Visiting North Korea during the Era of Kim Jong Un

In recent news, North Korea has prepared to launch a satellite into space. However, this move has been met with much antagonism by the United States because it seems to defy the motions of the United Nations should the satellite be a move to test missile technology that would one day send threats of nuclear warfare. The BBC’s broadcaster, Damian Grammaticas, who is based in Beijing, China, gained permission to enter North Korea at the time of this controversy, symbolic of the transparency with which the North Korean authorities intended to launch the satellite. In his BBC article, Grammaticas relates that the North Korean authorities wanted to launch the satellite in commemoration of the hundredth birthday of Kim Il Sung, the founding father of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

Throughout his article, “Exploring North Korea’s Contradictions,” Grammaticas describes his impressions of the North Korean landscape. Visiting the countryside outside of Pyongyang, Grammaticas emphasizes the emptiness of the roads and the bleakness of the empty shop windows as he exits the city. Of the city itself, Grammaticas relays, “Being here, in the world’s last Stalinist state, feels like being transported back in time. North Korea often looks like a place marooned, a survivor from an age when Soviet republics, with their strongmen rulers, were common.” He then continues the article with a explanation of the preparation Pyongyang’s people made for the celebrations that would enliven the next few days – city repairs were made, flowers were assembled, roadsides were cleaned, images of Kim Il Sung were hung throughout the city, plans for the launch of the satellite were being settled.

Grammaticas juxtaposes this scene with that of the North Korean villages – one that he calls “grim,” lined with tents and huts, and managed by people working in bare fields. On his tour of the countryside, Grammaticas was taken to the Daedonggang Fruit Farm, which was said to have been constructed under the guidance of Kim Jong Il and Kim Jong Un. Grammaticas also claims that those who work there had recited, “I’m very happy working here. It’s thanks to Kim Jong Il and Kim Jong Un who ensure we have everything we need.”

After entering the fruit-processing factory at Daedonggang Fruit Farm, Grammaticas learned that there were machines used to make apple juice behind the factory doors. However, he claims that many workers engaged in little meaningful activity, and one actually had the job of replacing finished cartons of apple juice to the beginning of the assembly line so that it repeated the cycle through the factory.

Although I do not accuse Grammaticas of false statements or any kind of exaggeration, I think that it is always important to interpret an article from the perspective of the article’s writer. Grammaticas is from an affluent and developed nation with distrust of the communism of a past era. Therefore, I have reason to believe that in the way he analyzes the culture unfolding before his eyes as he travels throughout the city and countryside of North Korea he forgets the difference between what people say and do and what they believe. I think that there will always be an unspoken current within the North Korean people that will remain unknown until they are given more freedom to speak openly and more opportunity through unification of the peninsula.
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