The Life of North Koreans that Mass Media Won’t Show

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Credit: Rafael Stedile

Source: Brasil de Fato / The Dawn News / September 6, 2017
Edition: Luíz Felipe Albuquerque / Portuguese-Spanish Translation: Gerardo Gamarra

“If they could, the North Koreans would prefer to invest the little resources of the country in productive sectors”, Ferreira claims.
A lot is heard and little is known about North Korea. The country is constantly presented by most of the media like a bellicose dictatorship under the ruling of Kim Jung-Un, to who they use to bull due to his haircuts and clothes, and the responsible of maintaining a nation oppressed and hungry.

However, the story realized to Brasil de Fato by the consultant in International Affairs, Rodrigo Ferreira, pictures another reality little known by Brazilians of the North Korean society. Ferreira was in the country in July along a delegation of La Via Campesina (an organization that groups international popular movements of the countryside), and presented his impressions on a country extremely stigmatized by the big mass media.

Brasil de Fato: You have recently traveled with a delegation to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. What was the visit objective?

Rodrigo Ferreira: We were invited by the Embassy of Korea in Brasilia, in articulation with Korea’s Commerce Ministry and the Korean Association of Social Sciences. THe objective was to promote the commercial ties (Brazil is the eighth commercial partner of Korea) mainly in times where the sanctions applied by the UN are being widened as consequence of the development and test program of intercontinental ballistic missiles.

In parallel, we are seeking a bigger comprehension of the Korean reality, independent of the vision leaked by the great mass media, with the objective of bringing this reality to the Brazilian and Latin American militancy, through stories like this one or through the lens of photographer Rafael Stedile, who covered the trip.

In Occident we can see every day a fresh news on a probable war between North Korea and the USA. How did you perceived the mood on the country, the cities and on population in general?

The vision that they have on Occident of Korea as a belligerent State, is mainly product of the explicit adoption of the Songun policy (the prioritization of the military sector) and pretty much biased. There are no comments on the strategic character of the territory, persecuted by the US since WWII, mainly due to the importance that it has to close the blockade of China – with military bases already established in Japan, South Korea, Guam, Taiwan, Singapur, among others.

If the North Korean leaders do not take the path of American intromission, it is pretty much probable that they will found the same luck of Hussein and Gadafi. In general, people found in the Songun policy and in the nuclear program their only chance of defense, not of attack. If it was possible, they would rather invest the scarce resources of the country in the productive sector; but this option is not possible since decens of nuclear warheads are waiting at the other side of the frontier.

In a pretty open conversation after dinner, it was said that the Korean people want peace and the reunification of the country, they want so much that they hate the expression “North Korea”, as they consider that there is only one Korea, a Korea that was attempted to be builded many times and that all the Korean people is willing to give their lives to avoid once again foreign subjugation, either it was from Japan or from the US.

 

Which were your impressions on the life conditions of the population?

The first impression is that the place has frozen in time in some moment of the 70s. The car are modern, mostly Chinese, and there are some edifications with with more modern architecture, but the general impression is of certain esthetic anachronism. And that is the central point of the counter propaganda, especially in South Korea, to associate the North with an economical setback.

However, before this initial impression, it is important to note the bigger level of dignity in the population’s life, even in the rural sectors, that in most of the countries, even of central economies are in crisis. The cities are clean and the public property is being taken care of really well, even with the limitation of resources that they suffer. The basic services are free and of universal access; and even the most common urban problem, the access to housing, nonexistent. With marriage, everyone receives a residence that might not be luxurious, but it is certainly decent.

It is precise to clarify, and they were clear about it, that the greatest part of our tour was to model hospitals, orphanages and schools that show where Korea wants to get, but which are not the reality of the whole country. Given the time, we requested to stop the car at a little rural community which we randomly chose, 200 kilometer from Pyongyang, and there is no doubt that what we saw is beyond the life conditions of our non organized rural average and of the peripheries of our cities.

We could determine that the structural problem of hunger and shortage of supplies divulged by the Western media is false. If there were any of this problems after the dismemberment of the Soviet Union or as consequence of several floodings in the 90s, these problems seem to be surpassed, at least in the visited regions.

What are the problems that they face and what are the aspirations of the majority of the population?

The biggest problem is the auto resilience, which in a globalized world, is almost impossible. They would love not feeling threatened and uniting the country through a peace process, but every time an advancement was made in this sense, the process was sabotaged by the USA. And the sanctions imposed to the country in response to the only alternative left in order to keep their national sovereignty, are inhuman. They have no consideration for the humanitarian crisis that they cause. For example, there is no exception for the limitation to the iron importations, either if it is for missiles, medications or hospitals. This is cruel and directly affects the civilian population.

The country still has great challenges to break the Western blockade and to balance against the generic accusations of human right violations. It does not matter how many videos of torture or how many denouncements arise from illegal jails, even of minors, in the West; the Western media will always highlight the denouncements against countries like North Korea, even though when they can not back up this information with evidence. To overcome this kind of ideological attack is a challenge for the country.

Here in the West the behaviour of Korea’s president is always placed as folklore, and it is also said that the people owns a true admiration for their leader. How is this phenomena explained?

The relation between the people and their leader is pretty different. The strong cult of the leader is not a particularity of leftist governments nor of Korea, like the Western propaganda wants us to think, and not even of the Orient culture. There are even several examples of cult of imperial leaders and authorities in the Orient, like Japan, Thailand, etc. In the West, Nazism is another example of this.

But the cult towards the image, mainly of live leaders, takes even bigger proportions in societies with a Confucianist base, where a personification of the State in the figure of their leader exists. The relation between the rulers and the ruled is one of the five main relations in Confucianism. While the bourgeois revolution represented an insurrection against the image of the absolute monarch in the West, the Juche ideology is believed to be created by the leader in order to confuse State, Parties and Leader.

Maybe the most clear expression is the exaggerated number of statues, photos and clips that everybody has in their clothes. There is an image adoration that might not have a parallel in other place or time. And interesting theme of debate is the contradiction of this with the construction of collective goods in Marxism.

Do you believe that the population wants the reunification with the south? Why?

Peace and reunification, as I said before, has been always a Korean dream. In a quick summary of the historical process, the first initiative started in the North on July 4, 1972, when the program of Peace, Independence and Reunification was signed. For the North the ending of the conflict would be conditioned to these three factors, but the pressure of the US on the South made the reconciliation impossible. The independence initiative proposed an reunification that respected the difference between the two regimes, in a project that was based on the same experience adopted by China in the re annexation of Hong Kong.

On July 15, 2000, the first post war encounter by two Chiefs of State occurred in the demilitarized zone of Panmunjom, and a conjoint industrial park was even built (deactivated to the date), and on December 4, 2007, the first visit of President from the South to Pyongyang occurred. Every time a historical re approximation tentative appears, there is always a North American intervention in the electoral process that imposes a nationalist and conservative government that boicots the procedure.

It is worth remembering; the heavy North American presence on South Korea, with over 300 thousand soldiers, would already be a sufficient motive to the severe political situation, but we should also take into account the dispute with other powers like China and Russia.

What picturesque event or behaviour could you highlight that called your attention in the visit and that could be interesting to the Brazilian and Latin American militancy?

There are many. The collective policy-making system by voting and even the word “vote” were unknown for a representative of the government responsible for us. In another occasion, when asked what he was hearing through his headphones he mentioned he was listening to a song related to maternal love. We were amazed, after so many days of touring, in a place where all the references were relative to the doctrine, “maternal love” just refers for the love to the party.

Beyond the propaganda omnipresence and the ideological construction, which is something that impresses, it is difficult to criticize them, especially when the Western world has developed such sophisticated ways of cultural domination, but at the same time I ask myself what would Pablo Freire think about childish illustrations of tanks and nuclear warheads on kindergarten classrooms.

An important point for our militancy: the isolationist policy made the mentality of the people in relation to certain matters comparable to the one of an average person of 50/60 years old in our communities. These is mainly perceived in the defense of the interests of the minorities, like the case of the gender themes. While talking about feminism or homosexuality, there is almost no difference between a North Korean and a Brazilian conservative.

On one side, there are great advancements in stopping individualism and in restoring collectivism, matter lost with the bourgeois revolution, which had the cost of completely ignoring the rights of the minorities and not from the unity in diversity, while using a Houtart term. There was no preoccupation in overcoming the extremely patriarchal character of the Korean society.

North Korea has already participated on a Football World Cup, in 2010, and it seems that they are well positioned in the Asian preliminaries for the Russian World Cup. Is football important there?

During our stay, North Korea qualified for the Sub-23 Asian Cup after defeating Hong Kong, Taiwan and Laos. Soccer is the second sport in popularity only after voleyball. There is a national tournament; the primary and high schools train their students in this sport. We were even able to visit one of these schools.
The relationship between sport and spectator is in fact different to ours. For example, in the Sub-23, every spectator was an young college student, that had just gotten out of class. We saw it as another way of promoting national identity and patriotism rather than a spontaneous relation to the team.

The admiration towards Brazilian players is unanimous. However, there are less exchange programs with Brazilian clubs than with European clubs.

 

 

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