Arguably the most intriguing and infamous regime in the current international political landscape is that of the DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea). It being one of only five outdated communist countries left could mean a manner of things to different people. To someone like me it shows that the wounds left by communism are slowly healing and that the scarring left by the Soviet Union is also fading with time. Although, in the same breath, I’d also say that it gives an uncomfortable impression that communism may still be a problem for the western world even today.
What interests me about North Korea is the simple backwardness of the country technologically. For instance, the English version of the DPRK’s official website www.korea-dpr.com is made using a $15 (about £8.77) template by IgniteThemes. Their official website is also riddled with broken links and other technical issues, almost akin to an ICT GCSE student’s coursework that’s been rushed to deadline. A little known fact about telecommunications in North Korea is that 60% of people aged 20 to 50 own a mobile phone, although as of November 2011 nobody can dial in or out of the country. Funnily enough, Pyongyang (which for the record means “peaceful land”) has a radio set installed in every home. Like other totalitarian states, the channels only broadcast propaganda, although unlike any other state that I can think of, the radios cannot be turned off; you can only adjust the volume.
Other than that, I personally find it amazing that even to this day people in the DPRK are completely blind to the sheer horror of what goes on in their own country. From the outside, it could only seem like a horror movie to most people, involving sinister organisations such as ‘The Farm Guidance Directorate’, whose role is the Korean equivalent of the KGB. Very little being known about North Korean institutions makes it difficult to create a proper picture of just how bad it is over there, with most information coming from defectors. Incidentally, an interesting fact is that there is a small yellow phone on the wall of one of the beaches on the 38th parallel which reads “Defectors Telephone”, meant for use by defectors from the DPRK to call help from the South.
Of course, underneath all this interesting and somewhat trivial information about technology in North Korea is that there is a very real tension between the North and the South. Most of this tension is cooped up into a small, heavily fortified area called the ‘demilitarized zone’. The demilitarized zone, in spite of its name, is most heavily militarized border on the planet. Along the DMZ are a minimum of four incursion tunnels which have been unearthed by the South Korean secret service, with each one being able to transport around 2000 North Koreans per hour from North to the South. Upon being discovered, the North originally tried to claim that the tunnels were coal mines and even went to the extent of installing tracks and painting the walls black in an attempt to fool the South. I doubt anybody was fooled. The South Korean government believes there may be many more tunnels leading straight into Seoul itself, but they are yet to be uncovered.
The true madness of the DPRK can be summed up through its leader, Kim Jong-Un, and his predecessors, Kim Jong-Il and Kim Il-sung. Kim Il-sung being the original Communist dictator is the “Eternal President” of the country whilst his son Kim Jong-Il is the country’s “Supreme Leader” although both are deceased. Kim Jong-Il also managed to self-impose the role of General Secretary of the Workers Party of Korea upon his death by being crowned the “Eternal Party General Secretary”. The third in line to the role is of course Kim Jong-Un, the current leader of North Korea, although he himself wasn’t favoured by his father to be leader. Rather, his older Kim Jong-Nam was favoured for the role, but fell out with the family after being caught trying to enter Tokyo Disneyland with a fake passport.
The passport reportedly used the name Pang Xiong which when translated to Mandarin Chinese literally means “Fat Bear”, a name fit only for a future Korean Dictator.
By Callum Sloper