Kim Yo-jong’s whopper: Poop balloons represent “People’s Freedom of Expression”

Image of Kim Yo-jong and poop balloon found on Han-river, the central area of Seoul (Image / KCNA, ROK Joint Chiefs of Staff)

North Korea launched 300 more balloons full of trash and poop in South Korea’s direction this weekend.

The latest tit-for-tat barrage began at the end of May when Pyongyang sent an estimated 260 balloons across the DMZ, each full of waste, cigarette butts and compost, and containing a detonation device set to explode after a certain period. 

Authorities estimate around 1,000 balloons have been sent so far. The junk mainly lands in Gyeonggi Province north of Seoul, but some have reached the densely populated capital. 

The military deployed its Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear Rapid Response Team (CRRT) and the Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) team to analyze the contents, but no hazardous materials have been found so far.

The offensive is seen as a reaction to balloons sent north by defector groups in South Korea containing anti-Kim Jong-un contents, Bible verses, and memory sticks with K-pop and K-dramas. With North Koreans increasingly aware of the outside world, despite the heaviest information controls in the world, the regime considers these contents to be a serious challenge to its authority. 

When Seoul demanded the regime “immediately cease such inhumane and degrading acts” after the first filth balloons arrived, Kim Yo-jong, deputy director of the ruling Workers’ Party, responded by saying the poop was an exercise of the “people’s freedom of expression.” 

It is a “sincere gift of goodwill” to the advocates of “freedom of expression” in liberal democracies, she said.

These remarks sparked outrage among defectors who took to YouTube and other platforms attacking Kim for cynically suggesting that North Koreans enjoy freedom of expression when in fact, as the sister of the leader Kim Jong-un, she is one of only a handful of people in the country who does.

On June 4, the South Korean government further responded to the balloons and other actions, including GPS jamming by the North, by suspending the September 19 military agreement, which prohibited hostile acts between the two Koreas. This decision cleared the way for the resumption of propaganda broadcasts to North Korea, which were suspended in 2016 and which started up again on Sunday.

“North Korea’s leaders brought this on themselves,” said a defector in his 30s who settled in the South just two months ago. “The balloons filled with filth were an expression of resentment against leaflets which are sent by balloon into the North which highlight the hypocrisy of the regime.” 

He observed that freedoms for North Koreans are severely restricted through laws like the Anti-Reactionary Thought and Culture Act, the Youth Education Protection Act, and the Pyongyang Cultural Language Protection Act.

“The filth balloons reflect North Korea’s situation and highlight the disparity between the two Koreas,”  said a 50-year-old defector from Nason. “The leadership is really afraid of the citizens learning about their activities through the leaflets.”

Defectors who saw such leaflets when they lived in the North confirmed that the regime would perceive them to be a significant threat.

“These balloons they’re sending are a desperate reaction to their recent satellite launch failure. They are also a criticism of Park Sang-hak,” said a defector who was a veterinarian in North Korea. He was referring to the head of the Fighters for a Free North Korea who sent 300,000 leaflets via 20 large balloons from Ganghwa Island. 

Park’s balloons contain information leaflets, dollar bills, memory cards, and Bible verses. 

The regime was so afraid of them when the activity started a few years ago that they demanded the then-South Korean President, Moon Jae-in, do something. Much to the amazement of defectors at the time, Moon obliged and made it illegal to send balloons to the North. The Supreme Court last year ruled this law a violation of freedom of expression and lifted the ban.

The defector community largely applauds this decision and believes the balloons should continue, despite the negative reaction from the North. 

“Even if these balloons lead to criticism of defectors, I believe the leaflets must continue to be sent to North Korea,” said the former vet. “North Korea is short on garbage. Look at Kim Yo-jong sending cigarette butts. What can you expect from such trash? The real garbage that should come in a filth balloon is her head.”

Lee Jia

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