May 31, 2009


North Korea, the dead land: Hyok Kang, who escaped from his oppressive homeland in 1998, provides a unique and harrowing insight into Kim Jong-il's dictatorship, which can build nuclear weapons - but not feed its people (Hyok Kang, 31 May 2009, Daily Telegraph)

In our house, as in all the others, there was a loudspeaker that delivered broadcasts from the capital, Pyongyang. They told you the news, always devoted to the Dear Leader Kim Jong-il, alternated with songs composed in his honour or to the glory of his father. We also had a radio that received these broadcasts, which was fixed by the authorities to that single station. A radio imported from abroad had to be taken to a security office where it was switched to the official station so that we wouldn't hear any other programmes.

We were fortunate as we also had a TV. As we were close to the Chinese border, we were able to pick up the Beijing channels. That was forbidden, so we did it at night, with the curtains drawn. Chinese television gave us an incredible view of the world. There were cars everywhere, rich people who ate all the time, lovely homes piled with household appliances. That said, we were suspicious of these pictures, because North Korean television also produced pseudo-documentaries that showed us as prosperous and happy, which we certainly weren't.

Motorised vehicles were rare. The richest travelled by bicycle, but most people went on foot. People often walk for 40 kilometres without grumbling. And they had many reasons for travelling, chief among them being the black market. You bought merchandise that was cheaper in one place to sell at a higher price elsewhere.

In North Korea, nursery school is followed by four years of primary and six years of secondary school. After that, everyone joins the army for 13 years. You leave at the age of 30, and it's only then that you can start thinking about girls and marriage.

In each classroom there hung a photograph of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il, side by side. These pictures were very large, and placed just above the blackboard so that we could always see them, which gave us the impression that the rulers' eyes were on us at all times. Our uniforms were navy blue and cut in a military style. We put our fountain pens in our breast pockets, from which they had to show slightly.

School was from Monday to Saturday afternoon. After class, every day, we had to do agricultural work for two or three hours. On Sunday we laboured all day, with a picnic at lunchtime. There were hardly any adults around when we were working, and at times I got the impression that we children did most of the work in the fields.

As we hoed, sowed or harvested, we were subjected to a continuous flood of revolutionary songs, always very cheerful, broadcast by a propaganda lorry equipped with enormous loudspeakers. Although there are very few vehicles in Onsong, there were at least three propaganda lorries, which travelled the city and the surrounding villages. On top of that, in every district pylons fitted with loudspeakers broadcast party orders and martial music that woke us every morning. On holidays, the loudspeakers in the village broadcast uninterruptedly throughout the day.

Food was scarce, even before the famine. Every two weeks, the national system of food distribution allowed us a food ration made up of crushed maize and rice. There were often delays in supply. They had begun as early as 1985. But shortly before the death of Kim Il-Sung, in 1994, the system began to break down.

...but the "peace" with North Korea may be our most disgraceful.

Posted by Orrin Judd at May 31, 2009 7:30 AM
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