A Rare Report from Inside North Korea

I have been fascinated over the last couple of days by BBC Newsnight‘s reports about the country of North Korea, which is widely regarded as one of the world’s most secretive countries.

Reporter Sue Lloyd-Roberts and the BBC’s camera crew were given a rare opporunity to visit the country to find out what life is like inside North Korea. The visit coincided with celebrations marking the birthday of the “Great Leader“, Kim Il-sung, the founder of the country who died in 1994.

She writes in an article on the Newsnight website:

As we arrived at Pyongyang’s airport our mobile phones were confiscated and throughout our stay in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea there was no access to the internet.

At the hotel our government minders had booked rooms alongside ours, and on the one occasion that we tried to leave without them we were reported and reprimanded.

From exchanges with our minders, we also learned that our rooms were bugged.

Sue Lloyd-Roberts/BBC Newsnight
Life Inside the North Korean Bubble

University students explained that other world leaders they have heard of include Stalin and Mao Zedong. However they have never heard of Nelson Mandela! Meanwhile at the nursery, the children were learning songs teaching them that they are the happiest people on Earth.

A further report was broadcast last night, this time, it came from South Korea, one of Asia’s most affluent countries, with more broadband connections per person than anywhere else in the world. The South is one of the world’s most communications-aware countries of the world:

If I find this country baffling, imagine what it must be like for some 3000 North Koreans who arrive here every year, from one of the most isolated, uninformed and unconnected country in the world.

Sue Lloyd-Roberts/BBC Newsnight

The BBC spoke to people who had fled from North Korea. All new arrivals from the North spend months in government schools, learning how to cope with the 21. century. They told of how they had crossed into China, and and worked in order to pay guides to take them to the South Korean embassy in Bankok, Thailand. From there they could get a flight into South Korea.

When shown the video footage filmed in the North, those who had fled said how what had been filmed wasn’t what they knew of North Korea… “We never had that much food! I noticed bannanas. I never saw bannanas in the North”, explained one.

Another said… “The kindergarten kids don’t appear to have any health problems. No ordinary kindergarten looks like that. There’s no room to play inside – only outside, and the children are very thin and malnourished”.

You can watch both reports on the BBC iPlayer (Tuesday and Wednesday’s editions); I’m sure that, like me, you will be interested to see the contrast between the two countries…

Fred Hart

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