Speak out against trivialisation of the North Korean issue

Today an issue played regarding a September publication in fashion magazine Elle that listed ‘North Korean Chic’ as a top fashion trend for this autumn. Small as this slight may seem, it is a good example of trivialisation that happens with regard to the North Korean issue. Look at those silly North Koreans in their retro uniforms and their retro concentration camps!

One problem is the lack of realisation that what is going on there is seriously horrific. We are talking about a country where in the past few years up to 100,000 inmates have disappeared from the concentration camps, many of which presumably starved when the new regime redirected scarce food resources to prop up its support base. Regardless of the accuracy of that number—earlier reports talked about 20,000—it is still an incredibly crime that merits global attention on its own. Jokes about the outfits of North Koreas Army, essentially ten years of forced corvée labour for the men, is not fitting.

However, of course is has not only got to do with a lack of knowledge, but also with defining a group so much as the Other, that empathy is reduced. Only that can explain the fact that things like the grueling, child-abusing Arirang Mass Games are filed under entertainment. Stories about sex scandals and executions are passed on like Snowden files at a journalist get-together, only for their entertaining value. We have to stop seeing North Korean lives as worth less worry and care than those of people we can culturally and physically relate to more easily.

I believe that the above justifies that even such small issues such as the Elle gaffe should be addressed, proportionally of course. A few angry responses to Elle Magazine have already sorted some effect: the magazine has removed the reference and expressed regret. This is a good way to address this issue and I encourage every reader of news media to do the same.

Is your news source of choice oversimplifying the situation, trivialising suffering or just being plain racist? Send a letter and show the editors that you care!

Haunting documentary on North Korean camps: ‘Camp 14: Total Control Zone’

It might ruin your day, watching this documentary. But I think that you should nevertheless.

It tells the story of Shin Dong-hyuk, a North Korean who was born inside concentration camp 14. His father had gotten his mother as reward for good labour. Interviewing Shin and two former guards who defected to the South, the film makers show you the world of horror. An artist draws the scenes described.

Shin is a famous defector, because he was born in the concentration camp and managed to escape a total control zone. His tragic story adds to this: in his youth he told the camp leaders that his mother and brother might be planning an escape. After months of torture in prison he had to watch their public execution.

There are so many things from this documentary I would like to share that I can only recommend you to watch it fully. But I would like to draw your attention to several things:

See how meticulously dressed the guards are and compare it to Shin, who does not sit on a chair as he tells his story, but on the floor of his apartment, which he kept empty to remind him of the home he used to share with his mother.

Notice the grin of one of the guards after he describes the position of absolute power he held over his inmates.

“The public executions in the camp weren’t restricted to adult inmates. That could happen to children too.”

“I hadn’t learned that you are supposed to cry when your mother is executed.”

This is not a horror from the past. This is happening right now as we speak.

Read the review of the Guardian for some more context of this movie. You can buy the German DVD already on Amazon, for the English version you will have to wait until 28 October.