It has long been clear that South Korean culture is having an impact on the North Korea, with TV dramas, films, music and clothing all playing a role in changing the viewpoint of North Koreans, especially the young.
Now, after one of nine defectors currently under investigation in Nagasaki revealed that he was inspired to defect after watching South Korean dramas and films, interest in the role of South Korean culture in moving North Korean minds is sure to grow. Knowing that North Korean people watch South Korean dramas in secret is one thing, being shown that they can inspire people to run from their country by such things is quite another.
Evidence is growing that these nine defectors are not alone, and that the so-called ‘Korean Wave’ really does form the motivation to defect for a significant number of people. While in the past a majority of defectors chose to escape because they were having trouble surviving, nowadays it seems that freedom and relative abundance in South Korea, rather than hardship and hunger in North Korea itself, are becoming real driving forces.
Seong Hyeon Mi, a 25-year old from North Hamkyung Province who defected in 2009 explained why she could understand the nine, saying, “When I saw the news about the Japan defector’s motivation for leaving, I had substantial sympathy for them.”
“They must have craved liberty so much that they used an unsafe fishing vessel to defect,” Seong pondered, adding, “When you see the images of freedom in Korean dramas, the thought, ‘I want to live that way’ comes up naturally.”
Kim Seon Hee, a 50-year old who spent one and a half years detained in a labor reeducation camp after being caught watching Korean drama prior to her defection explained more, stating, “No matter how often the People’s Safety Ministry and National Security Agency agents say don’t watch, the people don’t listen.”
Jeong Su Ok, who was among the wealthier citizens of Hyesan prior to her defection, agreed, telling The Daily NK that, like the defector in Japan, “Life wasn’t difficult for me. However, through Korean dramas or hearing from relatives in South Korea, the will to defect emerged and became so strong. The mere thought of going to South Korea was spurred me on to conquer the fear of defecting. And so on the actual day of departure, I didn’t really feel frightened.”
Jeong says that when she speaks with family left behind in North Korea she can feel the difference in the strength of the South Korean cultural influence, right down to her younger brother’s use of South Korean phrases.
However, defectors and experts alike agree that while the influence of South Korean culture is certainly growing in North Korea year-on-year, it is hard to imagine this resulting in a flood of fresh defections without very serious domestic North Korean impetus.