By Jason LaBouyer
Those of us who joined the 2004 March for Korea’s Peace and Reunification were offered a rare glimpse into the life of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, a nation subject like no other to the forced isolation and smearcampaigns of the US government. From Pyongyang to Panmunjom, Nampho to Wonsan, our delegation had the opportunity to meet Koreans of all walks of life. It didn’t take long for members of our group to notice a few (or more) glaring discrepancies between the image of North Korea sold to us by Western governments and the mass media, and the conditions of life that we actually witnessed. The following list of lies is based upon the observations of various members of our international delegation.
10. North Koreans are fearful of contact with foreigners (they might just wind up in a prison camp).
This lie was quickly exposed by the warmth and openness bestowed upon our delegation by our Korean hosts and the locals we encountered everywhere throughout our stay. Indeed, wherever we traveled, on foot or by bus, citizens and soldiers alike waved and smiled at us. No effort was made by our guides to separate us from the general public; on the contrary, members of our delegation were always free to approach Koreans and chat with them. For those who didn’t speak Korean, our translators were more than willing to be of service.
9. Pyongyang is a showcase city prohibited to bicyclists, pregnant women, the elderly, mentally-ill and disabled.
Those individuals who spawned these rumours must be (a) blind, (b) mentally retarded, © totally ignorant or (d) all of the above. Pyongyang is a very attractive city boasting impressive architecture, fantastic city planning and stunning monuments. But the other DPRK cities our delegation visited, such as Wonsan and Kaesong, are very much the same attractive and thriving cities recovering from hard times, each with their share of cultural facilities and monuments. Likewise, Pyongyang clearly has its share of the elderly and disabled. In the DPRK, people of all physical and intellectual endowments are valued and taken care of. As for women expecting, the Pyongyang Maternity Palace, built in 1980, provides modern facilities and 60,000 square meters of floor space for childbirth and treatment of women’s diseases. One final note: we saw plenty of Pyongyangites enjoying pleasant bike rides.
8. North Koreans endure very austere lives.
Our delegation had the chance to visit the Mangyondae Fun Fair, an impressive theme park in Pyongyang with rides and facilities rivalling those in the West. And there was no shortage of locals to enjoy the rides with us. Pyongyang, a city of roughly 2 million, offers more park space (58 square meters of green belt per citizen), cultural facilities and health and recreational centers than most other cities of that size in the world. This is no small feat for a country that continues to endure severe economic difficulties under the pressure of US sanctions. Other DPRK cities boast similar facilities – our delegation visited a children’s camp near Wonsan that looked more like a luxury resort. The camp is provided free of charge to all Korean children. Also, members of our delegation frequently remarked that North Koreans everywhere dress very nicely, always appearing relaxed and content. This may be attributable to the social benefits of Korea’s planned economic system – job security, social security and yearly paid vacations are luxuries in most countries, but entitlements to every DPRK worker.
7. Ordinary North Koreans are not allowed to travel abroad.
Waiting for my return flight to the US at the Beijing International Airport, I came across a group of 15 North Korean teachers of English on their way to the UK for a month to brush up on their language skills. We chatted for nearly two hours. Some of them knew more about US history and current affairs than I do. The fact remains that countless DPRK educators, students, scientists, athletes and religionists travel abroad every year to attend conferences and competitive events.
6. North Korea is a chauvinistic, male-dominated society.
The United States is a chauvinistic, male -dominated society. North Korean men, by comparison to their American counterparts, seem rather modest and self -effacing. The Korean women we met were often just as assertive, educated and well rounded as the men. The vice chairperson of the Korean Committee on Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries, which sponsored our delegation, is a woman. Moreover, men in Socialist Korea, as we learned, are expected to take an active role in household affairs and child rearing while women pursue their own career paths. Indeed, many DPRK women are celebrated for their contributions to the physical and social sciences, while many more take an active role in local, regional and national governance. North Korean women are also free from the commercial sex and beauty industries that stalk women in the Capitalist world. In this sense, women in the DPRK have achieved a level of equality and respect that their counterparts in the West continue to struggle for.
5. North Korea’s economy is moribund.
We saw construction taking place everywhere in the DPRK – new high-rises being erected in Pyongyang, housing developments in the countryside and a number of new factories under construction in Nampho, for example. This undoubtedly signals the recovery of the DPRK economy after years of hardship. Indeed, Pyongyang and other DPRK cities are presently experiencing large-scale renovations thanks to the economic turn-up, as we learned. It’s also worth mentioning that every store I visited or observed in Korea, walking or driving by, looked rather well stocked. While North Koreans obviously don’t have access to the abundance of consumer goods forced upon Westerners, I was surprised to see a decent assortment of clothing, food and other products in stores within and without Pyongyang.
4. North Koreans hate Americans.
North Koreans are very intelligent. They know better than to confuse a corrupt, greedy and hateful US ruling-class with the general populace it exploits. Several members of our delegation, including myself, were Americans, and we were treated very warmly by everyone we met. Koreans understand that the US government is their enemy – not ordinary citizens.
3. North Korea is famine stricken.
I think not. While North Koreans may not benefit from the abundance of food enjoyed by more affluent Westerners, they are certainly not starving. Not in Pyongyang, and not in the countryside. In fact, some members of our delegation appeared more malnourished then any Korean I encountered. Due to a critical lack of fuel and arable land, however, Korea’s agricultural system is always quite vulnerable to crises. Ending the sanctions is vital to preventing another food shortage.
2. The North Korean countryside is stripped bare of vegetation (it has all been consumed by starving peasants).
This is truly one of the most stupid and easily dismissible of all the lies. The hills and countryside in the DPRK are quite lush and green. However, we did spot quite a few people kneeling down and pulling grass – we learned that many Koreans raise small rabbits, and rabbits must eat too!
1. North Koreans are demoralized.
Half a century of US hostility and a decade of forced isolation have not broken the will of the Korean people to pursue their own path to national development and independence. Why should four more years of Bush’s threats and tough-talk? Everywhere we visited, in the cities or in the rural countryside, we were struck by the prevalence of smiling faces and laughter. If the Korean people are demoralized, they do very well to conceal it. The fact is that Koreans are quite knowledgeable about their political system and way of life, as well as the alternative that exists around the world. They know which is superior. After spending only a week in the DPRK, I believe I do as well.
Abgelegt unter: North Korea Mit Tag(s) versehen: | Anti Imperialist, Axis Of Evil, Independent Korea, Kim Jong Il, Myths about North Korea, North Korea, Nuclear Weapons, Pyongyang, South Korea, Truth North Korea