It is well established that North Korea maintains tight control over its media and internet access to keep its citizens in the dark about the outside world. Given that, why does North Korea frequently send teams to the Olympics?

For example, North Korea sent a delegation of over 500 people to the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea. Why would they risk doing that? Those people would be exposed to a democratic society with a free press. They could talk to South Koreans, they could learn about how horrible life in their country really is, and they could realize that their government has been lying to them. Then they could return home and tell other North Koreans what they learned. Some of those people could have even defected.

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    They could talk to South Koreans, they could learn about how horrible life in their country really is, and they could realize that their government has been lying to them. People are not as dumb as you try to portrait them. People in dictatorships have normally a pretty good idea how they fare in contrast to other countries, especially if the government tries to suppress this information (Streisand effect). And each government lies to its citizen, it's only that it's caught more often in non-dictatorships. Commented May 29, 2018 at 22:03

2 Answers 2

  • The propaganda win outweighs the risks

  • The risks are minimal. When you look at how those things were done in other Socialist totalitarian regimes:

    • you aren't allowed to go unless the State has hostages (your family).

    • you aren't allowed enough freedom to defect. There is State Security personnel - plenty of them - ensuring that, actively. Same goes for "talking to South Koreans".

    • you are an elite athlete - that means you likely have perks above normal citizens. You do NOT want to jeopardize that.

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    This answer would be improved with some references to back it up. Are all North Korean athletes married? That need a citation.
    – userLTK
    Commented May 30, 2018 at 7:45
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    @userLTK "family" != "spouse"
    – Caleth
    Commented May 30, 2018 at 9:04
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    @Caleth Still, it's an assumption. What if the athletes parents/brothers/sisters want him to defect. What if the athlete doesn't get along with his parents. Unless there's some evidence that North Korea holds back athletes who can't be threatened in that way, the point is purely speculation. Nobody should say "the state holds family members hostage" without backing it up with some evidence.
    – userLTK
    Commented May 30, 2018 at 11:30
  • I second what @userLTK is saying. It's well-known that NK sends families of defectors to labor camps, but Olympic athletes are politically connected and loyal to the Kim regime. It's more of a matter that they don't want to defect, not that they're afraid of the consequences of defecting. abcnews.go.com/International/…
    – C. Helling
    Commented May 30, 2018 at 14:49
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    @user4012 all I'm asking is that you back it up, not make inferences, or, if you want to make inferences, at least note that it's an assumption based on the USSR model and ideally, offer a notation for that. It's too large a statement to make without any evidence.
    – userLTK
    Commented May 31, 2018 at 7:31

Because life in North Korea is not that bad, and life in the South Korea is not that good

First of all, most of the stories we get about NK are from very suspicious South Korean sources, that have their own vested interest to show their neighbor as a land of Mordor. Then we have so called journalist who actually go to NK but then try to persuade themselves and audience that everything they see (including traffic on streets and even buildings) is actually fake or staged. Finally, we have regular people that go to NK, and their stories are closest to truth.

Reality is that North Korea is country under siege, under constant threat of attack by US and its allies. Therefore, they have to spend large amount of their GDP on defense. People in NK are poor, but they do stable society, low crime rate, sense of belonging, and relative equality. I imagine that people sent to Olympics belong to upper levels of society, so their patriotic feelings about their country are even higher. It is well known fact in psychology that happiness does not come from wealth, but from respect of others. People sent to Olympics are athletes, coaches, journalists and other functionaries. Those people do not have much reason to throw away their reasonable good life and defect.

What about South Korea ? Although undoubtedly richer then their Northern neighbors, SK has very high suicide rate, especially among females and senior citizens. Alienation, estrangement, breakup of traditional family ties, society that rewards egoism, these are the plagues of modern South Korea. They even had spikes of suicides and suicide attempts after death of certain celebrities, which shows that many South Koreans do not have anyone in their life close to them, so they create emotional connections with media personalities.

Comparing all of this, it is doubtful that someone from NK Olympic delegation would have vastly better life if he choose to defect to SK.

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