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[Opinion] An “Affluent” North Korea

Posted May. 12, 2007 08:26,   


Pictures of straight freeways, high-rise buildings, downtown upscale apartment complexes, subway platforms, dressed-up family outings, zoos, skating rinks, women in fur, and fashion shows. Who would think these are images of Pyongyang, the capital of the poor and hungry hinterland of North Korea. Is that really the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, which meagerly survives on food, fertilizer, and medicine from the South? These are far cry from the truths we know about the communist country. However, the Education Center for Unification, an arm of the Unification Ministry, depicted it as such in its photo illustration book: “North Koreans’ lives in pictures.”

The picture book was also made into an e-book and posted on the Internet web page of the Unification Ministry’s Cyber Unification Education Center (www.uniedu.go.kr). Consisting of four parts focusing on the urban/rural economy, school life, holidays, and daily lives, the book contains pictures with brief information captions. Looking at these pictures, one might question why we have to help such an affluent country. Nuclear and missile development by such a “peaceful” country sounds out of the question. It is hard to understand why the center copied and printed Pyongyang’s propaganda materials.

The confusion culminates in parts covering sophisticated school facilities, extra-curricular activities, language classes run by Westerners, and religious activities by Christians, Catholics, and Buddhists. Anyone could take the country that brainwashes its people with Juche ideology for a democratic nation respecting creativity and diversity.

A staff member at the center said that they used pictures on good authority. However, that cannot explain why it turned a blind eye to the reality of the “world’s most repressive society” as named by international human rights group Freedom House. Honestly, the images are just what North Korea wants to see. Reportedly, Gwanchon Middle School students in Imsil, North Jeolla Province were shocked by video clips of emaciated North Korean children and shoplifting by North Korean boys wandering around the China-DPRK border. As it happened, Gwanchon is the very school where the pro-North Korean Teachers and Educational Worker`s Union supported a DPRK communist partisan rally. So much for brotherhood; now we need realistic approach in unification education more than anything.

Yuk Jeong-su, Editorial Writer, sooya@donga.com