The force of desperation can often be one of unbelievable traction. It can summon in a person an untapped courage, stronger than any rational or pre-determined notion of how things should logically happen. For over one thousand people each year in the north of the Korean peninsula, this is a recurring phenomenon, yet a crucial one that gives them a well of strength when push comes to shove. Enter the unnamed teenaged North Korean soldier, who, a few days ago, defected to South Korea via the most heavily patrolled border on earth.
Like many citizens of the world’s hermit state, this man sought a home away from the tyrannical regime of Kim Jong-un. The identical thoughts of the fellow underpaid, overworked and starving victims of their Supreme Leader’s brutal ruling ensure defecting is not uncommon, but isolated acts such as his sustain a distinct beacon of light for the consistently undervalued North Korean people. Many risk the lives of themselves and their families in the pursuit of freedom; running under the cover of darkness through mud and river towards the relative sanctuary of China in the north. 2012 was the last time anyone escaped southwards, over a bed of landmines and two and a half miles of guarded barren land and snaking barbed wire; making this soldier’s feat a hugely poignant indication of the dire situation between the two countries.
The simplicity of the events that actually unfolded utterly belie their significance. After crossing the forbidden de-militarised zone (DMZ), the man merely expressed his desire to defect to the dependably sympathetic South Korean soldiers. The southern government themselves have set up phones along the DMZ for North Koreans on the brink of escape, to aid them unreservedly if such a glorious opportunity were to present itself. Seoul unexceptionally leaves one outstretched hand lain north, offering anything and everything should ones tension come to snap. Indeed, the rest is history.
Of course, Seoul has always been the promised land for defectors. Its proximity to the North-South border means the southern capital offers wantaway North Koreans a constant tantalising sniff of freedom when the wind blows that way. The city stands for so much to the North; revered by its populace and vilified by its government; while acting as a springboard for the South, whose people yearn for unity between the two nations and aim to achieve it through an unrelenting barage of activism.
Two months ago, ex-defector Lee min-Bok launched thousands of DVD copies of Kim-bashing satire ‘The Interview’ via balloons from Seoul to North Korea, along with wads of US dollar bills and anti-propaganda leaflets in the hope of educating a brainwashed nation. A month later, 30 women marched across the demarcation line into the northern half of the DMZ, promoting coalescence on both sides.
Another month on, one teenaged soldier makes the staggering decision to walk across a wasteland peppered with tens of thousands of soldiers and countless explosives in search of freedom. The possible ramifications of some South Korean activism movements have been discussed at length, but their actions clearly supply their oppressed neighbours with a guiding lantern in front, and a prompting nudge in the back.