The loneliest person in North Korea?

The stereotype of a police officer in North Korea is a corrupt bribery-taker who harasses and steals from citizens. But interviews with ex-police officers suggest that they feel lonely and isolated in their half-way role between state and individual.

Shin Jung-yon, who served as a police officer until fleeing North Korea in 2009, said, “After I became a police officer, all my friends started to put some distance between us. They didn’t want me to catch them even for a minor misdemeanor, as police officers are supposed to be more loyal to the North Korean state than ordinary civilians.”

Shin added, “I understood my friends’ reactions, but still, I was really disappointed. Did they really think I would report a friend I’d been close to since I was young? After all, I’m a human being like anyone else! It’s hard to describe in words how I felt.”

Kim Byung-hun, who left North Korea in 2010, recounted a different experience. “After I became a police officer, people started warming to me, including those who’d paid me no attention before. Several people volunteered to become informers. But this actually made me feel lonely. I knew that they weren’t approaching me sincerely, but were doing it in a calculating way.”

Byung-hun continued, “Since they were treating me like that even though I was just starting my service as a police officer, I admit I felt as if I had become a big shot. But as time passed, I felt trapped by my job. It became difficult to have genuine friendships because of my job.”

Suh Ji-woon, who left North Korea in 2009, explained how he felt during his time as a police officer. “We are also human beings with emotions. Why wouldn’t we feel loneliness? Personally, when I wanted to compensate for my loneliness, I watched South Korean dramas instead of risking friendships with other people. I would pretend to be loyal to the regime during the day and then go home and watch South Korean dramas. This is the reality of North Korea.”

Ji-woon explained, “North Korean police officers generally speak less than the average civilian. That’s because if we made even a small mistake, we would get much harsher punishments. It was not easy to socialize with other people, out of fear of making a mistake. I hated always having to be so careful.”

He stressed how as a police officer, he needed to isolate himself completely from others in society. “Of course, there are many police officers who don’t live up to the standards they’re supposed to enforce, and I don’t want to condone those aspects. I only want to let people know that police officers were also human beings and that they felt loneliness too.”

Regarding the harassment of civilians by police officers, he admitted, “It’s wrong to take out our stress on civilians.” But he said the system was to blame for this too: “The regime requires police officers to monitor civilians, and this inevitably makes them feel oppressed. But police officers are the middlemen, who are neither the regime nor the citizens. We too felt oppressed.”


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  • Oliver

    This is in some kind like in former eastern Germany. If you entered the state security forces (combination of Secret Service, Spy Defence, Espionage and most importantly: surveillance – in fact it was the largest secret police in known human history compared to population!) people distanced from you, because they feared to be reported for consuming west German media or so. Of course it was always not like THIS! If you were reported to watch foreign News you got a clap on the hand and a note in your curriculum. But of course there always were some fear of the secret forces. In some cases they also kidnapped people and some mysterious deaths in prisons are reported.

    The totally difference were the ordinary police forces. People absolutely didn’t respect them. They were a subject of jokes, blame and fun. Of course not in their face – but jokes in their face weren’t unthinkable. Naming them by wrong ranks or even wrong jobs like “Hello Mr. -Chief Forester-” (in Germany we have the very official sounding Name “Oberforster” for the Wood Workers) could have cause difficulty but were not untypical.

    Maybe some day this will be so in DPRK – as I read your journal I think more and more this country is imploding more and more and one day it will just be gone within a month.