Sunday, 26 December 2010

Hell on Earth

Prompted by the missile incident that occured on 23 November 2010 and the recent rigged presidential election in Belarus, I began reading about authoritarian and totalitarian regimes. The one which gripped my attention most was North Korea – the most isolated country in the world and the last Stalinist regime on the whole planet. While reading through some articles, I ran across mentioning in passing a Polish documentary depicting the regime - Defilada, by Andrzej Fidyk.

The short (65 minutes) documentary was shot in 1989, when North Korea was celebrating 40 years of its existence. The festivities coincided with Olympic games in Seoul in 1988 and were meant to outshine the sporting event. The director was allowed in North Korea and shot a striking film. He deliberately shot it and left to the audience. Not a single word of comment has been added, a sinister picture of life in the country is being shaped in a viewer’s head. Shots of lavish parades are interspersed throughout scenes from daily life and utterances of North Koreans who speak about their lives dedicated to Kim Il-Sung, hereinafter “the Great Leader”.

The most shocking phenomenon that permeates everything in North Korea is the cult of personality. Ubiquitous Great Leader’s presence is felt at every corner. What the North Koreans speak about The Great leader is nothing but gruesome twaddle, similar to the one known from Stalinist Poland, but much worse.

The North Korean’s mindset is a result of years of brainwashing which has its onset short of after the moment of birth. From the age of around 3, children at nursery school study childhood, early life and accomplishments of the Great Leader. Belief that Kim Il-Sung is a half-god is instilled in children from the earliest stage of their life, when they take in everything they are told. The regime’s excellence at social engineering is truly dreadful. Further on, the indoctrination continues to turn out fairly deranged citizens who venerate the Great Leader.

The right word to use in the context of cult of personality in the country is reverence. The Great Leader is revered. North Koreans would be even ready to go on pilgrimage to a toilet bowl on which he sat (this is not said in the film). The description of the Great Leader, spread by omnipresent propaganda apparatus, reminds of Chuck Norris jokes, which spurred peals of laughter in Poland and across the world some five years ago. The most disarming one was that of the Great Leader who came to an institute of technology and solved problems too difficult even for most outstanding scientists.

According to official propaganda, North Korea is a land of milk and honey. No wonder the authorities want to spare its citizens suffering caused by seeing the outer world and do not allow them out of the country. The land where things go on much worse is the neighbouring South Korea, a fascist country enslaved by imperialist occupiers from the United States.

Just after the armistice was signed in 1953, the demilitarised zone between two countries was created. The border between two Korean countries is said to be the best protected border in the world. The existence of Korean Wall (not as notorious as Berlin Wall) remains a subject of disputes, but it surely has its place in North Korean propaganda. Before the wall was erected, some despaired South Koreans battered by American occupiers fled their country to seek asylum in the land of milk and honey. Now the concrete wall is the obstacle and helpless South Koreans have to stay imprisoned by cruel capitalist regime.

It cannot sink in to me that North Korean really believe in the whole shit there are told about their Great Leader and the country they live in. In socialist Poland virtually everyone, including comrades from the PZPR knew that whole “superiority of socialism over capitalism” is just an ideological rubbish. No other totalitarian country has managed to shape mindsets of its citizens as expertly as regime of North Korea has done.

Post-stalinist Poland, run by Mr Gomulka, Mr Gierek and Mr Jaruzelski, in comparison to North Korea appears as an oasis of freedom (therefore I argue it should not be called totalitarian, but authoritarian country). And socialist Poland was a part of the Soviet bloc, its bad fate after WW2 was a result of political decisions of movers and shakers (the main player in the game of dividing Europe was Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt succumbed to his demands). Poland could not leave it for political and military reasons without running the risk of being brought to a heel by fellow bloc members; while North Korea’s torment results now, after the Soviet Union fell apart and China rejected Maoism, from the decisions of its own leaders (or to put it bluntly some obsessed mobsters).

I wonder if fear is an indispensable element of life of North Korea. For us, no doubt, it is, but we must not forget North Koreans were brought up in the system based on fear and their perception of reality is so distorted that they may not realise what they feel is fear (a vague concept I am trying to convey, I know it is hard to me to put it in words). I will not hazard a guess they have learnt to get on with fear. Fugitives from North Korea have to undergo a long-lasting process of rehabilitation to function in a normal society properly.

This brutally proves the cruelty of North Korean regime. How inhuman the Great Leader’s son must be to spent millions of US dollars on uranium enrichment programme, while millions of North Koreans are starving?

The only explanation of how people keep on living in North Korea is that they get by because they have never experienced freedom and have never seen how a normal country functions. They take all absurdities and degeneration as natural. Maybe some of them even experience some kind of happiness drawn from family life. Surely the unawareness of living standards in civilised world eases their pain.

The question how to handle North Korea is a pain in the world’s neck. World leaders cannot shrug off its existence, as long as it threatens to use its alleged nuclear weapons. The cruel tormentors who run the country could, in the most simple view, be wiped off this world with the benefit to everyone. Even in case of (Heaven forbid) nuclear war, resorting to use of bombs to annihilate leaders of North Korea (probably in vain, as they would stay safe in bunker hideouts) would mean killing thousands (or millions) of innocent people. A few times it occurred to me that wiping North Korea off the map would put 23 million of citizens of the country out of their misery. I know it is cruel, but faced with a choice of living in North Korea as a native, I think I would consider putting myself out of misery.

Bringing down (somehow) the totalitarian regime would not translate into freeing the country. The problem would remain and apart from economic costs of aid for North Korea, the goal to teach North Koreans, dehumanised by years under the Great Leader’s and his son’s rule, how to function in a normal society could be unattainable. Those people do not await liberation, but we can hold out hopes for economic crisis that would topple the government. All communist regimes fell down because of economic difficulties and North Korea has to follow the same path, although it will be much more complicated.


adthelad said...

"I wonder if fear is an indispensable element of life of North Korea"

Not only in North Korea. oraz for clarification :)

Decoy said...

Seeing as North Korea has featured somewhat in your recent posts here - I think you'd enjoy reading about an Austrian guy who took a train across Russia and into North Korea a few years ago, and he managed to travel in North Korea without the usual visa and travel 'guide' who controlled the trip:

He managed to get as close to a real-life view of North Korea as any foreigner may get, especially a Westerner.

I read it a few months ago and enjoyed it thoroughly