Final thoughts

Having almost exhausted the possibilities for things to say about the detail of the DPRK trip, it's worth putting together a few final thoughts on the situation in North Korea, and have a crack at some analysis. It's okay, it'll only be a couple of paragraphs.

The regime in North Korea is going to be tough to dislodge. Kim Jong Il is firmly entrenched in power, and has created such a climate of fear that there are few who are prepared to challenge him. It is evident that Kim Jong Il enjoys tremendous popular support from his people, and regardless of how mischeivious the techniques have been to achieve this, people strongly identify with him and will not easily be persuaded to support an opposing force. If only there was an opposing force.

There is no organised opposition group whatsoever that could be identified. This is little wonder given that it is known amongst the population that the penalty for opposing KJI is to be banished to the political prisons which dot the northern part of the country, possibly along with successive generations of family members. All senior figures are therefore, publicly at least, highly supportive of the regime. It is possible that deep within the KPA or the KWP that there is a clique in opposition to the regime, but it will be near impossible for it to act on it's anti-KJI sentiments. Decades of glorification of the Kims as well as the threat of severe punishment has left civil society within DPRK non-existant.

As to the nuclear situation, things are no clearer having gone into DPRK than they were beforehand. Our guide confirmed the statement made by the government on Feb 10, which confirmed its nuclear status, but said little on the subject beyond that. There is plenty of conjecture on the subject, but it seems fair to assume that DPRK has nuclear capacity, or is not far away from acquiring it. Rather than possession nuclear weapons for the purpose of using them, the North Koreans are possessiong them to strengthen their bargaining position for any future negotiations. The more of a threat the DPRK is, the more it can demand diplomatically and financially from the rest of the world. The withdrawl of North Korea from the six-party talks last month will be temporary, since it doesn't serve the DPRK's interests to kill off the bargaining process which will eventually give it what it wants.

Ultimately, the Kim Jong Il regime is focussed on self-preservation. The suggestion has recently been aired that the rest of the world will has to make a choice - either push for the end of nuclear weapons in North Korea, or push for the removal of Kim Jong Il, but that achieving the daily double is unlikely, at least in the short term. Taking self-preservation sa the objective, the DPRKers may well cut a deal along the lines of "we'll give up our nukes, so long as you don't make us the next Iraq", hence ensuring that the regime will be around for a while yet.

Presuming that one day the North Korean regime collapses, the next question to be confronted is that of how to integrate two Koreas into one. The effort required to bring North Korea up to the first world living standards that are currently enjoyed in the south. The infrastructure in the North seems poor, and will need plenty of investment. Industry is very unsophisticated, and will need to improve. For reunification to succeed, the rest of the world will need to give a blank cheque to the new Korea if it is to be a success. A massive cost, but it will be worth every Won if it works.

One day Korea will be one, and the journey from Seoul to Pyongyang will be a languid day trip taken by families carrying picnic baskets filled with kimchi. For now, the Korean peninsula is at the front line of one of the most dangerous disputes the planet has known. Resolution is a long and tricky path, but can ultimately be achieved - what is needed is a two-step solution. The first objective needs to be one of containment, stripping DPRK of its nuclear weapons and reducing the immediate threat. The second step needs to happen some time later, with the ending of the Kim regime, either through voluntary reunification or the application of force, to acheive the same end. Either way, the days of KJI and his thugs are numbered, though the countdown has a while to go yet.

Pyongyang postcard

One last thing...

Three weeks after it was sent, my postcard from Pyongyang arrived at my home in Australia. Curious to see just how sensitive the North Korean satire-meter was, I wrote this mildly amusing piece of smartarsery on the back:

Looks like satire is okay.



I hope you are all well in the land of Oz. Here people are happy, food is plentiful, architecture is tasteful and I'm an alien. We've had great fun all day celebrating the birthday of Dear Leader Kim Jong Il who runs the joint. Lucky Kim!!


Lucky for me, it got through.


Anonymous said…
Dude, maybe you should make sure the post-card picture is pixelated so it doesn't reveal your address?

With its vast and growing readership, is it not unlikely that some NK agents or disgruntled Aussie Kim fans might come across your blog. Isn't it possible that after reading all the "mildly amusing smart-arsery" you've written they might wanna track you down at 21 Widford st and kill you?

Not that I, one of the 'silent minority' (of readers) think your blog is that bad, mind you.
Typical for people to always be so negative about the DPRK, and to make fun of the country. As you can see the postcard got through, and yes, Ari will be allowed to re-enter the country so he can make more negative comments.

Anonymous said…
Overall, the most brilliant and entertaining piece of web journalism I have ever seen. Especially compared to some of the political crap currently going around.

This NK story has kept me up far too late, and has fascinated me the whole way through.

You should submit it to lonely planet or something.

A great read, all the best in your future endeavours.
Anonymous said…

this little data goldmine is UNESCO data on origin and destination countries of foreign students.

Over 42,000 North Koreans have studied overseas in the period 1998/99 to 2002/03- including around 200 in our wide brown land. The mind is boggled...

DSen said…
Truly the most amazing blog I've ever had the occasion to persuse!! And don't you worry about ****ers like Bjornar, who actually has his picture taken in front of a North Korean flag. Let's see if he is willing to forsake the comforts of Norway and live in the Communist thugocracy that is the DPRK. Now, that would be interesting!
Independent said…

This is by far the greatest piece I've ever read about DPRK. Get published.
Corey said…
I read through you your entire North Korea travelogue earlier today. It gave me something to do during a very slow day at the office. Anyway, you did a wonderful job of making it feel like we were with you on the trip. Very interesting reading...and incredibly fascinating. Great photos as well :)
Evil Muppet said…
This blog was great. Thanks for coming back here and posting the truth about the regime. There are some crazy individuals and comumnists who are trying to spread pro-Kim propaganda. For the sake of the North Korean people, the truth must come out. It was very entertaining to read byt the way.
Anonymous said…
your writings enthralled from beginning to end. good work.
Anonymous said…
Hey Bjornar,

If just once your DPRK handlers would simply let people go somewhere free of interference, deviant rants like yours might be taken seriously.
milono77 said…
Sorry that it's too late for me to read your blog, been four years since it was published. Things may have been changed from your story in 2005 (particularly since the higher tension upon the rocket launch plans recently), but given the fairly-outdated living situations in DPRK, it is very likely that these changes are very few.

I am also the one who finds your blog very interesting. Yours is by far the most comprehensive story I've found about DPRK in the net. It is quite objective and forthright, I presume, not any negative intention whatsoever. Besides, having experienced a country that's been discreetly suppressed from the rest of the world for decades firsthand, words of prejudice and bias reviews in your story, if any, (well, at least for big fans of the Kim dynasty) are somehow inevitable, right?

Hey, I also find your analysis very inspiring. It's a great point of view. Stories (not political or propaganda craps) about North Korean experience are still scarce today. Why don't you go on submitting the story and make your own book about it?

Great work, dude. I also wish you the best on your future endeavours. Keep exploring and writing, Ari!
johnm said…
I see Bjornar Simonsen has posted. He's affiliated with North Korea. Search for "N Korea Junket" or go to the following url for some video smuggled out of the country on a trip he helped lead. After taking alarm at a journalist (college student) suggesting N Korea doesn't have enough food due to their isolation, he had the student's room broken into and his video stolen. You can see him acting a thug in the remaining video, including an interview with the student.

Funny that he should complain about "negativity" when he's one of the thugs perpetuating N. Korea's image. Search "N Korea Junket" its towards the end
John F. Juche said…
Very interesting account. As someone who obviously knows the score about NK and has traveled there, I'd like your opinion:

Is it moral to travel to North Korea?

When you fork over 1500-3000 euros for your trip, that's hard currency that's going somewhere--probably right into the regime's coffers. Like I said, you know the score, you've done the trip. How do you feel?

I don't ask to cast judgment. I myself would love to visit NK but can't bring myself to financially support such a monstrous regime. But I'd like to hear the opinion of someone who's been there.

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