Toward the end of her remarkable speech at this year’s One Young World Summit in Dublin, North Korean defector and human rights activist Yeon-mi Park listed three ways in which ordinary people can help freedom-seekers in North Korea:
One, educate yourself so you can raise awareness about the human crisis in North Korea. Two, help and support North Korean refugees who are trying to escape to freedom. Three, petition China to stop repatriation.
To this list, Swiss-born businessman Felix Abt might add a fourth suggestion: do business with them. This suggestion forms the heart of Abt’s new book, A Capitalist in North Korea: My Seven Years in the Hermit Kingdom (Tuttle Publishing 2014).
From Hermit Kingdom to Merchant Kingdom Those familiar with the situation in North Korea (officially known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea or DPRK) will not find Abt’s title as shocking as it’s probably intended to be. Indeed, as early as 2009, and undoubtedly even before that, Western media outlets were reporting on ‘the secret capitalist economy of North Korea’ (i.e., the black market) which sprung up in response to the famine of the mid-1990s. Writing for the Washington Post in May 2014, Yeon-mi Park herself even referred to the young people currently living in North Korea as the ‘Jangmadang, or ‘Black Market Generation’.’ These young people, she says, are far more individualistic than their predecessors, far less loyal to the ruling Kim regime, and infinitely more likely to be exposed to outside media and information.
This post was published at Ludwig von Mises Institute on DECEMBER 3, 2014.