NewsNorth Korea clamps down on cultural influences in crackdown

North Korea clamps down on cultural influences in crackdown

Repression in North Korea isn't abating.
Repression in North Korea isn't abating.
Images source: © Getty Images | Contributor
Robert Kędzierski

2 July 2024 10:33

North Korea is intensifying repression against its citizens, according to the latest report published by South Korea. Western music, films, and even sunglasses are banned. – Kim Jong-un is aware of the power of information. That's why the reaction is so brutal, explains an expert.

South Korea has published an alarming report on human rights violations in North Korea for the year 2024. The document reveals drastic methods used by the regime to combat cultural influences from abroad.

North Korea intensifies repression

The report, based on 649 testimonies from North Korean defectors, includes a detailed description of the case of a 22-year-old man from Hwanghae Province who was executed in 2022. According to an anonymous witness, the young man was sentenced to death for possessing and distributing cultural content from South Korea. He had listened to over 70 tracks of K-pop music and watched three South Korean films.

The execution is a glaring example of the intensification of cultural policy in North Korea. In 2020, the authorities in Pyongyang introduced a new law banning “reactionary ideology and culture,” which effectively means a total ban on accessing cultural content from the West and South Korea.

Experts point out that cultural repression in North Korea has significantly intensified since Kim Jong-un took power in 2011. The regime views foreign cultural influences as a serious threat to its ideology, which demands absolute loyalty to the Kim family.

The fight against “Western influences” includes music, films, fashion, and lifestyle. The North Korean authorities conduct campaigns against wearing tight jeans, t-shirts with foreign inscriptions, or dyeing hair. Sunglasses are also banned, despite the fact that Kim Jong-un himself is often photographed wearing dark glasses. Alcohol from wine glasses, considered a “South Korean” custom, is also prohibited.

The authorities conduct increasingly frequent house searches, looking for signs of foreign culture. Particular attention is paid to elements associated with South Korean wedding customs, such as white wedding dresses or the traditional gesture of the groom lifting the bride.

Despite severe penalties, including executions, South Korean cultural influences seem to be increasingly penetrating North Korea. A North Korean defector cited in the report said at a press conference in Seoul that South Korean culture is increasingly affecting North Korea. – Young people imitate and copy South Korean culture; they like everything South Korean, she said.

Kim Jong-Un fears western influences

She also emphasised how contact with foreign cultures affects the awareness of North Korean residents. – After watching foreign films, we wonder why we have to live like this? Of course, we can't publicly criticise Kim Jong-un, but we do so in conversations with loved ones, she added.

Experts on North Korea emphasise that these drastic measures indicate the regime's growing anxiety in the face of the influx of information and culture from outside. Dr. Lee Sung-yoon, a professor of international relations at Tufts University in the USA, emphasises that Kim Jong-un's regime is aware of the power of information coming from outside. – They can undermine his monopoly on the control of citizens' minds. That is why the reaction is so brutal and disproportionate, he adds.

International human rights organisations have repeatedly condemned North Korea for violating fundamental freedoms, including freedom of expression and access to information. The South Korean ministry's report provides further evidence of the scale of repression in this country.

North Korea and Russia signed a mutual military assistance agreement

The regime in Pyongyang signed a new agreement with Russia in mid-June (GMT). The treaty of comprehensive strategic partnership, signed during Vladimir Putin's visit to Pyongyang, includes a mutual defence clause under which both sides are to support each other in case of external aggression.

The Comprehensive Strategic Partnership Agreement provides for, among other things, mutual assistance in the event of aggression against one of the parties to the agreement, said the Russian dictator after about two hours of talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Pyongyang.

Putin also announced that Russia does not rule out developing military-technical cooperation with North Korea under this agreement, according to Russian media, emphasising that security and international affairs took up a large part of the meeting.

The Kremlin had earlier announced that a new “fundamental document” had been prepared to serve as the basis for relations between the two countries.

The North Korean leader is said to have stated that the agreement is “peaceful and defensive” in nature.

Russia and North Korea also signed agreements on cooperation in the fields of healthcare, medical education, and science, according to Russian state media, citing the Kremlin's website.

We oppose the practice of politically motivated sanctions and restrictions. Such unlawful actions only undermine the global economic and political system, said Putin at the end of the meeting with Kim Jong-un.

In 2022, after Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, relations between Moscow and Pyongyang deepened, mainly due to Western sanctions imposed on Moscow and Russia's attempts to circumvent these restrictions.

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