The other North Korea

I’m looking at the latest cover of Newsweek. A full-page headshot of a grinning Kim Jong-un stares out. His hair is flecked with several grey strands makes him seem much older. His haircut, completely shaved two inches above the ears means he is instantly recognisable. He looks almost comical, like one of Orwell’s pigs in Animal Farm when they start behaving like humans. Underneath, the caption Killer Instinct Is North Korea’s Kim Jong Un out of control?


The latest missile launch from the region has been met with the usual response from the western media. North Korea is out of control. They must be disarmed. South Korea has put a missile defence shield to redirect missiles coming from across the border. Trump has so far not been able to come up with a workable response to Kim’s actions.

The story is the most frequently reported about North Korea. But it’s not the only story to be worth reporting from the Hermit Kingdom. Of course, there was also the much reported killing of Kim’s own brother, who was poisoned in an airport attack, with all fingers pointing squarely at Kim, or someone close to him, as being the person who gave out the orders.

If you look away from the shocking headlines, a different picture emerges. Of course. it’s hard to know very much about a country which is among the most secretive nations in the world. Yet we can get a decent idea as to what life is like in the north from visitors to the country.

One of the most remarkable of Vice’s documentaries was a three part travelogue that culminated in a friendly game of basketball between American players and the North Koreans. As well as being a huge fan of the sport, Kim was also seen clapping as his own all female band played songs for the visitors.

Recently there was also a cheering moment at the Rio Olympics when one of the North Korean gymnasts posed for a photo with a member of the South Korean team. North Korea managed to win several medals in the ceremony, an impressive achievemnet for a country where the average GDP is $1500.

Away from the hype around anything the Supreme Leader does, you can find really encouraging stories of ordinary people carrying on as best they can. You can get a great insight into life in North Korea by reading any of the recently published  accounts of life in North Korea written by defectors.

Hyeonseo Lee wrote an account of life in North Korea and her defection to South Korea

Ultimately, it would be a terrible thing to cast a country’s people in the same image as their leader. Particularly one whom none of them had any say in electing. It is hoped that as more North Koreans learn about life in the west, it will lead to a rebellion against Kim Jong-un. With the recent impeachment and downfall of former President Park Geun-hye, many could be wondering why South Korea is so much better than its neighbour in the north?

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