Five Ways North Koreans Are Defying the Regime


January 13, 2014

Gone are the days when North Koreans could only watch propaganda on state-sponsored TV — like this documentary introducing Kim Jong-un as the new Supreme Leader:

In Secret State of North Koreawhich airs Tuesday at 10 p.m. EST, FRONTLINE follows several North Koreans who are working to fight back against the regime. Some work outside the country to subvert the state, while others defy authority from inside, even secretly filming what life in North Korea is really like. Some of these acts of resistance are captured in the gifs below:

1. Sending balloons full of cash

Even though the North Korean government officially considers the U.S. to be an enemy, American dollars are still accepted as currency. To help their fellow citizens, defectors in China float balloons full of dollars over the border. One dollar can buy two days’ worth of food for a struggling family.

2. Appearing on a defectors’ talk show

Part current affairs, part talent show and part beauty pageant, On My Way to Meet You is a South Korean television show featuring young defectors. It’s illegal to watch in North Korea, but many people tune in anyway to see family and friends now living in Seoul.

3. Watching foreign television shows and films

It’s strictly prohibited to distribute or watch foreign TV shows and movies in North Korea. Kim Jong-un has reportedly sent security forces house-to-house searching for illicit DVDs and flash drives. But North Koreans — from party officials to teenage girls — keep watching them anyway, curious about the outside world. Here, two girls watching a foreign show on a laptop are spooked when they hear a knock at the door.

4. An increasing willingness to confront authority

Over the past few years, footage smuggled out of the country shows North Koreans protesting rules they think are unfair, for example a ban on women wearing pants (which was recently lifted). People also appear to be pushing the limits of private enterprise: Here, a woman running an illegal bus service confronts an army officer who is trying to stop her.

5. Secretly filming what the government doesn’t want people to see

A network of North Koreans inside the country, equipped with handheld cameras, have been quietly documenting untold stories, like department stores filled with goods no one can buy.

You’ll see more of these dissenters’ stories — and find out how their work is affecting the regime — in Secret State of North Korea, which premieres on-air and online tomorrow. Check local listings here.

Sarah Childress

Sarah Childress, Series Senior Editor & Director of Local Projects, FRONTLINE



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