John Dale Grover is a Young Voices Advocate and graduate student at George Mason University’s Conflict Analysis and Resolution Program. Today he joins the podcast to share the latest on news of free market practices in North Korea. ICYMI this is highly unusual for North Korea but John says that necessity is pushing the dictatorial government toward making concessions to free market activity happening in the shadows.
With North Korea in the news again, experts are once again questioning how long Kim Jong-Un can maintain his current path and power. After all, the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea (DPRK) has been on the edge of societal and economic collapse for years and cannot persist without at least economic reform. It is, therefore, encouraging that an increasing number of North Koreans are experimenting with private property and the right to buy and sell as they see fit. Such liberalization needs to be further developed if the basic needs of the DPRK’s people are to be met and millions are to be lifted out of poverty. However, this could prove difficult since major reforms would take time and Pyongyang usually fiercely maintains its command economy.
Today, North Korea threatens to “burn Manhattan to ashes.” Yesterday, Kim Jong-un decided to ramp-up the country’s nuclear capacities. Tomorrow, the hermit kingdom will test miniature warheads. But while most of the world focuses on these imminent threats, North Korea is discreetly expanding its reach by other means: art. North Korea’s art army has been building ideologically influenced statues and monuments in places like Africa, Asia, the Middle East, even Germany.
North Korea’s Mansudae Art Studio is thought to be one of the biggest art production studios in the world. Founded by Kim Il-sung in 1959, the state-run institution is known for its over-the-top Soviet-style artwork. Its work ranges from oil painting, to ceramics, to sculpture, to woodcutting, and even propaganda. Best known for having built every statue and art on display in North Korea, Mansudae artists are the only ones considered prominent enough to be allowed to paint the Kim dynasty.
Yeonmi’s story begins with her first steps out of North Korea on March 31, 2007. She crossed the frozen Yalu River with her mother in the dead of night, arriving in China with only a vague idea what to do next. She was only thirteen years old. It was the beginning of a harrowing, years-long journey that would take her across China, through the vast Gobi desert, all the way to the Mongolian border, before finally reaching South Korea by plane.
It took exceptional strength of character for Yeonmi to survive the journey. Living outside of the law, she was subjected to constant abuse; starvation and suicide were rarely far away. Her father crossed the border to join her, but he died of untreated cancer a few months later.
Read the full article, and watch the video at Reason.TV.
‘I had to learn how to think before I could learn to be free’
When my plane touched down at Incheon International Airport in the spring of 2009, I thought my long journey to freedom was over. My heart was beating out of my chest with excitement as my mother and I and our small band of North Korean defectors were met by South Korean agents and ushered through the impossibly shiny and modern arrivals gate. Finally I could do and say what I wanted without being arrested.
But I hadn’t been in South Korea for more than a few weeks when I realized that freedom was not so simple, and in many ways my mind was still locked behind the sealed borders of North Korea. I was 15 years old with the equivalent of a second grade education, and I didn’t even possess the language to express concepts such as liberty, individuality, or love for anything other than the Leader. I had to learn how to think before I could learn to be free.
Read the full Time Magazine article, co-authored by Yeonmi Park and Maryanne Vollers, here.