“I think the South Koreans hope to see North Korea evolve gradually toward a market economy with a more reasonable political leadership in the same way that China and Vietnam have,” said Gregg Brazinsky, an East Asia specialist at George Washington University. “The key question is, how do you bring this about?”
South Korea’s approach toward its neighbor is complicated by a growing group of defectors who advocate for regime collapse — something the government itself has never pushed for. Wednesday, representatives of some 30 defector groups met near the Demilitarized Zone that divides the peninsula for an event they hoped would spark protests in a country with rigid social controls.
Mourning in North Korea goes on, days after the death of leader Kim Jong-Il. Meanwhile, neighboring China and South Korea are watching the borders to see what may come next. The death could mean reconciliation or more conflict. (Dec. 22)
Seoul’s National Intelligence Service urged them not to hold the event, fearful of antagonizing the North. The defectors held it anyway.
The defectors first printed fliers that documented Kim Jong Il’s lavish lifestyle and described North Korea as a “fenceless prison.” They then stuffed the fliers into five massive balloons. They activated a timer and let the balloons fly, hoping for good winds that might send the balloons well north of the DMZ — perhaps into North Hwanghae province.
The rally was partly a made-for-television event, media members outnumbering defectors. But some of the activists knew from their own experiences the power of what they were sending. They, too, had once found information that challenged North Korean propaganda. And they wondered about life in China or South Korea.
Among South Korea’s 20,000 defectors, some have stories about watching bootlegged American movies (like “Rambo” and “Home Alone”) or South Korean soap operas. Some recall finding photos of beautiful women, with perforations around their bodies. The message: “Cut and use. Come to ROK for freedom.”
Kim Sung-min, a defector who now runs a radio station, said he hoped the Wednesday event would erode North Koreans’ trust in their own government — even if only a little.
“North Koreans still don’t have strong emotions against the regime,” said another defector, Jang Se-yul, who fled the country in 2008. “They have complaints, sure, but there is also hope. What we want to do through sending the leaflets is tell them that their hope is misplaced. We want to get them ready to make their own choices.”
Yoonjung Seo contributed to this report.