North Korean textbooks describe South Korea as a "fascist, military dictatorship" filled with "poverty and starvation," but fewer and fewer North Koreans are buying the propaganda.
◆ "Living Hell"
North Korean textbooks teach that South Korea is dominated by "foreign powers" that trample on the Korean people and "taint" its history, language and way of life. A book of writings purportedly by former leader Kim Jong-il describes the South as a "living hell" dominated by the "terror and repression" of the U.S.
The North also teaches students that the U.S. must be driven out and South Korea liberated. Textbooks say U.S. soldiers stationed in South Korea "fire guns in broad daylight, plunder homes and rape women." There are also rumors that North Korean defectors have their "eyes gouged out and limbs severed" if they go to South Korea.
◆ Diminishing Impact
But North Koreans from all walks of life prize South Korean-made products. One North Korean trader who crossed over the border into China said, "The best gifts for high-ranking [North Korean] officials are South Korean cosmetics or clothes. We bring them in secretly after removing their labels or crossing them out."
He said South Korean products are traded illicitly in open-air markets and can be sold at high prices if the removed labels are shown to customers.
Another North Korean said, "North Koreans know people in the South are better off, because they watch South Korean TV shows and movies. High-ranking officials and fairly well-off families all have South Korean products at home."
South Korean rice cookers, cosmetics and passenger cars are so popular that they are beginning to replace Chinese products.
A recent survey by the Chosun Ilbo of 200 North Korean defectors showed 59 percent believed South Koreans are "far better off" than North Koreans and 23 percent a little better off. However, 11.5 percent thought the South is crawling with beggars and three percent thought people live under poorer conditions than in the North.
Also, 81 percent of the defectors felt South Korean investment in North Korea would be viewed positively by North Koreans. This shows that positive attitudes toward the South are spreading despite constant propaganda painting a negative picture of South Korea.
Some propaganda badly misfires. One North Korean defector who is at university here said, "When I was in the military, I was shown a movie criticizing the decadent nightlife in South Korea. But that's how I found out that life in South Korea is better, because of the brightly-lit neon signs there in contrast to the darkness in Pyongyang at night due to a lack of electricity."
Kim Chong-song, who under his real name was a high-ranking official in the North, said, "In the past, information was blocked and propaganda and brainwashing were used to maintain the regime, but such ideological education no longer works now practically every North Korean has seen South Korean TV series."