and surveillance mechanisms of control. The latter are equivalent to North Korea’s progressives, who believe in a future that is possible beyond the absolute, stifling and structurally inhumane confines of the regime.

An international community wishing to assist the North Korean people should recognize that funding food aid is a channel of limited efficiency. The majority of North Koreans depend not on the regime’s munificence but on market forces – they have already found this a more successful alternative, despite a disproportionate lack of international support or awareness. Even at times when the regime is calling for food aid, it does not mean that the jangmadang will not have food on offer, whether stolen from state cooperatives or smuggled in from China.

[The Guardian]