Why North Korea?

Hi everyone!

I suppose I should introduce myself here, as I had not in my previous post. My name is Michelle and I am the co-director of NKHRFF. I have decided to write this week’s blog post about how I became interested in North Korean human rights – because it is the question I get asked most often.  ”…but why North Korea? There are so many problems in the world, why this one?” I like to respond with, “why NOT North Korea?” It’s actually this very question that continually drives me to advocate for human rights in North Korea. It shouldn’t surprise everyone the way it does when they learn about the horrific conditions North Koreans are living in. It shouldn’t surprise people to learn there is more to North Korea than crazy Kim Jong-il and his nuclear shenanigans. But it DOES. And it’s because North Korea is only ever in the news for their provocations towards the South or their failed missile attempts or their many nuclear threats. This is why I don’t at all blame people when they ask me that question of “why North Korea?” because until recently, I also was completely in the dark about what actually goes on inside North Korea. I only thought of Team America and ‘that crazy communist dictator’ when I thought about North Korea, honestly. I knew nothing about real life inside North Korea.

I lived and worked in South Korea for two years. I visited the DMZ (demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas) – basically with very little knowledge about the North and more so just to say that I went there. It wasn’t until I lived in South Korea for nearly a year and half, that I finally decided it was time for me to actually do some research about North Korea. And what I found what astonishing. I absolutely could not believe I had been living SO close to this country. This country that is a close replica to George Orwell’s 1984, this country that has taken nearly every God given freedom away from it’s citizens…this country that no one even knows about. North Korea is one of the most isolated countries in the world. It is totally cutoff from the outside world due to strict governmental and military control over its people. What this means is that many North Koreans have no idea about life outside of North Korea – they are told numerous fabrications from they day they are born and if they even think about challenging the regime, they face extreme danger.

I couldn’t believe that  a good majority of the world wasn’t aware of the human rights situation in North Korea, myself included. When I researched more and more, and watched every documentary I could get my hands on, I only grew more and more frustrated. I felt like North Korea was a forgotten country. A country that everyone deemed as too difficult to save. It’s true…North Korea is an extremely difficult and complicated situation to even begin to comprehend. But does that mean we forget about it and move on to countries that we feel we can change? What about the people of North Korea? They are human beings, just like you and  me. They deserve a life full of freedoms, full of decisions, full of traveling, full of happiness and love.

North Korea isn’t just another human rights crisis to me. It has become much more personal than that. When I lived in South Korea, I really grew to love the country, the people, the culture – basically everything about it. I had always thought of North and South Korea as two completely different countries. But as I learned more about the history of the Korean peninsula, the Korean War, and the separated families that would never see each other again, I began to think about Korea as one country – one country that has been torn apart by other self-interested countries. It is a very sad reality. But it is a reality that we can change. Human rights in North Korea needs to be addressed urgently. We can no longer turn our backs on the suffering people of North Korea and there is no more room for ignorance. I do believe that change has to come from the North Korean people themselves. But we can still act as a catalyst by spreading awareness and demanding this be an issue of international importance.

Alright, so there is my novel about why I am so passionate about North Korea. Didn’t mean for it to to get so long, but I hope it helps in understanding why this festival is so important to me. And I cannot say enough how much I appreciate the support Toronto has shown us. It really means the world to us here at NKHRFF. Thank you so much :)


Michelle Ragno