Barbara Demick begins her speech at the 2011 Oslo Freedom Forum by highlighting the severity of the North Korean dictatorship compared to other regimes around the world. Whereas other regimes stifle the voices of dissidents, North Korea has none; while other governments try to control the flow of information on the internet, North Korea has no internet. Meanwhile, the dictatorship has crafted an enormous lie to its citizens: that North Korea is the greatest country on Earth in which to live. Conditions have worsened, but since the Arab Spring has begun, it may be the last dictatorship standing. The future will show how long the ruling party can block out the influences of the outside world and maintain its rigid grip.


Barbara Demick is an author and journalist specializing in East Asia. Her most recent book, Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea, details daily life under the Kim dynasty. Recipient of the George Polk award and the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award, she was also a Pulitzer Prize finalist for her work on conflict and human rights. Demick’s human rights work has primarily focused on economic and social changes in North Korea, and on the plight of North Korean women sold into marriage in China. Demick is currently Beijing bureau chief of the Los Angeles Times.

Demick recently published Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea. Demick interviewed North Korean defectors about life in the totalitarian state when she was stationed in South Korea as Seoul bureau chief. In an interview on her research, Demick noted, “North Korea is probably the only country in the world deliberately kept out of the Internet. Televisions and radios are locked on government frequencies—it is a serious crime to listen to a foreign broadcast. As a result, North Koreans think that they live in the best country in the world and that, as difficult as their lives may be, everybody else has it much worse." For the six defectors that the book follows, Demick chronicles the effect of government propaganda and the harsh realities of living in North Korea. Human rights abuses in this country spread far beyond violations of freedom of expression: poverty and starvation are responsible for the deaths of many innocent citizens while the government acts with impunity. In fact, the Kim dynasty was so successful in avoiding blame during the 1990s famine that many North Koreans believed government propaganda that the United States was responsible for food shortages. One woman Demick interviewed even blamed herself for the deaths of her family members. “It never occurred to her to blame the regime," Demick reports.

Demick is the recipient of the Overseas Press Club Joe and Laurie Dine Award for Human Rights Reporting, the Asia Society’s Osborn Elliott Prize, and the American Academy of Diplomacy’s Arthur Ross Award. She was also awarded the George Polk Award and the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award, and was a Pulitzer Prize finalist for her first book, Logavina Street: Life and Death in a Sarajevo Neighborhood.