North Korea: report from the most closed country in the world

Pyongyang-Wonsan — Sale of flowers — one of the most lucrative business ideas of North Korea. We buy a bouquet in a stall. And put it on the site we indicate the bronze statues of Kim Il sung, the founder of the nation, and his son Kim Jong-Il, the monument is 22 meters high, located on a hill Mansa in Pyongyang.

The Kim dynasty still rules the country for nearly 70 years — now in the third generation. We are in the most closed country in the world to travel on it during the week.

This early evening to the monument receives thousands of North Koreans to faithfully Express my gratitude. All them flowers in his hands. They all bow deeply to the giant images of the presidents and generals who founded their nation. They put on their Sunday clothes, and much more have heart photos leaders. They admire, exalt, worship and praise.

Together they form a sea of subjects.

To the left of the monument are the employees that look like a group of workers from state-owned enterprises. Company with the bride and groom standing right under the banner, which reads “Down with imperialism!” They celebrate their happiest day in life. All newlyweds in Pyongyang come to the bronze statues on the wedding day.

On the right there is another slogan: “Long life to Kim Il sung!”

Kim Il sung founded North Korea in 1948 and was appointed dictator for 46 years, until his death in 1994.

“Roger!”, exclaimed miss Lee, one of our two constant companions during the journey.

“To remove only the monument as a whole!”

This is a call to the DN photographer Roger Turesson and is a soft reminder that each statue of former leaders should be removed in its entirety, not just the head or some part, to do them justice properly.

Every student in North Korea needs to learn that Kim Il sung was not only a brave soldier, and a fantastic military leader, but he had a lot of talent. For example, he was one of the leading writers of the country, a philosopher, a literary critic, a designer, a specialist in agriculture, industrialist and coach in table tennis.

His son Kim Jong Il praised for the fact that he wrote hundreds of books for a while, until I was in University, and then at least six operas. He was a prominent architect, and according to popular in North Korea, opinion, expert from God on the cinema. And they say that it will-power could influence the weather.

There are also reports that Kim Jong-UN learned to walk at age three weeks, and began to speak in eight weeks. Besides, he has absolutely superhuman talent to handle a Golf club. Some of the comments smack of the South Korean intelligence trying to make fun of its Northern neighbor.

After five years in power, Kim Jong-UN has also actively acquires the people’s unwavering glory of the same order as his grandfather and father. Furthermore, now the students of the country memorize that the country needs nuclear weapons to force the enemy to refrain from invasion.

During his visits to summer school on the East coast, to school young players, a luxury ski resort, to the exemplary agriculture and the border with South Korea has been said many words about the outstanding leader Kim Jong Yne.

I think he gave instructions as for the small and large matters. Looked in the bedrooms of boarding schools and has expressed its approval. Was behind the construction of the aquarium, high-rise residential buildings, amusement Park, ice Palace and Park of Sciences of the terminal at the airport and a facelift of the entire North Korean capital. He donated a table tennis table and encouraged the boys with his presence. But primarily it monitors the launches and development of nuclear weapons. The photographs of an outstanding leader is always showing white teeth in a happy wide smile.

The most important thing now, perhaps, the realization that never occurred to the grandfather and father of the leader is necessary in a market economy. Prosperity of Pyongyang has improved. Car traffic is increasing. On the streets now before the traffic lights traffic jams. Some restaurants offer international dishes which are worth much more than the average wage. The hotel Koryo, in a cafe to the right of way, forge business plans. The lobby includes Cutesy women with Hermes bags on hand.

In the long run, it seems, Kim Jong-UN came to the conclusion that nuclear weapons and economic development — are the conditions that will allow it to sit firmly in power. Capitalism brings more money into the wallets of an increasing number of North Koreans, but he also creates different classes of society.

That’s what our last trip and proved to be a sensitive subject for conversation. The signs of the market economy and entrepreneurship are everywhere, but to talk about the growing class of contractors, contractors, Korean donju, is is taboo.

“Entrepreneurs?” — say one of our escorts and look at each other, “What is it?”

Officially they don’t exist.

On the hill mance at the foot of two giant statues in bronze cold wind blows. The name of the hill means that this is the most healthy place in Pyongyang. The view from here is magnificent. Two kilometers away, down on the other side of the Taedong river is a monument to the birth of the workers ‘ party: the hammer symbolizes the workers, the sickle the peasants, and the brush — intelligentsia, which uses a brush for writing.

International TV channel in a hotel room broadcast news about new threats from North Korea and the growing conflict with the US. Somewhere far away in the roaring of Twitter Donald trump.

Later in the evening I stand on the balcony of the 24th floor and look at the silhouette of the North Korean capital four kilometers away. The contours, as in the metropolis, and glow in the dark. The last time I was here over ten years ago, and then at night it was as dark as the stove. The streets were deserted and the night and day. Now the smoke rises from a variety of industrial pipes. It seems that the sanctions of the surrounding world is not too have an impact there, any time of the day. The cessation of imports of military equipment, luxury cars and French cognac, a ban on the export of North Korean gold and coal, freezing international money transactions are just some of the list of fines that become longer and longer every year, which was imposed on the rebellious nation.

We can visit only those places which allow us to see our hosts, miss Li and Mr Chen.

The conditions of our stay were clearly outlined by the authorities: we can travel independently and to see the sights during the week. Of course to accompany that constantly come on the heels of us. We are allowed to visit only those places which deem it necessary to show our hosts.

We can’t even discuss with our guides those labor camps where you are from 80,000 to 120,000 prisoners being held by the totalitarian regime, according to a UN report from 2014. We have no way to meet someone of those children (nearly half of all children in the country), which, according to the UN, suffer from chronic malnutrition — which, in addition to physical harm, can affect their intellectual development.

But we can interview some people in the country they choose, and ask them about everyday things. And we drive around in the countryside too.

Our escort is a 25-year-old miss Lee, inquisitive, principled woman with a lively mind, educated in the best University in Pyongyang. It helps experienced and handsome Mr. Chen, 40 years old, very giggly and easy to communicate with us foreigners.

We drive our cars to Pyongyang in the morning rush hour. Citizens on the streets and scour the facades of their homes. The house is always in disguise this time of year, and this process is the responsibility of individual tenants. Home get a new color: blue, pink, green, yellow or red.

Apartments handing employers, often the fathers of families. The size of the home depends on the size of the family, but in fact it does not have a particularly large value, says miss Lee.

“Almost all apartments in Pyongyang in size from 100 to 200 square meters. Education, medical care and heating free,” she says.

We are taking the subway. The first day we asked to meet with the North Koreans, with anyone whom you can ask questions about all household details. Our companions understand the meaning of this, but the idea of a spontaneous interview goes strongly counter to order and the local custom to arrange in advance.

We go to the station “Prosperity” and descend deep into the earth. In times of war metro will play the role of bomb shelters. This is a beautiful metro, built in the Soviet style. Hanging from the ceiling chandelier, the walls mosaicked image of the leaders. At the stations the people crowding to read the state newspaper, hanging on the stands.

We’re going to “Honor” where to go to have a look around. Then passing the “Torch” and “Victory” and get off at “Triumph”.

Metro has two branches — Chollima and Hyoksin, which is only 17 stations. Chollima — “Tysyacheletii horse”, who daily overcomes 400 kilometers. This represents the rate of development of the Korean people, miss Lee whispers in my ear.

One of the end stations calls “Paradise,” and the station “Brother in arms”, you can transfer to the station “Victory in the war.”

Kim Kum Son, a woman of forty, talks about mundane things. She goes home to cook dinner, the Pyongyang cold noodles, my husband and ten year son. She’s coming from work, where sitting at the computer and modifies record cartoons for children on CD-ROM.

“Then I’m going to help my son with homework. It will take probably about an hour. Then watch TV, the Pyongyang channel, where there are news, and entertainment. Around ten I go to bed,” she says.

It has a balcony on which to grow flowers and a pot of kimchi, fermented Korean national dish that has a dozen variations.

Every family has a different recipe, a little more red pepper, a little less chili, sauerkraut, sourdough, and then all of this should stand for a month to gain a better taste.

Kimchi aid digestion, and as people believe, helps to control the cholesterol level in the blood.

© AFP 2016, Ed Opelastra mosaic in Pyongyang

Now Pyongyang residents banded together and grow vegetables on the roofs of their homes: lettuce, cucumber and red pepper.

When organizing a holiday on the occasion of birthday, on the table serves cakes, not so different from our Western birthday parties, but these tall cakes are composed of many layers of chocolate and oil instead of whipped cream. Any candles.

In pubs Pyongyang often have a variety of Beers from the barrels. Two to four glasses on the dollar. To him the North Korean men chew dried salted fish and squid. Women prefer the cheese balls. One Saturday night we orders a pint of stamps Rakwon, Paradis. Its taste is not too different from the taste of beer brewed in some fashion microbrewery.

On Sundays in the parks of Pyongyang arranged picnics. Sunday is also the day of sport. Family and friends gather together in my free from work day, but most often they are unable to choose what to do. Have to do a forced embellishment of residential quarters, which is held before an important date. And there are a lot of anniversaries. Here are some examples: birthday of Kim Il-sung on April 15. The birthday of Kim Jong Il on February 16. The day of the founding of the Labor party, round anniversaries. The army day. In the fall of 2015: hard work before the celebration of the 70th anniversary of the founding of the workers party. Then residents were raised at five o’clock, an hour earlier than usual, the morning song, which sounded from the street speakers. Forced labor lasted for weeks.

Another woman, young, prefers to talk about his Sunday entertainment.

“When I’m free, I meet with friends. We drink coffee or go to an apartment to someone whose parents went for a walk in the Park. We talk and listen to music,” she says.

She likes Moranbong, the girl group composed of approximately 15 girls who play musical instruments and sing, dressed in short skirts and boots. They play their own songs and doing covers of popular songs of the 1980s-90s years.

The group is considered the voice of the Labor party and in December 2015 it was sent to China with a diplomatic attempt to mitigate tensions. They left Beijing for an unknown reason before he managed to speak. Apparently, the orders came from the very top of North Korea and only contributed to the fact that relations between the neighboring countries became even colder.

In the Park on Moran hill in Central Pyongyang on Sundays fried kebabs. Kim, Eun Hyuk came there with colleagues from state enterprise. Its goal is to advance and become an outstanding engineer in the field of ferrous metallurgy.

“Then I will be able to build a career and to serve the country,” he says.

The wooden building in the Park dancing Whether Mlong Gene and his adult daughter, among approximately 50 other dancers.

“We come here often, and, today, not just Sunday, but five years since, as our independent leader Kim Jong-UN became Chairman of the defense Commission,” says Mr. Lee.

What thoughts go through your mind of the daughter during the dance?

“I’m happy. All the stress disappears. My dad has liver cancer and he is undergoing regular treatment at the hospital, but the doctor also said he had an optimistic view on life. It was a dance,” she says.

The adult daughter’s welling tears in his eyes.

At the rink, which has become a crowd puller and attracts a few thousand visitors every Sunday, young people skate in black suits with a badge of Kim Il sung on the lapel. They are looking for a mate.

“Guys want to look good, because there is a good place to with someone to meet you. Some even have someone here to meet and then get married,” says Kim sung Ho, an employee of the rink.

In nearby skatepark on roller skates ten years of Han Gwang Beom. He never mentions the name of Kim Jong-UN. A trick that he shows on the steep slope, he started work five years ago.

“I taught myself. There was no one who would teach me. We ourselves came here and trained. I learned everything by myself,” he says.

Thus, Han Kwang BOM belongs to those few citizens who did not salute their achievements the leader of the country.

At the bowling alley on the other side of the street on one wall hangs a slogan: “Make our country strong through sport!” On the other side hanging: “Fill society with optimism, turning the sport into daily routine!” Players concentrate more on his game than on political slogans.

“Do people really read this?” — I ask Mr. Chen, our chaperone.

“Of course,” he says.

Over lunch, Mr. Chen suddenly asked what I think about the United States weapons and nuclear weapons.

“Look, we are here preparing for the holiday (105 year old Kim Il sung), and the United States conducted naval exercises and preparing for war,” says Mr. Cheng and smiling broadly.

Dagens Nyheter: Why not start to invest in people, instead of nuclear weapons and military sphere?

Mr. Chen: Because all around us, China, Russia and the United States, have nuclear weapons.

Nuclear program of North Korea became thoroughly to pick up speed in the mid-1990s. it Then became a part of the game, the country negotiated hunted their own food and oil in return for a promise to cease production of nuclear weapons. In recent years, the progress had been more rapid rate, and the attitude has changed to that under which the following weapons is not something what can be traded. Now the goal of North Korea is to be recognised as a full nuclear nation.

To Donald trump’s US President practiced what they call a strategic tolerance for North Korea, but to no avail. Now trump uses more high-profile tactics. Bellicose rhetoric and threats have become increasingly from both Washington and Pyongyang. Twisting tighter spiral is worrisome. The risk of armed conflict increased. But trump, or someone from the democratic party plays the role of President of the United States — for Mr. Chen it doesn’t matter. All of them have double standards.

Rural life is quite different than in Pyongyang. Go bulls, mated pairs, in front of the plows. We drive along wide, but cordobeses country road at Wonsan, the fifth largest city in the country 20 miles from the capital. This region is a rough diamond for tourists, with beaches, ski resort and secret Hiking trails in the mountains.

People walk and ride bikes along the road. Bicycles are everywhere. The trunks of their heavily loaded bags, and a basket on the handlebars — vegetables. Machines are rare.

In the back of the truck models 1950-ies the crowd of passengers. They sit on the bags, probably heading to the nearest market. People cross the road with a burden on their backs.

In spring and autumn students from high schools and universities sent to the countryside to help the peasants in the fields. In the spring the program also includes planting trees.

“Each country has its own patriotism. In Korea it’s called patriotism of Kim Jong Il. General Kim Jong Il loved trees. Now all the spring you plant trees, students from schools and employees,” says miss Lee.

The patriotism of Kim Jong Il means that man should love his family, his school, his employer, to love the nation, she explains. And then concludes: “We are all revolutionary comrades!”

On the side of the road at the entrance to Wonsan entering meets the call: “Forward to the final revolution!” The slogan on the other side of the road says: “a Decisive victory of socialism!”

In North Korea, from slogan to slogan close.

“We believe in these messages and love our leaders, don’t call it a cult, in English it sounds negative. Our admiration is true,” says miss Lee.

She remembers that her parents told this story of President Kim Il sung when she was little. At school she and all the other students on his birthday he received gifts of fruit, sweets and sometimes school uniform. But she was too young to remember something, when he in 1994 he died and for three years was mourning.

“I’m just an ordinary Korean but feel the love of the leaders, pointing straight at me. And just as everybody else,” she assured.

I doubt it. It is her sincere belief or just propaganda, which she passes on?

Dagens Nyheter In Sweden our Prime Minister is criticized every day. It’s natural that all cannot always agree with everyone.

Miss Lee: our leader is not so. He is perfect in every detail. So it all and love — meets miss Lee, not thinking for a second.

She says that have heard that Indonesian island of Bali is a Paradise. It is also interested in the South Korean capital, Seoul, she wants to go when ever, in the indefinite future, North Korea and South Korea reunited.

“But even if I had a chance to settle in other countries, I would prefer to live here,” she says indisputable.

We are far from the Pyongyang area with skyscrapers, which foreign diplomats have called “Penichettes”. The Windows of the car wander men with bundles of firewood on their backs. In rural areas find the use of each twig.

— It is a pity that instead of missiles and nuclear weapons than invest more money into the Korean people.

— We have no choice. All countries around us have nuclear weapons, and we must defend ourselves.

But why not open borders? Many experts thought that North Korea will follow China’s example and open the borders to the outside world.


— We have already started to open up. At the same time, we need to be self-sufficient in food production. Besides, our journalists are free to travel around the country and do what you want.

— I mean the market economy, competition among enterprises. If people can earn money by offering the best products, it will help the country to develop.

— What you’re describing is the capitalist system, and it works in a capitalist country, but not from us — says our 25-year-old accompanying and looking out the window.

The insulation, which was his birthplace, describes one evening, Mr. Chen, who loves jokes and aphorisms: “Japan is afraid of one Korean, and the two Koreans are not afraid because they can not unite.”

Then he says:

“We live in a strange world. Just an hour away, in Vladivostok (Russia) have no idea what’s going on here. And we don’t know what’s going on there. The world is small and big at the same time”.

In 2011 Mr. Chen was appointed head of the North Korean engineering project in Egypt. He arrived in the country a week before the outbreak of the Arab spring. When riots broke out, he lost contact with his office at home, as couldn’t get online.

“When I finally ten days later got to my email, I discovered that my boss is very angry with me. He asked where I disappeared to, and why not let yourself be known. He knew nothing of the outbreak of the revolution.”

For companies like the North Korean protests in Egypt was a sensitive subject, and therefore passed over in silence.

“In Cairo I was the first and last time in my life saw a demonstration. In my country no one goes on marches”, — says Mr. Chan.

The flowers are not the only profitable industry of North Korea. Five years after Kim Jong UN became the head of the dynasty, there are some similarities between those changes that have taken place in the country, and what happened in China in the 1980s.

The economy in North Korea is still far behind. Outside of Pyongyang poverty is very high. The difference in income per capita between North and South Korea is at least 15, maybe 30 times. In any case, this difference is the largest between the two neighbours.

Smokescreen concealing the real circumstances, however, thick. The sizes of apartments, public wages and food rations (which are still heard people) — how are they really great? Officially, one dollar is worth 100 yen on the black market — about 8,000 yen. State salary reaches, probably from 2 to 20 dollars per month. Do you believe North Korean propaganda? Even foreigners who had lived in Pyongyang for several years, do not know the answer to this question.

Sometimes it seems like you’re going around the theater the scenes. But the fact that Pyongyang grows social class of entrepreneurs, that’s for sure.

This new class is visible to the naked eye in a beautiful café in the hotels and in the most expensive restaurants in the city. At the crosswalk waiting for the green man stands a woman, dressed in clothes and shoes that were definitely not made in North Korea — probably some designer brand in the West.

Many of those who know what’s going on, to play along with this for their own benefit.

Entrepreneurs often retain positions in politics or in military service, through which they provide the contacts with abroad and try to attract foreign capital to North Korea. In the newly formed grey area they conduct their private Affairs in parallel with the official. They are trying to take over this trade, from trade apartments, which are officially not sold, to consumer products from China.

“In Pyongyang, a large part of the population began to look through the system in rural areas that might otherwise,” says a Chinese businessman from Beijing, who has much experience in trading with North Korea.

He does not want to risk their future deals, and therefore, asked not to specify his name in the paper. But from his descriptions I conclude that now North Korea like never before easy to be a capitalist.

“To be able to run a business, they pay bribes to officials at various levels. Corruption is very common, but for North Korea it is useful that the money is distributed to society,” says a Chinese businessman.

He has connections at the departmental level, as well as private friends in North Korea. So I ask, extol whether the North Koreans are also immensely their leaders and each other as we heard during his visit. Or are they just saying that to strangers?

“In bureaucratic offices, the staff can remind each other: don’t forget the instructions of our distinguished leader, Kim Jong-UN,” says Beijing businessman.

This call in these times means that North Korea needs to attract more foreign tourists to earn hard currency.

“But when you meet ordinary people, they talk to each other like regular people, and not about the leaders,” he says.

Chinese businessman also told about the massive applause that erupted at a Japanese restaurant in Pyongyang when the country last year launched one of his many rockets.

“The guests cheered standing up. They are nationalists,” he says.

Experiment with a market economy is not new. He began in the district in 2002. During my last trip to North Korea, I visited the private market. There in the first place were sold because they were easier to get away from their government jobs, than men. Today changes are more distinct. Kim Jong-UN, appears to have stimulated the development and externally, seems to want to make their subjects more exciting life than his father and grandfather, putting a priority on the construction of entertainment complexes, water parks, ski resort, a Dolphinarium and a skatepark where he performs his own stunts Han Gwang Beom.

First of all, Kim Jong UN realized the danger: the risk that the North Korean people widely know about how underdeveloped their country is. Then the Affairs of the family, Kim can go bad.

Therefore, the development of a market economy should gain momentum. Collective agriculture began to give part of the crop implementation for farmers. But this conversion does not take place in the form of a formal team development forward. Rather, it is a policy that boils down to the fact that the government turns away and looks the other way, saying nothing.

Ideologically questionable word “reform” is considered improper to pronounce. It could Herald changes and lead to subversive activities in the society. If the public begin to doubt the state ideology, the regime will be harder to control the people. This, perhaps, is the reason that according to the official instructions, everything seems to pretend that no reform happens.

To speak about measures to improve the economy, rather normal.

The development has led to the fact that North Korea has made it easier to cope with the fines of the world in connection with its nuclear tests and missile launches. Pride is undeniable.

“The more serious sanctions become, the stronger our economy,” Lee said Sol Hu, chief of the lower floor of the Mirae Department store.

She argues that sanctions strengthen the underlying philosophy of the North Korean society. None of the people in the world have not learned so well to cope with their own difficulties, as the North Koreans.

According to the ideology of Juche on which Kim Il sung had been using the calendar from 1912, the year of his birth, which was the first — inhabitants of the country should be masters of their own destiny. The country should be independent politically and militarily, but also economically self-sufficient.

For six of the seven days of our escorts prefer to pretend that in the year 106 by the Juche calendar in the country did not become much bloom capitalism. But last night, Mr. Chen said that now the company got the opportunity to determine the price and compete with each other.

“Companies have smart leaders and skilled engineers, can earn more money than before. It also means higher salaries and bonuses for employees. Opportunities are great,” he says.

Our entire last day in North Korea, we spent visiting the art Studio Mansudae, the best in the country. Us welcomes a characteristic mosaic. It is Kim Il sung in his trademark coat. Next to him is his son, Kim Jong-Il, dressed in a brown uniform, buttoned up to the chin. So we saw them every day during the week.

On a chair in her Studio, among the other members of the team, sitting the artist Lee Liong GUI, intending to finish an oil painting depicting a happy railway working in the North country, which he observed during one month last year. He himself participated in the work.

The story tells about the working, who sings and plays guitar during the break between the hard work.

“I want to capture the atmosphere during a break in production, something that shows optimism. I love stories with the workers,” says the artist.

But the new urban capitalists he seems to portray soon. For a collective of artists it is important to have a great reputation. In the Studio and made huge bronze statues of the leaders. Those who praised, adored, glorified throughout the country, and who is best known for its 22-metre version, which rises on the mountain just a few miles away.

In the backyard of the Studio we see the test. Tested a new coating applied to large sculptures with strange facial features. The goal is obvious. New coatings are being developed to give the desired Shine and strength to the next generation of statues of the Kim family — those to better withstand bad weather, wind and the onslaught of time.

In a hotel room in Pyongyang the same day, the international TV channel shows again the plot of North Korea. The threat is serious, says a reporter from Seoul. Expert wrinkles his brow in heavy thought. With the help of nuclear weapons, he says, Than Kim Eun wants to insure himself from the fate of Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi.

Some of the names in the report changed to protect their owners.