2010 World cup Football tournament had many surprises. The first one was the elimination of the champions teams like Italy and France in the first round. It also witnessed the South American domination with their agile moves and brilliant co-ordination. But if there was any team which that had created an impact just by their sheer presence, then it must be the North Korean team, represented as Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPR).
Every player plays with a passion for their nation, but North Korean players played with fear. They feared their fate if they return home as losers. I read somewhere which said that these players would be forced to work in the coal mines as a part of the punishment. The meal these players had in China during their wait for the transit flight back to N.Korean must have been their best one for a long time to come.
N.Korea, the world’s secret nation had been a subject of interest for me. Although I was aware of the dictatorship rule being present there, there were some facts which was too much for me to digest. This blog of mine tries to capture the life inside N.Korea. I write this to share the brutal fate humanity faces in this century, and still, the world can’t do anything about it (just like that of the genocide in Africa and Ceylon).
The Korean peninsula together was initially governed by the Korean Empire until Japan annexed it following the Russo-Japanese War of 1905. After the end of World War II, It got divided into Soviet and American occupied zones in 1945. North Korea refused to participate in a United Nations supervised election held in the south in 1948, which led to the creation of separate Korean governments for the two occupation zones.
Both North and South Korea claimed sovereignty over the peninsula as a whole, which led to the Korean War of 1950. A 1953 armistice ended the fighting; however, the two countries are officially still at war with each other, as a peace treaty was never signed.
The country’s government is said to follow the Juche ideology of self-reliance, developed by the country’s former President, Kim Il-Sung. After his death, his eldest son, Kim Jong Il-was declared to be the country’s Eternal President. Juche became the official state ideology when the country adopted a new constitution in 1972, though Kim Il-sung had been using it to form policy since at least as early as 1955.
Officially a socialist republic, many media organizations outside North Korea report that it is a totalitarian Stalinist dictatorship. Maybe this is the reason the educated here know Stalin (but unaware of Nelson Mandela or Mahatma Gandhi). After Kim Jong-il, it’s his son Kim Jong Un’s turn to dictate.
People in N.Korea get brainwashed to believe that their leader is a reincarnation of God. For example, when they feed food to their children, they are expected to give thanks to a portrait of “Father Kim 2 Sung”. Even the military gets taught that the Kim family - Great Leader Kim 2 Sung, then Dear Leader Kim Jong 2 - were the “sun of their solar system, and they were the orbiting satellites. All their devotion and energy belonged to Kim.” Ordinary people are required to wear a badge with the face of the Dear Leaders at all times.
What does a Family mean to the government?
North Korean authorities regard the family as a “cell,” or basic unit of society, but not an economic entity. A person participates in production in a cooperative, factory, or office and individually earns “work points.” The payment for work points earned by family members goes to the family unit as a whole. The family head, the father or the grandfather no longer manages and organizes the family’s economic life.
If you have a chance to watch any satellite photo of N.Korea at night, then you would realize that it is dark, very dark. The acute shortage of power had made N.Korea stop the power supply most of the day. This power shortage, in turn, had curtailed the country’s industrial’s progress.
North Korea is one of only two (the other being Cuba) with an almost entirely government-planned, state-owned economy. North Korea has the fifth-largest army in the world, at an estimated 1.21 million armed personnel and with about 20% of men aged 17–54 in the regular armed forces. Most of the countries food production ends up serving the elite class and the army.
The markets began to appear after the death of North Korean leader Kim Il Sung in 1994; the government officially recognized them in 2003. To keep the markets and their profits under their control, North Korean officials have limited the markets’ business hours, restricted the age of merchants who can sell, and set the prices of goods. But all these restrictions only fuels black markets.
60% of North Korean children suffer from malnutrition as food is poorly distributed. “There is chronic malnutrition throughout the country, which means that children and adults don’t grow very much, and the majority of the women have stopped menstruating because of malnutrition.
In Hospitals, there is almost nothing. There is no running water, no heating system, there is no soap, no disinfectant, no toilet paper, no toothpaste, no sanitary napkins, and there is no medicine. Some hospitals have to use empty beer bottles for IV’s. Some of the medical instruments sent as aid to N.Korea remains unused and rusted. The reason being no one knows how to operate it.
Many hospitals have simply shut down. Continuous famine has made matters only worse. The country hides information about the deaths on hunger and disease and tries to project itself as a self-sufficient proud nation.
We can see hungry, malnourished people all around North Korea foraging for food. One can see little children at the roadside picking up all those tiny insects and whatever they can eat. Women search for some leaves or anything green, just like their inferior counterparts in the African desert.
All the shops in Pyongyang empty. No food, no rice, nothing at all but thousands of bottles of Sojo, very cheap North Korean liquor. It’s real poison. It’s toxic, but it will make one drunk immediately, and that’s the purpose, to make people happy.”
About 5% of the population is in prison or detention camps. Fate for all these prisoners is almost the same irrespective of the nature of the crime they committed.
Most of the Korean creativity goes into finding new ways of torture and killing. Chemical and biological weapons experiments get tested on prisoners first. Collective punishments are used, with whole families persecuted and sent into detention even when a single member of the family falls foul of the authorities.
Torture was used extensively in the country’s jail cells which are too small even for a malnourished Korean to fit in. Lack of food and forced labour helped ensure “many prisons are a death trap for the inmates.” Forced abortions, infanticide, sexual harassment and suicides are a regular occurrence in these prisons. Women in detention camps feed their family a bit of food laced with rat poison to kill their children before they starve to death.
I still remember a person in one of the documentaries explaining how poisonous gas got tested on its people. He told that in one such instance, a family was locked inside the toxic gas chamber. The Mother tried to save her unconscious child by blowing air through her mouth. She kept doing it until she saw see blood pouring out from her daughter’s eyes. The whole family died bleeding.
The military gets trained to do all these atrocities by keeping them under harsh conditions isolated from their families for years together. The army people are refrained from speaking to the village people so that no soft corners of theirs get exposed.
Escape from the Country.
Today North Korean defectors number in the tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands. They sneak across the river to China, where they live as fugitives or flee through deserts or jungles to Mongolia, Burma or Thailand. They often escape with the cruel knowledge that they have doomed their loved ones still inside N.Korea.
Escaping North Korea is a high crime; going to South Korea is considered treason. Families, even distant relatives of those who do so might be blacklisted, stripped of their jobs, imprisoned or killed. Many find freedom more complicated than they imagined, and their present haunted by the past.
North Koreans who escape and arrive in South Korea spend months in individual government schools to learn how to cope with the 21st century because they have been living in an outdated world. The first thing, however, that comes to the notice of these refugees is food, plenty of it without any tags attached.
But many defectors from the North complain about how their ill-treatment in the south. North Koreans are always looked down by their southern counterparts. They get treated like a weak, poorly educated cousin with a funny accent. It is also difficult for these refugees to get a job in this new place. The defectors say this discrimination makes some wonder whether they made the right choice in coming here. For five years, these refugees must regularly report their activities to authorities.
Those defectors who remain fugitives in China are vulnerable to sexual, physical and financial exploitation. Young girls get sold to bars and older women sold to rural farmers in China at lower prices.
Government alone runs the Education in North Korea and is compulsory till the secondary level. Education in North Korea is free. No wonder the Literacy rate is 99%.The North Korean school curricula consist of the both academic and political subject matter. Every subject has reference and prayer for their eternal president and the supreme leader. The books in the state library, schools, and hotels have one element in common. They are about their leader or the one written by them. So the more you are educated in N.Korea, the better slave you are to your leader.
If you are in N.Korea and if you have a television, then I can assure you that you will start worshipping this country’s leader like any other N.Korean. The reason is that there are only two channels in N.Korea and both are state-owned. They telecast a programme about their leader, his visit to places, his meeting with foreign delegates and also the army procession. This telecast continues repeatedly day in and day out.
So what do you think this can do to any person who watches it? And also you will turn Anti American even if you are not already, after watching these telecasts, since a lot of primetime gets used here is abusing America.
During their 50 years of communist rule, Kim Il Sung, his son Kim Jong Il, and now his son Kim have sealed off North Koreans from the outside world. Their radios and TVs receive only government stations.
The government publishes all newspapers and magazines—no foreign media. No internet. Only loudspeakers everywhere praising Kim glory. Lucky elite ones who have access to the dish, get a view of the Chinese soaps by changing the dish direction towards china. It is, however, illegal. Being creative is risky in N.Korea and if you think humour is an option, let me remind you that fun is not in the country’s encyclopedia.
The media of North Korea is one of the most strictly controlled in the world. As a result, information is tightly regulated both into and out of North Korea. The North Korean constitution provides freedom of speech and the press; however, the government prohibits the exercise of these rights in practice. No private media exists in N.Korea.
There are only two mobile phone networks. The diplomatic corps and NGO workers use one of them to contact one another. A relatively small elite of North Koreans use the other system, but this still denies them access to foreigners inside the country and anyone outside. After all these constraints, there are still some secret journalists who function and get their work published in China and S.Korea.
Show Off by N.Korea
The exciting things one can notice in N.Korea in its capital as a traveller would be those significant buildings, broad roads, beautiful garden and cleanliness all around. One would always wonder who stays inside those buildings. Well, no one does. These are the structures built just as a show off to all those who enter this country. Even the vast buildings at the borders tell their counterpart S.Korea that even N.Korea can build large structures. The only difference is that no one stays in here. Constructions like these get done at the time when most of its countrymen live on one potato a day.
Foreign Diplomats when visit N.Korea are compulsorily showcased the dance by the children. Little does the diplomat know that these are the lucky few healthy children in this country when most of their counterparts are undernourished or extinct. Tourists are not even allowed to enter the countryside, forget speaking to the natives living there.
Below is the Neo-Brutalist Ryugyong Hotel in Pyongyang, North Korea. It’s a 1000 ft tall pyramid-shaped building with 3,000 rooms and was supposed to have seven revolving restaurants, except they never actually finished it. Newspapers estimated the cost of construction was $750 million - 2% of North Korea’s GDP.
The creation came to a halt in 1992 due to lack of funding, acute electricity shortages, and the prevailing famine.” This structure strived to rival the capitalist skyscrapers of S Korea, but money ran out, and work got abandoned in the 90s.
In North Korea, there is no public lighting, and people use low wattage bulbs in their houses. The North Korean capital is as surreal by night as it is by day. Due to the fuel crisis, there’s hardly any traffic, and nightlife is virtually non-existent. Only monuments get lit during local festivities. Every hour, on the hour, from 6 am to midnight; loudspeakers blast out a patriotic song.
The personality cult of Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il remained a virtual civil religion that provided a spiritual underpinning for the regime. Refusal on religious or other grounds to accept the leader as the supreme authority exemplifying the state and society’s needs was regarded as opposition to the national interest and continued to result in severe punishment.
Like others in society, children were the objects of intense political indoctrination; even mathematics textbooks propound party dogma. Foreign visitors and academic sources reported that from an early age children were subjected to several hours a week of mandatory military training and indoctrination at their schools.
Aid for N.Korea
China and South Korea remain the largest donors of food aid to North Korea. The U.S. objects to this manner of donating food due to lack of supervision. In 2005, China and South Korea combined to provide 1 million tons of food aid, each contributing half. In addition to food aid, China reportedly provides an estimated 80 to 90 per cent of North Korea’s oil imports at “friendly prices” that are sharply lower than the world market price. Well, China seems to be extra friendly to N.Korea.
Tourism in North Korea gets organized by the state-owned Korea International Travel Company. Mobile phones and all electronic gadgets get confiscated from a tourist on entering N.Korea. Every group of travellers, as well as individual tourists/visitors, is permanently accompanied by one or two “guides” who typically speak the mother language of the tourist. All the tourists’ rooms are bugged.
Everyone who has ever been to N.Korea would have witnessed the same what any other tourists would have seen any other time. So much is the control this country has over its tourists and their plans. All said and done; one can still take photographs and video in N.Korea as long as it shows N.Korea beautiful. And if you are travelling to N.Korea don’t forget to bow to its eternal president’s statue three times by bending below your waist or else you have to book your return ticket immediately.
If there were anything that N.Korea is good at, then it should be its Mass Games. Mass Games is nothing but the unification of children and young people in thousands to perform synchronously in front of their beloved Supreme Leader. All visitors to North Korea are invariably brought to the venue to watch these mass games.
Practice for these Mass Games is a daily activity for any healthy children in N.Korea. They practice rigorously for these Mass Games, and after the performance, they have to get back home in late hours to find their home. The next day the whole cycle repeats for their upcoming performance, the entire cycle continues as long as they are in school or as long as they are capable of doing it. However impoverished the country; however, few of its materials, North Korea’s children remain devoted to refining their skills by any means they can and are highly disciplined.
Life of the Leader and the elite class
The supreme leader of this country likes to drink imported hard scotch. He loves American videos. He spent his childhood in Switzerland, but it hardly made any difference to his rigid family attributes. His father was also an actor and director himself, had kidnapped heroines across the border to cast in his movies.
What do the poor people of N.Korea think?
Most of the N.Korean who is living in dire still believe that their supreme leader is always great, and it is the officers who are the real culprits. They think that these officers are taking advantage of the supreme leader’s goodwill and faith. Low morale and corruption in the military are indeed so widespread that it is the norm rather than the exception for soldiers to be extorting bribes from poor farmers and merchants crossing the border.
Despite the troubles, most of the people remain loyal to their leadership and proud of their government. This mindset reminds me of the reasoning by the author of booker prize winner “Life of Pi”. In his book, he says that people feel sorry for the animals which are inside the zoo. They believe that by keeping these animals away from the wild, they are creating cruelty against them. But the reality, according to the author, is that these animals are happier here. They got used to this routine and didn’t need any change which will affect this.
“After all, do they have any choice?