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Welcome to North Korea

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The most beloved leader isn't dead. Not only does he live on in the hearts of all Koreans who are forced to wear his picture on their person. But he really hasn't died. He's asleep alone in his immense mausoleum. It is the myth that Kim Il Sung carefully created about himself over the past 50 years and which most Koreans still firmly believe in. When he died in 1994 the world saw images of a nation in a trance Tens of thousands of North Koreans were weeping hysterically and their tears were genuine it seemed. True or false? It's a question that applies to almost everything in North Korea. We received permission to travel across the country under strict supervision and the only conclusion that we were able to draw at the end of this week is that we now understand even less of what goes on in this country. The Pyongyang subway- for these North Koreans, this may be their first encounter with a foreigner Even so, they are careful not to look us in the eye- it's against the law. Automaton-like, they pass by by the thousands We're at the station Rebirth and travelling to Glory The last stop is Paradise but we're not permitted to go there It's questionable whether anyone has ever been there. Welcome to North Korea. This is an ordinary weekday but nevertheless typical The location is the Study House of the People the only library in the Capital we're taken on a guided tour by one of the Selected Ones someone with permission to talk to foreigners without any trace of irony whatsoever she attributes super-human achievements to the Most Beloved Leader again and again while for almost an hour we wander through this extremely costly almost empty palace No doubt just one critical remark by this woman directed against the regime could condemn her to a life in the labor camps so we resist the temptation to ask her whether she really believes what she says because one of the three people shadowing us is always within hearing distance For over 50 years now even after his death, Kim Il Sung has held the North Koreans under a mythical spell How can people stand to be enslaved for so long even to the point of starvation? Why do people accept it? It's the hallmark of an oppressive government as we notice immediately after arriving in the country The guards confiscate our passports and drive to a 35 meter high monument of the great leader. For the North Koreans this is a shrine. The guides suggest that we lay flowers and bow out of respect for Kim Il Sung. Coming from them it is in fact an order as we're about to find out there's no avoiding it. We have to show just as much respect here as any other Korean bowing before the mythical leader. Driving through the city we passed thousands and thousands of children that seemed to be practicing for something The roads are almost desserted Fuel shortage is a result of isolation Monstrous hotels are forever under construction The economy is dead Our 45-story hotel is virtually empty We were warned in advance that the rooms will be bugged and that luggage and garbage will be carefully scrutinized We will have no individual freedom whatsoever for the rest of this week The hotel room finally offers an opportunity to observe without being observed How these people cope with their fate is anybody's guess For the visitor it's sobering to realize that personal freedom ends outside the hotel room The harsh reality of life in the People's Republic of Korea Just to be clear this is a hotel consisting of 2 towers each 45 stories high It's virtually empty In all perhaps 20 people stay here overnight In fact the only people you meet are hotel personnel watching over their 3 guests Music from loudspeakers all over town wakes everybody up at 7 am The streets are immaculate The final cleaner is ready to go home The policewoman is directing traffic that doesn't exist There are no elderly people in the streets Most of them have been relocated to places outside the city borders Those that stay behind are encouraged to stay indoors As are the handicapped They don't fit in the desired picture We move from monument to museum to exhibition The never-ending stream of information about Kim Il Sung and his son Kim Yung Il the present leader and about 3,078 volumes of the Yu Chi Doctrine Outlining Kim Il Sung's personal teachings Only under our own steam Everywhere in town you see the Yu Chi Tower Kim Il Sung also created a Yu Chi Calender starting with his own birthday in 1911 It's only after some time that we realize what's so strange about all these places we visit There's no one else. Just us. We're the only visitors wherever we go. At palaces, monuments, industrial exhibitions, we never run into any other guests just guides whose main job it is to wait for a few visitors each week Our guides belong to the Selected Ones North Koreans who speak English, German, or French and who have permission to speak to foreigners The rest is total emptiness This monument for instance erected in 1996 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the North Korean Worker's Party The North Koreans have added the brush to the communist hammer and sickle to symbolize the literacy of the people the city is the ideal calling card for the country but it turns out to be no more than an empty front Outrageously expensive buildings but no one to marvel at them It doesn't take much to discover that most of this pomp and circumstance hides emptiness underneath It's sole purpose is to present an ideal picture to the visitors and to uphold the morale of the population At the so-called Palace of the Children our guide is a 12 year old girl The reception we're given is heart-warming but the children that perform there were selected because they look healthy but at the same time their contemporaries in the country are dying of starvation Such are the established facts Hall after hall there are hundreds of children ready to perform for their foreign guests

Video Details

Duration: 53 minutes and 16 seconds
Country: United States
Language: English
Producer: Peter Tetteroo and Raymond Feddema
Views: 230
Posted by: rafaelmatheus on Jun 3, 2010

As the filmmakers reveal, the North Koreans have no opportunity to compare their existence with that of the outside world, due to the near-total cutoff of news and free transportation. The one predominant feature of this oppressed nation is manifested in the scores of statues, sculptures, and iconic paintings of North Korea’s Communist dictator Kim Jong II, who has gone to great and sometimes ruthless lengths to convince his subjects that he has inherited godlike powers from his equally “divine” father, the late Kim II Sung (whose mummified body still lies in state, à la Lenin).

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