Change in North Korea?

There have been quite a lot of things happening in North Korea lately. Things that have never happened before. Many experts on North Korean issues are saying that these events are signs of change within North Korea that may lead to reform. Others argue that these changes will not be enough to open up North Korea. Of course, I can’t offer any answers to these debates and it is not OneKorea’s purpose to do so. But instead, I’d like to take a look at some of these changes so that you might be able to form an opinion of your own.

A Relatable Leader

Since Kim Jong Un succeeded his father, Kim Jong Il, to be the leader of the world’s most isolated nation in the world, he’s been doing things a bit differently from the way his father liked things done. For one, he introduced his wife to the world. With Kim Jong Il, the leader’s wives were never officially revealed to the world. We may have had some information about them but you would never see them strutting around the country on the arm of their husband. The previous Kim was well known for his secrecy when it came to his personal life. However, this has not been the same for Kim Jong Un so far. We have been seeing Kim Jong Un and his wife in the news quite often lately as they visit various sites together hand in hand such as amusement parks and preschools.

Continue reading

Advertisements

Korean War Armistice Signing Anniversary

Featured

Truce In Korea 1953

This past July 27th marked the 59th anniversary of the signing of the armistice that officially put the Korean War on hold. It was a silent holiday that went nearly unnoticed by the world. However, for those soldiers who lived through the Korean War, this was an important day, no matter what side they fought on, and many gathered to remember and to celebrate.

In North Korea, this day was celebrated with war veterans visiting Panmunjom to pledge their unchanging loyalty to North Korea’s young leader, Kim Jong Un. Fireworks were also fired to celebrate the day. The commemorations are meant to kindle patriotism and loyalty in North Koreans, and especially the young, by showcasing veterans who fought for their country, said Kim Yeon-su of Korea National Defense University in Seoul. Ahead of the anniversary, North Korea’s Foreign Ministry reiterated its long-standing demand that the United States sign a peace treaty with North Korea to replace the armistice. However, the United States continues to stand by its claim that normal ties will only come after North Korea abandons its pursuit of nuclear weapons and takes other steps towards change. Continue reading

North Korea Plays Frisbee!

Continuing the sports theme, I’d like to talk about Ultimate Frisbee. Or, more specifically, Ultimate Frisbee in North Korea. I know, it’s hard to imagine North Koreans running around throwing Frisbees and engaging in just a friendly competitive game. But it’s true!

North Korea is hosting the International Frisbee Tournament, to be held on August 11, 2012. More than 50 Western tourists will participate in this “Peace Tournament” with no political agendas whatsoever, but to simply have fun and make a good impression on the North Koreans as a Westerner. Continue reading

The Olympics and North Korea

I don’t know about you but I have not been able to get any sleep these past two weeks because of the Olympics. The time difference from London to Korea makes us have to stay up all night to be able to see all of the good games. But, let me tell you. It’s been worth it. South Korea has been doing extremely well, currently ranking 5th. It really is astonishing that a country so small would be doing this well. My parents can’t stop talking about that fact.

But South Korea is not the only Korea that has been doing surprisingly well. North Korea has also been raising a few eyebrows. With four golds and one bronze, North Korea has apparently won the most medals since the 1992 Olympics. And they have even set a new world record for the men’s 62 kg class category in weightlifting. I would say that’s doing extremely well for a country in the state that North Korea is in. Continue reading

The Aquariums of Pyongyang: a book review and interview with a teacher

Having worked in the field of North Korean human rights, I come across accounts of defectors’ experiences in North Korea quite often. However, I am ashamed to admit that it took me years to finally get around to reading this book. Of course, it wasn’t because I had never heard of it until now. Just about everyone I know that works in the field has read The Aquariums of Pyongyang and I feel like it’s even become a sort of rite of passage.

About a month ago, I met with my high school literature teacher, Mrs. Jeanelle Francis. I haven’t seen her and her husband, another teacher at the same school, since I graduated high school six years ago and I wanted to grab lunch to catch up. When she heard that I was working at a non-governmental organization in Seoul on North Korean issues, she got very excited. She began telling me that she had read the book The Aquariums of Pyongyang and then had incorporated it into her AP Literature class lessons. I later asked if she would do an interview for me regarding her experiences teaching the book, which I have included in the article at the bottom. But first, I’d like to discuss my impression of the book. Continue reading

Introducing Joanna Hosaniak

Today I’d like to introduce to you another foreigner in Seoul working for North Korean human rights. Meet Joanna Hosaniak.

Joanna is a senior programs officer with the Seoul-based NGO, Citizens’ Alliance for North Korean Human Rights (NKHR). She was born and raised in Poland and became interested in North Korean issues while working at the South Korean embassy in Poland. She then had a chance to work with NKHR when she helped organize an event in Warsaw. She was then offered a position and moved to Korea in 2004 and has been working on North Korean human rights since then.

Joanna brings an interesting perspective to the field because she grew up experiencing communism and knows what that looks like. “As head of NKHR’s international campaign and cooperation team, she says her experience watching Poland overthrow communism is vital to her work raising awareness and assisting North Korean defectors.” Having grown up in a communist state where her parents had to smuggle prohibited books for her, she feels even more strongly the need to do what she can to help those suffering in North Korea. Continue reading

Introducing the Legendary Kim Jong Il

Even people who aren’t very familiar with North Korean issues know that Kim Jong Il wasn’t your average man. There are plenty of news articles, testaments, and photos to verify this. He had a lot of different hobbies and interests. And North Korean propaganda only adds to his “bigger than life” reputation. I’ve put together a few of those facts and rumors into this article to take a look at. So let’s begin.

Continue reading

Basketball in North Korea: Brunch with Luke Elie

CNN Luke Elie North Korea Basketball Video

Last month I introduced to you Luke Elie. You might have seen him in the news recently because he’s been quite a sensation since his trip to North Korea. He’s been extremely busy with all of the interview requests from big name news outlets like CNN, but I managed to bribe him into meeting me for brunch. Coming from experience, connections and food will go a long way.

When he asked me what I’d like to ask him in regards to his trip to North Korea, I told him that I had no interest in the politics of it. There is plenty of information out there on the politics of North Korea and its current state and I didn’t think that it would be necessary to add another redundant article to that list. What I was curious to hear about was his personal experience and interactions with the North Koreans he met while there.

I also didn’t want our meeting to be a stiff interview but instead wanted it to be just friends getting together to catch up… which will then result in an article. But let’s not linger on that. We met at Itaewon in Seoul, or the foreigners’ district, on a rainy morning and ate at a restaurant that specializes in brunch foods. We sat down and just started to talk. I told Luke what I had been up to since high school, which is when I last saw him, and he told me his story about how he ended up going to North Korea. I felt like it was a fair deal. Continue reading

As One: more than a movie

 

With the 2012 London Olympics currently in progress, I thought I’d write about sports. Just in time for the international event, a movie was released this past May simply titled As One. It is based on the true story of Korea’s first unified sports team since the division, an event that brought patriotism and hope to the entire Korean Peninsula.

In February 1991, North and South Korean officials met at Panmunjum at the North-South border to make agreements on forming a unified soccer and table tennis team. Everything was decided on at this meeting. The flag was to be the unification flag, a blue Korean peninsula on a white background, and the anthem was to be the famous Korean folk song Arirang. And in April that same year, both the North and South Korean table tennis teams left for Japan to participate in the 1991 World Table Tennis Championships as the first ever unified Korean team since the division of the peninsula. History was in the making. Continue reading

History in the Making: Basketball in North Korea

Luke Elie and his basketball team in North Korea.

Honestly, I’m not a huge sports fan. I don’t have a team that I follow nor is there a sport that I play regularly, although I did play varsity volleyball in high school but that was already six years ago. I’m just like any other average Korean when it comes to sports. Every two years I gear up to cheer for the Korean team competing in either the World Cup or the Olympics. And then when it’s over I go back to being pretty much oblivious to sports. The 2012 London Olympic Games are scheduled to begin on July 27th, but until then I thought I’d share an interesting sports story about a man named Luke Elie. Continue reading

“Normal” North Korea

Often times, when we think of North Korea, we have an image of people with grim faces and lifeless eyes walking through a drab city full of grey tones. We think of these people as mere puppets of the North Korean government putting on shows for the foreign tourists with a forced smile on their faces. They become part of the picture we paint in our minds of starving children and prisoners. How often do we actually think of these people as just people who have daily lives just like you and I do? Granted, our lifestyles may be extremely different. But the fact that they have lives separate from the one we imagine them to have is very true. Dr. Andrei Lankov addresses this in his article in The Korea Times.

For those of you who do not know who Andrei Lankov is, let me offer you a brief introduction. Dr. Andrei Lankov was born in St. Petersburg, Russia and is now a renowned specialist in Korean studies. In 1985, he even spent some time studying at Kim Il Sung University of North Korea. In 2004, he moved to South Korea to teach at Kookmin University, which is where he remains today. He is one of the few foreigners in South Korea who can offer a scholarly perspective on North Korean issues. If you follow North Korean news and issues, you have probably come across his name quite a few times.

In his article “Normal North Korea,” Dr. Lankov talks about his experience of visiting North Korea in September of 1984. As he first drove through the streets of Pyongyang, he explains that what he saw was quite unexpected. Russia at the time was by no means a democratic state but was far more open and “permissive” than North Korea was. Therefore, having come from Russia, he had expected North Korea to look like a scene from George Orwell’s book 1984, which is ironic considering the year of his visit. He explains it as follows: Continue reading

Eruption at Mt. Baekdu

There has been some concern lately regarding Mt. Baekdu and the possibility of its eruption. Volcanologist Hiromitsu Taniguchi claims that there is a 99% chance that Mount Baekdu will erupt within the next two decades. If it erupts, he says that it will be similar to the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens in the United States. This eruption was rated as 5 on the Volcanic Explosivity Index (VEI) and Taniguchi predicts that Mt. Baekdu will reach a 4 or 5 on the VEI. Eruptions designated as having a VEI of 5 or higher are considered “very large” explosive events, and occur worldwide on an average of only about once every two decades, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, a scientific agency of the U.S. government.”

As you can imagine, such an explosion could be detrimental to both North and South Korea, and even the surrounding countries. After the tsunami in Japan last year, North Korea requested to hold talks with South Korea regarding the volcanic activity but the two have failed to hold any further talks or conduct an on-site survey of Mount Baekdu since then. The volcano last erupted in 1903. Continue reading

Foreign Media in North Korea

I wrote an article a while back on the impact of South Korean media in North Korea and how big its role has become. Well, to say the least, the amount of access North Koreans have to foreign news and media content is the highest it’s ever been. And, more importantly, it’s making a difference.

A recent study conducted by InterMedia and commissioned by the U.S. State Department on the impacts of foreign media within North Korea says that although North Korea still remains as the world’s most reclusive country, “ the [North Korean] government’s ability to control the flow information is receding.”

The government still has laws against accessing foreign media but much of it relies on citizens reporting on each other. However, with less people willing to turn their neighbors in, the government is losing its power. A Korean would even say that the North Korean government has become like a tiger with a loud roar but very little teeth to do any damage. Of course, North Koreans are still smart about their actions and are still wary of government inspection teams but the thing that has changed the most is that people are more open to sharing their movies and dramas with each other instead hiding it in fear. Continue reading

Skaters

I’m not a skater. I can’t stay on a skateboard for more than 5 seconds without nearly falling to my death. But I do want to someday buy myself a longboard and learn to conquer it. It’s on my bucket list. So even though I don’t know how to ride a skateboard, I do admire those that do. I think it’s an impressive skill and an artistic means of expression. So imagine my intrigue when I came across an article about skaters in North Korea!

Visualtraveling is a website created by Patrik Wallner with documentaries and photos of skaters of all different nationalities who travel the world and film themselves skating in new environments. Although Wallner is also a skater himself, he mainly films and photographs his friends as they perform the tricks. What’s interesting about these documentaries is that it’s not just a film about skaters doing tricks but the culture of the host country is always what drives the atmosphere of the documentary. He already has several films released that document their adventures in various countries over the past six years. One of which includes North Korea. Continue reading

Kim Kyung Hee: the obstinate woman

Many of you may already know of Kim Kyung Hee. She is famous for being Kim Jong Il’s sister and, more importantly, his most loyal adviser. As important as her position within North Korea is, I think it’s important to spend time taking a look at who she is.

Kim Kyung Hee was born in 1946, four years after her brother, Kim Jong Il was born. Both she and Kim Jong Il were born under Kim Il Sung’s first marriage with Kim Jong Suk. Their mother died at a very young age of 32 in 1949, just three years after giving birth to Kim Kyung Hee.

Kim graduated from Kim Il Sung University, North Korea’s most prestigious university. It is here, that she met her husband, Jang Sung Taek. According to Hwang Jang Yup, North Korea’s highest level defector (former international secretary of North Korea’s Worker’s Party), the two met while studying political economics together. Mr. Hwang remembers Jang as “not a particularly good student, but as a member of the arts society he was a talented accordion player, singer and dancer. Above all, he was sensible and shrewd.” Continue reading

Two Years Later

Amidst the frenzy of North Korea’s recent rocket launch, another very important day came and passed. For many of you, this may have been just another day in your life. But whether you knew it or not, March 26th marked the second anniversary of the sinking of the Cheonan naval ship.

March 26th 2010 was just an average day for the 104 crew members of the Cheonan. They were on a routine patrol near Baekryong Island, which is an extremely tense maritime border with North Korea, when they were suddenly torpedoed. The ship tore apart into two and sank to the bottom of the sea, killing 46 soldiers. Continue reading

North Korea’s Embarrassing Rocket Launch

If you’ve kept up with the news at all, you may know about North Korea’s recent failed rocket launch. I know it’s been in the news quite a lot but I thought I’d provide a simplified version of what happened.

This past March, North Korea and the United States entered negotiations once again. The United States offered to provide 240,000 metric tons of nutritional assistance if North Korea would “freeze its nuclear and missile tests, along with uranium enrichment programs, and allow the return of U.N. nuclear inspectors.” This was big step both for North Korea and the U.S. because it meant that the North would possibly be giving up its biggest weapon and it also meant that the United States would be sending food aid to the impoverished country for the first time since 2009. It was also the first time North Korea and the U.S. had official talks since Kim Jong Un came to power. Thus, these negotiations had a lot of meaning because it would have determined DPRK’s future relationship with the United States. Continue reading

China, Refugees… and Repatriation?

If you’ve been on our blog during the past few months, you may have noticed the news articles about the North Korean refugees being held in China. These refugees have gotten international notice from human rights activists, politicians, and celebrities alike but unfortunately it may not make a difference.

Let me give you some background information on this incident. Early in February, Chinese officials arrested a group of North Korea refugees who had crossed the Sino-Korean border in order to escape the grips of the North Korean government. This issue was first exposed to the world on February 14th through Donga News. It is believed that China eventually arrested 31 refugees and their fate has been up in the air since then. Among those captured, it is said that there are young children and maybe even an infant. Many of these people have family waiting for them in South Korea, family members that can do nothing but wait for their safe arrival. Continue reading

North Korean Human Rights Bill: What Happened?

Last month I wrote about the United Nation’s resolution for North Korean human rights. In this article I also mentioned South Korea’s attempt at a similar resolution, the North Korean Human Rights Act. The bill was first introduced in 2005, again in 2008, and yet again in 2011. When I wrote the article on the U.N. resolution, it was still unclear as to what the Korean National Assembly may decide to do with the bill. But with the term of the incumbent National Assembly coming to an end, it seems that the bill will once again be shoved into the dark and forgotten.

It looked as if there may finally be some hope for the bill when it was passed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and also by the Ministry of Unification back in February of last year. But that’s as far as it has gotten since then. Its passage was fervently blocked by opposition party leaders who were concerned that it might anger North Korea. Continue reading

Nam-Nam Buk-Nyuh: The Southern Man and the Northern Woman

Joint Defector Wedding

There’s a saying in Korea about “Southern men and Northern women.” Basically, it says that men from the South of the Korean Peninsula are handsome and women from the North are beautiful. My grandmother tells me that way back when, it was favorable for a man from the southern region to marry a woman from the northern region. Apparently, people thought that northern women had the full package. However, lately, it seems that this belief is coming back. Continue reading