A red dynasty, a place of modern-day gulags ruled by a man whose appearance is topped with a singular haircut. A country with only 20% arable land but somehow one of the most powerful militaries in the world. A country hidden beneath a mysterious, Stalinistic regime.
Welcome to the hermit kingdom. Welcome to North Korea.
At the end of the second world war in 1945, following the surrender of the Japanese armed forces, Korea was liberated from the Japanese colonial rule and partitioned into northern and southern halves governed by the USSR and the United States respectively. The state of North Korea came into being in 1948. The 250 km long Korean demilitarized zone (DMZ) situated between the borders of North and South Korea is the most heavily guarded zone in the world.
Since 1948, North Korea has been ruled by three men from the same family. Kim il-sung was the country's first supreme leader, succeeded by his son Kim Jong-iI and now his grandson, Kim Jong -Un.
The constitution describes north Korea as a “dictatorship of the people’s democracy” under the leadership of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) headed by Kim Jong-Un. It is ironic how its constitution guarantees protection of human rights, and yet North Korea is one of the most repressive countries in the world. North Korean politics is governed by the Juche philosophy formulated by Kim il-Sung. Juche means self-reliance and this policy states that North Korea is a country that must remain separate and distinct from the world, dependent solely on its own strength and the guidance of a near-godlike leader. Juche forces the natives to believe in the absolute power of their leader.
Being a North Korean citizen means having to continuously prove your loyalty to the regime. Despite being a very serious leader-focused regime, this country has a very weird class division system. The people have been divided into three classes named after fruits. The Tomatoes refer to the elite class which consists of people important to the regime such as politicians and military officers. They enjoy special privileges and elite positions in the government. Most citizens belonging to the middle class fall under the second division called,” The Apples”. The third class called “The Grapes’ refers to defectors and lawbreakers who are deported to labour camps, known as re-education camps among North Koreans, as punishment for their crimes. Breaking the law isn’t the good thing to do anywhere in the world, but in North Korea it is definitely the worst thing that can happen not only to the lawbreaker but to upto three generations of his family. So, no matter how devoted you are to the regime, you will have to perish in North Korean labour camps for something that a family member did years ago. The life of all citizens is immensely controlled by the government. It is mandatory for them to style their hair according to the 28 styles approved by the government. It is also compulsory for cars to slow down and cyclists to dismount from their vehicles when passing a portrait of The Great Leaders. Failure to comply with this rule is considered illegal and has severe consequences.
The strange facts that govern the country start even before you enter the country. North Korea is pitch dark when you look at it from space. It is the only country whose tourism process is handled solely by state-controlled tourist agencies which approve visitors and lead them on guided tours. A minor offence like walking in the wrong area can have you serving a lengthy sentence at a North Korean labour camp. No international calls are allowed, wearing blue jeans is forbidden in the country as it is considered as a sign of American imperialism. There is no hot water supply in North Korean houses, so if you want to take a relaxing hot shower, you will probably have to visit a bath. Unlike the rest of the world, North Korea uses its own calendar which was adopted in 1997. Their dates begin from 1912 with the birth of their founder Kim-il Sung whose birthday is described by the Koreans as ‘Day of the Sun’. So rhetorically speaking, the country is almost 2000 years behind the rest of the world.
The capital city of Pyongyang is the main tourist attraction of the country. It is heaven far from the reach of the North Koreans living in the countryside. But behind the curtain of the vibrant buildings, lie some of the darkest secrets of the regime. If any resident of Pyongyang is caught disrespecting the leaders, contacting family in China or reporting a missing family member despite knowing that the individual is in South Korea, then the whole family is expelled to the countryside. This is believed to be done by the regime to instil fear in the minds of the people and to remind them to never question the absolutism of the leader.
North Korea knows nothing about the internet that the rest of the world is so dependent upon. It has its own private version of internet known as ‘Intranet’ which allows access to only about 30 websites, most of which are regarding government information and propaganda. Talk about freedom in the 21st century!
In North Korea, all land is state-owned. No change of occupation is allowed until it is permitted by the higher authorities. Even something as personal as your residence is decided by the government. No change of residence is permitted without the approval of the authorities. Not even going on holidays is left to individual discretion. If a North Korean family wishes to go on a vacation, they must have it sanctioned by the government and wait for their ‘vacation quota’.
As far as the North Korean military is concerned, Kim Jong-Un decided to follow in the footsteps of his father by implementing the “Songun Chong’ Chi” or the “Military first” policy. He wasted no time in accelerating North Korea’s nuclear programme. Between 2016-2017 he conducted 3 nuclear tests including a Hydrogen bomb and 30 missile launches including an intercontinental missile.
Although North Korea boasts of having a 100% literacy rate, but its educational system violates international law by restricting freedom of thought and expression in its students. It is mandatory for every classroom to have a picture of Kim il Sung and Kim Jong II. North Korea states its education system is for “students to acquire the concept of revolution and endless loyalty toward the party and the supreme leader.” The education system is modelled around the Kim dynasty. Kim il- Sung and his family are introduced as role models for all the students. Their literature is heavily censored and mostly consists of socialistic ideals which are taught to children as early as in kindergarten.
3 dictators and 74 years of rule by the Kim dynasty later, North Korea stands internationally isolated. Since 2006, the UN Security Council has passed resolutions sanctioning North Korea for developing nuclear weapons and related activities. The European Union and countries like the United States, Japan, Australia have imposed unilateral sanctions on North Korea that are primarily designed to obstruct Pyongyang’s development of missile and nuclear technology. These countries have also sanctioned banks, companies, and individuals outside North Korea for supporting its weapons program. Meanwhile, South Korean president Moon while supporting international sanctions and enhanced defense cooperation with the United States, has worked to improve North-South ties, by providing humanitarian aid disbursements, reopening a hotline between the two Koreas and restoring family unions.
I would like to conclude this article by quoting a North Korean escapee , “Leaving North Korea is not like leaving any other country. It is more like leaving another universe. I will never truly be free of its gravity, no matter how far I journey.” All of North Korea is a jail where people would readily die for their leader but at the same time, they also just want to run away.