The story in the magazine tells the reportedly true story of a young girl who died saving the leaders’ portraits in a house fire. This story was repeated in 2012 when the parents and teachers of a 14-year-old North Korean schoolgirl who died while trying to save portraits of her leaders from flood water were given awards from the regime, according to the Hermit Kingdom's Rodong Sinmun newspaper.

Han Hyon Gyong died on June 11 as she tried to save portraits of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il from her flooded home. The adults who raised her were given awards as she was a "displayer of the spirit of devotedly defending the leader," according to Rodong Sinmun.

To what extent does the average North Korean believe propaganda?  

In the late 1980s, a majority of the North Korean population had no access to alternative sources of information. There must have been some skeptics, especially among better educated people or among those who had some exposure to overseas life. But, these people were wise enough to remain silent. In North Korea, the unusual intensity of propaganda was combined with the self-imposed information blockade and decades-long consistency of the ideological message. This ensured that the official worldview remained unquestioned by a majority. After all, the people had their own lives to live and were not that much concerned about the outside world.

This changed with the famine in the 1990s, which forced many North Koreans to look for food in China. “They cannot sleep for the first couple of nights, they are so shocked and overwhelmed by the prosperity of the place by the bright lights and nightlife of the town,” said a field worker. North Korean people are now increasingly aware about the outside world, including South Korea’s prosperity. One escapee, a woman in her late 50s, said, “Well, perhaps children in primary school still believe that South Koreans are poor. But everybody else knows that the South is rich.”

Today, with more information than ever before, few North Korean millennials dubbed inside the country as the Jangmadang Generation (“Market Generation”) rely on the regime for their livelihood.

Do North Koreans believe propaganda? Maybe. But even if they do, what difference does it make?  The North Korean people are defying propaganda by their actions: escaping the country, trading and buying goods from markets, and accessing media from the outside world?

Photos by Stephen Gladieu
Owner of SCHOOL GALLERY, Paris: ARTCO GALLERY, Germany, Cape Town, Joshua Tree