Winning minds in North Koreas

FILE - In this Oct. 22, 2012 file photo, Park Sang Hak, a refugee from the North Korea who now runs the group Fighters for a Free North Korea from a small Seoul office, hurls anti-North Korea leaflets as police block his planned rally on a road in Paju near demilitarized zone, South Korea. In South Korea, political activists send thousands of leaflets, DVDs and flash drives every year across the border into North Korea, mostly by balloon, hoping to bring to the isolated country. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon, File)

FILE - In this Oct. 22, 2012 file photo, Park Sang Hak, a refugee from the North Korea who now runs the group Fighters for a Free North Korea from a small Seoul office, hurls anti-North Korea leaflets as police block his planned rally on a road in Paju near demilitarized zone, South Korea. In South Korea, political activists send thousands of leaflets, DVDs and flash drives every year across the border into North Korea, mostly by balloon, hoping to bring to the isolated country. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon, File)

Often called the “Hermit Kingdom,” North Korea is infamously restrictive on outside information breaching the physical and electronic barriers of its borders. Whereas state-funded propaganda is widespread, other information can be difficult to access.

However, through activist efforts to send leaflets containing news, satire, or even soap operas, air-dropped balloons have been drifting across the border into the hands of North Koreans.

"The quickest way to bring down the regime is to change people's minds," said Park Sang Hak, a refugee from the North who now runs the group Fighters for a Free North Korea from a small Seoul office, sending tens of thousands of plastic fliers across the border every year. 

Park and the other self-proclaimed warriors in the “information war” have noted that this spread of information can have small but meaningful impacts.

Lee, another activist-balloonist who prints card-sized leaflets with his contact information and how he was once “one of them,” aims to open even just a few eyes to the mythology North Koreans often hear from the ruling family.  

"Maybe one person rebels after reading the leaflets,” he said. "Maybe one person defects. I want them to decide for themselves what to do."

Scholars, however, agree with North Korean refugees who say that the information filtering through has “helped bring a wealth of changes, from new slang to changing fashions to increasing demand for consumer goods in the expanding market economy.”

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