Last September I visited South Korea and went to the Demilitarised Zone. I have learned of propaganda, extreme horror, poverty, nuclear tests and crimes against people. It was one of the most eye opening experiences I have had in my life and that was just a glimpse of the truth that sits behind the North Korean borders.
North Korea is one of the world’s most repressive countries. The grotesque dynasty that rules the country can’t even feed their own people whose basic freedom and access to needs have been severely restricted. After the collapse in 1945 of the Japanese empire, the Soviet Red Army occupied the north, and the U.S. occupied the south. The Soviets installed a really obscure Korean communist, Kim Il-sung as leader of North Korea and that’s when it got from bad to worse. Worshipping Kim Il-sung and his son and now even his grandson, as Korean gods became part of the state religion. While being there I couldn’t help to notice how with that Soviet invasion once one country became divided. It’s just horrific to watch how one side is growing and evolving into one of the most powerful economies of the world and the other is literally starving.
North Korea operates secret prison camps where people are violently tortured, abused and forced into hard labour. It follows a 'three generations of punishment' rule, meaning that if one person violates the law or is send to prison, their children, parents and grandparents are send to work with them.
This really is a closed society and most its people live in extreme poverty. If you google satellite pictures of Asia at night you won’t even see North Korea as people barely have electricity there! The Internet is limited to a very small circle of the elite. They also have their own operating system and the content is pre-filtered by the state. They can’t wear blue jeans, watch Hollywood movies, read other than pre-approved books and people can be jailed simply for not being sufficiently upset after death of their leader.
The Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) is literally world’s most dangerous border that splits the Korean peninsular in half creating a buffer zone between North and South Korea. You can read about it online and learn its history so I am not going to repeat it here. You will find there several buildings with rooms on both the North and the South side. These rooms provide a relatively neutral platform for face-to-face political negotiations between both Koreas. If they can ever get it organised tho…
Before we got there we had a little lecture where the rules were clearly established: there is a strict dress code; don’t point here, don’t wave there: no laughing or giggling: don’t provoke the North Koreans, as they will definitely shoot you: sign this waiver as you’re heading into a volatile area and you may get killed (!!!). Finally, we can only stay the for five minutes as it’s too dangerous otherwise and you will have 30 seconds to take a picture. At some point it all felt a little bit funny, almost like our tiny group of visitors would immediately cause a nuclear war. I don't think anyone really understood or believed the seriousness of the situation. At least not until we got to the boarder and they asked us to stand in one line, facing the North and having the guns pointed at us..my blood froze.
Afterwards when we drove to a safe viewing point, the solider who was with us managed even a smile and told us about a fake propaganda village called Kijong-dong that was built in the 1950’s after the Korean war to put up the front of a peaceful, prosperous place and to encourage people from the South to defect. I really couldn’t look past the irony in North Korea going to these lengths to create the idea of heaven on earth and the only place where people can be truly free. In reality, the buildings had no glass in their windows and the electric lights (a luxury that is unheard of to rural North Koreans) were operated on an automatic timer and propaganda music was played at all times. There was also a flag that grows every year to always be bigger and higher than the one on the South Korean side.
Interestingly there is a wee village inside the DMZ with less than 50 homes and only approximately 200 people. The only people who can populate the village are direct descendants of the people who were there originally. The soldiers said that this is the richest village in the whole South Korea as they are being subsidised and don’t pay taxes.
Another interesting fact is that North Korea build a number of infiltration tunnels with one being as close as 44 km away from South Korean capital! We went to one of them and it was crazy to see how close they managed to get. They even had the guts to deny creating them.
North Korea invests most of its money in nuclear weapons and while we are there, they successfully carried out their fifth nuclear test, which was against the UN's resolutions! South Korean soldiers informed us that it was the North's biggest-ever test, raising fears they have made significant nuclear advances. Not to mention how disturbing it felt to be there while the whole peninsula was shaken by the underground explosion.
The tragedy of Korea is that no one really wishes or can change its current situation. China wants to keep North Korea as a buffer state, and fears millions of refugees spilling over its boarders. The South Koreans could never afford to absorb North Korea and survive economically. And no-one else would pay to clean up the mess. Look what is happening with Syrian refugees who are fighting for their right to live and no one wants to truly help.
This video went viral in Hong Kong where we were just a few days ago. This young lady shares her story and urges people to not be ignorant, to ask questions, to educate themselves about the situation in North Korea, to help! As otherwise the North Korea’s population will continue to suffer tyranny, and the fear of nuclear war will still be there.