Ep. 72: Ji-Hyun Park and Michael Glendinning - Inside, and Escape From, North Korea

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When we hear about North Korea in the news, it is often about missile tests, diplomatic negotiations, cyber attacks, the threat of war, or even what former pro basketballer Dennis Rodman and Kim Jong-Un are discussing. But, what is going on behind all of this? What is life really like in North Korea? For a country that makes owning a business illegal, a quiet revolution rumbles on as the infiltration of illegal commerce grows. North Koreans are taking more risks to serve themselves.

Today, we peer inside the so-called “hermit kingdom”. We’ll hear about the human rights crisis in the country, North Korea’s “quiet revolution” of capitalism, and about two harrowing escapes from the country. My guests in this episode are Ji-Hyun Park, a North Korean refugee living in the UK, and Michael Glendinning, Founder of the charity ‘Connect: North Korea’.

Ji Hyun shares with us the immense trials and tribulations she experienced from her first escape from North Korea in 1998 to her arrival in the UK a decade later.

Michael moved to South Korea in 2009 to teach English. There he volunteered in charities supporting North Korean refugees. Seeing how the UK could play a bigger part, he got involved with The European Alliance for Human Rights in North Korea in 2009, and set up Connect: North Korea in 2017.

This conversation is fascinating and deeply moving. We discussed:

  • North Korea’s human rights crisis and the Western media’s focus on nuclear weapons over this crisis;
  • North Korea’s “Songbun” class system;
  • Ji -Hyun’s experience of the N Korean school system;
  • The collapse of North Korea’s public distribution system, and its effects;
  • North Korea’s quiet revolution of illegal capitalism;
  • Access to foreign media in North Korea and its impact;
  • Human trafficking;
  • Ji-Hyun’s two escapes from the country;
  • What ‘Connect: North Korea’ does and how you can help

Show Notes:

Connect: North Korea

The European Alliance for Human Rights in North Korea

Michael on Twitter

Ji-Hyun on Twitter

Connect: North Korea on Twitter

Ji-Hyun and Michael’s talk in Funzing Talks at Night

2014 UN Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea

Volunteer to teach English/ mentor with North Korean refugees

Universal Declaration of Human Rights

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