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Colonizing the colonizers: My moments of freedom. By Jung Yu-na, north korea

Jung Yu-na was a featured speaker at the May 15 Asia Regional Forum organized by Freedom Speakers International (FSI) and sponsored by UniKorea. Below is an excerpt of her remarks. ― Ed.

Today, I want to share my first moments of freedom with you.

Each moment may seem obvious to many of you, but I can assure you that they were very precious and special to me.

When you are born free, it may be difficult to see how precious freedom is.

How easy it is to take things for granted without ever thinking about the consequences of being without it.

Today I will tell you about my three moments of freedom. One, becoming a South Korean citizen. Two, getting a driver's license. Three, getting a passport.

These moments are so precious for me because I was born in North Korea without any liberty.

I couldn't say the words I wanted to say, see what I wanted to see, hear what I wanted to hear.

That was the world I used to live in ― not knowing what freedom meant.

Some say that ignorance is bliss.?Well, that depends on your definition of "bliss."

I never expected that my first trip to another country would be when I escaped from my own. I thought if I went to China, I would have freedom, but that expectation was completely wrong because I always had to run and hide myself from the Chinese police.

I needed a passport to show them, but like other North Korean defectors, I didn't have any traveling documents. We were never allowed to have a passport to go outside of North Korea, except for official business approved by the authorities. And not many North Korean people went on official business trips.

Furthermore, the North Korean authorities demanded that China catch North Korean defectors and immediately send them back to North Korea.

For that reason, I was always being pursued by Chinese police. If they had caught me, they would have deported me to North Korea where I could have been jailed or even executed.

Luckily, my aunt escaped to South Korea before me, so she brought me here and finally my first taste of real freedom began.

My first moment of freedom was the day I got my South Korean citizenship.

I was so happy and looked forward to living out my dreams in this country that felt like a gift to me. When I was in North Korea, I had North Korean citizenship, but the meaning was different. Unlike here where citizenship has power, the North Korean one shows that you are a slave of that dictatorial government.

Here, being a citizen means you can vote for the president and you can have a say in the nation's democracy, but in North Korea, the government dictates the rules and laws to the people.

My first surprise about South Korea was that people can go anywhere in South Korea without needing permission.

In the North, you must apply for a permit when you want to go travel anywhere.

If you ask North Korean defectors if they have ever visited Pyeongyang, many will say they have not.

Even though they are North Korean citizens, they can't legally go to Pyeongyang without carrying a permit.

So, the little South Korean citizenship card meant a lot to me. It meant I had real power and real freedom for the first time.

My second moment of freedom was the day I got my driver's license.

I never thought that I could drive my own car, because it is difficult to own a car in North Korea.

After I learned about South Korea, I constantly dreamed of escaping. Watching South Korean dramas taught me a lot. I found out a lot of things were different than in the North; that South Koreans could drive and go wherever they wanted. It seemed like they had real freedom.

My third moment of freedom was the day I got my passport.

Can you picture someone actually getting a passport who never thought they could?

How exciting would that be?

If I could have had a passport before, then I could have avoided the dangerous experiences I went through in other countries en route to South Korea.

Having a passport at last, I suddenly got an idea. What if I go to China with this powerful document? I asked my case manager what I needed to do to get permission from the South Korean government to go to China. He said "nothing!" I only needed to apply for a visa to China. That's all.

I was shocked by that answer.

In the North it takes one year to get a passport because they check your origin, your family connections, your level of loyalty to the regime.

And only chosen people can apply for a passport. For example, government officials and some people who were selected to be overseas workers.

With my South Korean passport, I went to China.

It felt so weird; so delightful. I felt so refreshed, like I had colonized the colonizers.

It was like a drama; that one little girl escaped her own country. She left behind her hometown with her childhood memories. She tried her best to take in the last scene of her home. She knew she loved her hometown, but she also knew the government didn't let people live in freedom and they didn't care about human rights. So, she swallowed her tears and crossed the Tumen river to have a better life with freedom and human rights.

You can see how hard it is to move as a North Korean citizen and how precious it is when you are finally free to move or travel as you wish.

If I were still in North Korea, I would never have taken a flight in an airplane, I would still believe that Americans look like wolves and have enormous noses. And I would still be singing songs for the North Korean regime.

The lyrics of one song state that North Koreans are Kim Il-sung's people and Kim Jong-il's is their true family. Even the land and the air belong to the Kim dynasty.

There is no freedom for the people. Even the rich and powerful are all slaves controlled by that dictatorial government.

I am now a South Korean citizen. I still can't believe I own a car and have a passport so I can go anywhere freely.

And also I can't believe that I can say the words I want to say, listen to anything I want. That is true freedom.

Can you imagine you can't use the internet in your daily life? Or that you can't have the job you want or that the government can force you to go anywhere it wants at any time? If you don't know about them, then you wouldn't feel frustrated. Once you experience those things, you can't go back to living as a slave.

How hopeless would that be?

When you are born in freedom, you can take that freedom for granted.

Freedom is everything for us. Without it, it feels like living in prison.

I now know what it feels like to be treated as a real human being.

Today I shared with you my three moments of freedom. Becoming a South Korean citizen, being able to own a car, and getting a passport allowing me to travel anywhere in the world.

North Koreans still in North Korea deserve that kind of freedom, to have their own moments of freedom, and to have the opportunity to answer the question, "What does freedom mean to me?"


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