Kang Chol-hwan, who spent 10 years in a North Korean prison camp, has participated through a translator in an "Ask Me Anything," or AMA, session on Reddit. He escaped from the totalitarian country in 1992 and is now a human-rights activist.
"The average North Korean knows that the situation in North Korea is not good," he explained of his countrymen. "Compared to the time of Japanese colonialism and the Korean War, things are worse now. One example I can think of is that during the colonial period under the Japanese, the North Koreans ate the bark of pine trees, but now there isn’t even that to eat. During the Japanese colonial period, people were able to travel and trade freely. Now it is almost impossible. The method of torture has also become more severe since the Japanese colonial period, and people continue to compare the current situation to those times."
In his estimation, North Koreans would be able to integrate themselves into a united Korea more ably than many imagine. "One of the biggest misconceptions I think people have of North Korea is that they are simple and naive," he said. "But I feel that North Koreans as a group of people have gone through a lot of hardship, and their ability to survive in difficult situations are a lot higher that what people think. People think that unification will be a basketcase for North Koreans, but they will definitely be able to manage. People also think North Koreans will have a hard time adjusting to the market economy, but the black market is also growing under the regime’s nose, and people are used to working in this environment."