The DPRK authorities have declared war on South Korean music and films. Listening to K-pop now faces 15 years in labor camps
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un called K-pop a “malignant tumor”, and the country has tightened penalties for watching films and listening to music from South Korea. Choi Sang-hoon, chief of the South Korean bureau of The New York Times (NYT), wrote about this .
Choi Sang-hoon notes that North Korean propaganda over the years has focused on the hardships of life in South Korea. But that image is being shattered by South Korean films and videos that enter the country illegally via China. They began to gain popularity amid quarantine measures due to the coronavirus pandemic, the South Korean Daily NK wrote . In recent months, the DPRK authorities have publicly spoken about the “anti-socialist” influence of South Korean films, music and videos almost every day, the NYT notes.
In December 2020, North Korea even tightened laws against those who listen to music, watch movies, read books from South Korea. Their punishment was increased from five to 15 years in labor camps. Those who distribute such materials face punishment up to the death penalty, the NYT reports, citing data from the South Korean special services. In May 2021, the Daily NK wrote that a DPRK resident was executed for illegally selling CDs and USB drives with South Korean videos.
Kim Jong-un has already spoken out on several occasions about the spread of South Korean culture in the DPRK. In particular, in April 2021, he warned that “major changes” were taking place in the “ideological and psychological state” of young North Koreans. “For him, the cultural invasion from South Korea has gone beyond the acceptable level,” Jiro Ishimaru, editor-in-chief of Japan’s Asia Press International, which writes about the DPRK, told NYT.
According to Asia Press International, computers, phones and music players of young North Koreans have begun to be checked for South Korean content. In addition, the country has banned speaking and writing “in the South Korean style.” In particular, Kim Jong-un condemned the use of the word “oppa” (older brother) with which women in South Korea refer to their lovers or friends. North Koreans are instead encouraged to use the word “comrade” when referring to partners.
According to the Daily NK, in addition to South Korean, North Korea is also trying to fight Japanese and American culture. However, this was not always the case: in the 2010s, North Korean television showed characters for the costumes of Mickey and Minnie Mouse, disks with Disney cartoons “The Lion King” and “Cinderella” were sold in kiosks, and foreign films, concerts and TV shows could be watched in restaurants …
The turn in Kim Jong-un’s cultural policy came after his failed talks with then-US President Donald Trump in February 2019. Then North Korea abandoned nuclear disarmament, and the United States – from lifting the sanctions. After that, Kim Jong-un announced that the country would build a “self-sufficient economy” independent of trade with the outside world. Soon after, a pandemic began, which exacerbated the already serious economic problems of the DPRK, the NYT notes.
“The economic situation [of North Korea] is the worst since Kim Jong-un came to power ten years ago. <…> He must strengthen control to contain social unrest, ”Jiro Ishimaru told NYT.