North Korean Human Rights Museum

The Echo Never Stops 

낯선 말, 표현의 그림자

PART 1: Control and Indoctrination

`A society where a misplaced word can result in death`

\ 말반동 <reactionary language (Mal baldong)>

stands for words that raise criticism towards the Supreme Leader or the Party. 

The Witnesses

North Korean people are not able to voice critical opinions about the North Korean government or their lives in North Korea. They find themselves to be controlled even in their most private spaces at home living in constant fear of having said the wrong words to the wrong people.

A few words said can entail punishments including public or secret execution, deportation of oneself or even the whole family, and the detention in political prison or work camps.

The exhibition introduces the visitor to five videos in which five witnesses speak about their past experiences in North Korea.

Hyun Hyang recounts the necessity of adhering to the North Korean system by expressing every word in a positive manner, despite the reality being quite the opposite. In North Korean society, expressing any thoughts indicating a change in perspective towards the system is strictly prohibited, causing significant distress for individuals. Additionally, written entries in the mandatory daily diary, which all North Korean citizens are required to maintain, are subject to scrutiny by the state and public, necessitating unwavering loyalty towards the North Korean leader.

Indoctrinating yourself was a way of survival.

Hyun Hyang (North Korean Escapee)

The severity of the punishments for wrong words spoken becomes evident in the narrative of Kim Heeyoung. Her father’s friend and entire family was deported and vanished completely after describing North Korean money as worthless as toilet paper outside of North Korea.

This is why indoctrination is so horrifying. I thought they deserved it.

Kim Heeyoung (North Korean Escapee)

Kang Cholhwan remembers that his parents would tell him to only repeat words that the teachers said. Controversial, carelessly said words from children told to their friends at school were at times the reason why parents or other family members were arrested or even executed. 

In the years 2022 and 2023, the North Korean government legislated the “Pyongyang Cultural Language Protection Law” and the “Reactionary Ideology and Culture Rejection Law” to ban especially South Korean words and expressions because the rapidly evolving language causes a threat to the North Korean government maintaining its control over the language of its residents which is regarded a an important tool to exercise ideological control.

The control of people's soul, then their language, means that people have been pushed until the end of their freedom.

Kang Cholhwan (North Korean Escapee)

In addition to the oppressive North Korean regime, individuals within North Korean society also manipulate words to distort their meanings and use them against their fellow citizens in everyday interactions. Kim Bogyoung recounts an incident where a woman began spreading rumors about her, falsely accusing her of planning revenge and eventually setting her own house on fire. This act stemmed from the trauma of her father being taken away by the Ministry of State Security when she was young.

The things you can say: 

Ten principles for the Establishment of a Monolithic Ideological System

Witness KIM Bogyoung talks about the ten principles that serve the mere idealization and glorification of Kim Il Sung. North Korean people were meant to strictly obey these principles at all times.

The “Ten Principles” was announced on April 14, 1974 by Kim Il Sung. The name was changed under Kim Jong Un and the purpose “... for the establishment of a monolithic ideological system” was added. The principles function as the primary tool to regulate and control the behavior, words, and thoughts of the North Korean people.

In North Korea, Kim Il Sung's family is considered as gods. Actually, the praise is even more than a god would receive.

Witness KIM Bogyoung

The Ten Principles for the Establishment 

of a Monolithic Ideological System

Despite North Korea being a de jure nation with a rule of law the ten principles serve as a supra-constitutional rule

  1. We must give our all in the struggle to unify the society with Kimilsungism and Kimjongilism.
  2. We must honor the great Comrades Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il as the eternal leaders of our Party and the people and as the Sun of Juche.
  3. We must make absolute and desperately defend the authority of the great Comrades Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il and the authority of the Party.
  4. We must be thoroughly armed armed with the revolutionary ideas of the great Comrades Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il and the party's lines and policies that are the realization of these ideas.
  5. We must adhere strictly to the principle of unconditional obedience in accomplishing the instructions passed on by the Great Comrades Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il and in the Party's lines and policies. 5.-1: The Great Supreme Leader and the General's instructions, the Party's lines and policies, and directives should be regarded as laws and orders on earth. They should be thoroughly carried out by exercising infinite dedication and sacrifice without minor liabilities and excuses.
  6. We must strengthen by all possible the entire Party's ideology, willpower, and revolutionary unity, centering on the Leader. 
  7. We must learn from the great Comrades Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il and adopt the noble mental and moral presence, revolutionary work methods, and people-oriented work style. 
  8. We must value the political life we were given by the Party and the Leader and loyally repay the Party's trust and thoughtfulness with heightened political awareness and work performance. 
  9. We must establish strong organizational regulations so that the entire Party, nation, and military move as one under the one and only leadership of the Party. 
  10. We must pass down the great achievement of the Juche revolution and the Songun revolution, pioneered by the great Comrade Kim Il Sung and led by Comrades Kom Il Sung and Kim Jong Il, from generation, inheriting, and completing it to the end. 

Transcending Time and Space_

_An unreachable call

Phone calls into North Korea are a rare way to hear the voices of North Koreans residing in North Korea. The exhibition enables the visitors to hear recorded phone calls from 2016 being able to travel through time and space hearing the words of North Korean people. 

During the first phone conversation, two individuals discuss the recent intensification of censorship, prompted by the surge in smuggling activities primarily originating from South Korea, including USB sticks and leaflets. The caller expresses regret over the reduced frequency of their calls, owing to heightened security measures imposed by the North Korean government. The recipient appears anxious, fearing they may have said something incriminating, but is reassured by the caller despite feeling deeply apprehensive. They further discuss the grim reality of numerous individuals being shot for their involvement in disseminating external propaganda and engaging in smuggling activities.

In the second phone call, the listener overhears a conversation between two individuals discussing the Ten Principles for the Establishment of a Monolithic Ideological System. The caller, residing in North Korea, shares how every company in the country conducts frequent reflection sessions on one or more points of these principles. Employees are then required to write three or more pages reflecting on themselves in connection to these points. When asked if they remember all Ten Principles, the person laughs and admits to not recalling them all but expresses the need to prepare for future events related to them.

<Life Diaries> 

In weekly “life review (saenghwal chonghwa)” sessions, North Koreans are required to write in diaries as an expression of loyalty to the Supreme Leader and to maintain ideological indoctrination. This represents another way for the  North Korean state to control the words and thoughts of their residents.

These phone calls highlight the delicate balance between North Koreans' limited freedom to express themselves through phone conversations and their constrained expression in everyday life. Such calls to the outside world can evoke both fear and relief, underscoring the outsiders' sense of helplessness in actively aiding individuals in North Korea, as they must wait for each phone call.

These two cases underscores the significance of spoken words not only for North Koreans within the country but also for individuals outside, highlighting the complexities and challenges of communication across borders.