After eight years of silence between the two Koreas, North Korea’s leader Jong-un Kim unexpectedly decided to resume highest-level bilateral talks during his nationwide New Year’s speech. However, on Jan. 9, North Korea issued an ultimatum declaring that South Korea must either stop the release of propaganda balloons or sever all diplomatic ties.
In the early 1970s, in an attempt to persuade North Korean citizens to defect, the South Korean government created propaganda balloons, which included propaganda leaflets, food, dollar bills and Christian messages. Over the years, activists have increasingly taken on this role, as they feel morally obligated to help the North Korean citizens through progress in Inter-Korean relationships.
“While propaganda balloons have been controversial, they have created a positive change in the way we approach North Korea,” said Nuri Choi (9), Forensics team member. “We have pressured the regime by exposing the loopholes in its propaganda system and showing them a better world.”
While the purpose of the balloons is to assist North Koreans, opponents emphasize threats that balloons may pose on South Korean citizens. According to the Korean Herald, North Korean citizens only receive five percent of all the balloons sent because most are shot down at the border. Furthermore, propaganda balloons stimulated North Korea to reactivate offensive military practices on Jan. 9 and triggered a round of crossfire between the two countries in October 2012.
“If you think about it, these balloons are generally ineffective and instead only provoke the regime even more,” said Alex Lopez, Asian Studies teacher. “Most of the external information that is given to the North Korean citizens is through smuggled DVDs and USBs from China.”
As of now, opinions are split even between South Korea’s executive and judicial branch. Although the South Korean government had maintained that it has the responsibility to protect the right to free speech, the Uijeongbu district court decided on Jan. 10 that because activists created an unstable environment, their activities could be restricted. While talks are planned to continue later in the month, human rights organizations currently show no desire to stop sending their airborne messages of freedom.