Friday, 19 June 2009

Another Look at the DPRK

The Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) has been the subject of a great deal of criticism for many years. Most of the "news" channels of the Western world tend to repeat the same stories over and over again until most people hardly ever stop to question what they are hearing or seeing. Some of the most popular criticisms are that thousands of people are starving to death, no criticism of the government is tolerated, and that the country is still living in the Stone Age.

I have recently had the opportunity to review some literature that was published fairly recently in the DPRK. More specifically, I am referring to the Korea Today magazine and to The Pyongyang Times. I was struck by how different such literature is when comparing it to several magazines that are printed in other countries (including Malta).

First and foremost, when flipping through the pages, one does not come across countless pages that advertise things that are often beyond the reach of several people. With reference to some of the local publications that are included in the Sunday newspapers, if one had to tear out the pages showing the adverts, one is left with very little reading material.

Second, I was impressed by the content itself. In strongly capitalist countries, numerous magazines focus on the lives of a handful of ultra-rich individuals (company directors, singers, etc.). In such publications, the individual is frequently given much more importance than the society in which they live. A magazine such as Korea Today, on the other hand, is packed with articles about social issues. Furthermore, the individual is almost always depicted as a member of the collective.

In order to show the difference between the literature that is often found in North Korea and that found in strongly capitalist countries, I decided to focus on an article entitled If They Could See Their Houses. The latter focused on Kwangmyong Village, where 35 blocks of houses were specifically constructed for blind people. The article states that "Officials of the district People's Committee and the district Workers' Party of Korea committee decided to build houses for the blind residents first as part of the plan to facelift streets and villages in the district as required by the new century. They had always given primary thought to the blind working at the Sungho Kwangmyong Daily Necessities Factory. With the blind in their district, they had acquainted themselves with every article of the DPRK law on protecting the handicapped whereby they are to be treated preferentially by the public and their life is to be taken responsible care of by the state, and put the articles into practice" (Korea Today, 2, Juche 98 [2009],p. 24). Sadly, it seems that such articles are never mentioned by the most popular "news" channels in the Western world.

It is not true that the literature published in North Korea never deals with certain problems. I have, for example, seen articles that mentioned the food problems that affected the DPRK between 1995 and the year 2000. The difference between these articles and the ones that are usually found in capitalist countries tends to be characterised by the analyses that are carried out; a person who is interested in overthrowing the DPRK's socialist government is likely to argue that any food problems were caused because of the Workers' Party of Korea and might even come up with a few figures that are quite hard to verify whereas a more rigorous study of North Korea's situation during the aforementioned years would indicate that many natural disasters as well as various economic sanctions did contribute to a certain degree of hardship for several people in the DPRK. Such problems do not, however, suggest that socialism does not work and that the government led by the Workers' Party of Korea should be overthrown so that it could be replaced by a capitalist party.

Talking about food problems, I have recently discovered a website called Feeding America. According to the latter, "for 1 in 8 Americans, hunger is a reality. Many people believe that the problems associated with hunger are confined to small pockets of society, certain areas of the country, or certain neighborhoods, but the reality is much different.

Right now, millions of Americans are struggling with hunger. We all know and are in contact with people affected by hunger, even though we might not be aware of it.

These are often hard-working adults, children and seniors who simply cannot make ends meet and are forced to go without food for several meals, or even days. Most of us simply have no idea. It’s time to educate ourselves about America’s hunger problem." (italics added for emphasis)

In spite of the alarming food situation for millions of individuals in the US, it is hard to come across an article or a feature on one of the popular TV channels that asserts that the US government should be overthrown in order to solve this problem!!!

The aim of this article is not to say that there are no problems in the DPRK. The objective is to get more people to question what life is really like in that part of the world. And to reflect about the fact that just because the government in the DPRK opposes capitalism, it does not mean that it is evil.


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