As the world's attention is increasingly drawn towards Kim Jong-un, his nation, and his people, many are curious about what it's like to live in North Korea. From the sound of it, daily life in North Korea can be monotonous, dreary, and tightly regulated. On the bad days, it's downright dangerous, brutal, and deadly.
Given the tight hold Kim Jong-un has over the country, it can be difficult to verify the rumors about what it's really like in North Korea. We must rely on the accounts of defectors, those brave souls courageous and fortunate enough to have escaped the nation-state. They all tell practically the same account, offering an insider's view of life inside one of the most mysterious and ruthless dictatorships in modern history.
Read on for some stories from North Korean defectors, and a glimpse into the daily lives of the North Korean people.
In North Korea, the main deity is Kim Jong-un. Though there are some state-approved Christian churches in North Korea, defectors insist these are just for show; allegedly, there is no such thing as religious tolerance in North Korea.
If you are caught practicing Christianity without explicit permission from the state, you could be executed. According to UPI, "In one particular case, 33 North Korean Christians who came into contact with South Korean Christian groups, most likely in China, were summarily executed."
Though the North Korean government insists their country is a utopia, there have long been reports that the nation is plagued by a food shortage. Because the food supply is so erratic, North Koreans have had to resort to desperate alternatives, like eating grass.
Although hunger can drive people to do out-of-character things, the government insists that the populace views their hunger as a tool for the greater good. According to Vladimir Putin, the North Koreans will "eat grass, but they will not turn away from the path that will provide for their security." Translation: he thinks they will gladly go without food if it means advancing the country's nuclear arsenal.
The government keeps close tabs on anything that impacts the lives of the North Korean public. Nothing is bought or sold without the government's permission, to a point. Beyond that point is the black market, which has sparked a sort of underground free economy in North Korea.
All sorts of goods are smuggled into the country, typically from South Korea and China, including money, cell phones, bibles, even Friends episodes and K-Pop videos. Of the utmost concern to the government, however, is the dispersal of information, primarily via cell phones and electronic devices with Internet access. Information is power, and enough power can give rise to revolt, so smuggling anything with Internet access into North Korea is dangerous.
For North Koreans, there are no anti-Kim protests to attend, no social networks to connect folks who are equally frustrated about the state of the government, and no way to legitimately air grievances with the ruling powers. Kim Jong-un is seen as divine and infallible, the type of person would never be involved with a corrupt, dangerous regime.
Well, that's the story North Koreans are made to believe, anyway. But while you won't find resistance rallies or anti-government marches in North Korea, the population is starting to rebel in small, subtle ways. Something as minor as watching a contraband American movie is a serious offense in North Korea, but many are doing it. It might not spark a coup, but it's a nice way to snub their oppressive leader.