My fascination with all things Chinese and Japanese goes right back into my teenage years and my interest in all things Korean began a bit later. It began in the late 1980s when I was still a teenager in Belfast. This was at a time when there was no such thing as the Internet and books about Korea were few and far between. And there was no possibility whatever of getting my hands on any Korean newspapers.
Coincidentally, the 1988 Olympic Games were taking place in Seoul so there was plenty about capitalist South Korea on the TV and radio, but precious little about communist North Korea. And this made me all the more interested in the North. I got my first glimpse into the DPRK in December 1989 when a school friend of mine got me two DPRK periodicals from the library at Queen’s University.
Now, if any supporters of Kim Jong-il’s regime happen to be reading this post, they would be well-advised to stop now.
A part of me would like to believe that the DPRK is the Socialist dream come true, that Communism really can work under the right administration.
But the DPRK is not Communist at all. It is an odious Stalinist dictatorship, at the centre of which is the grotesque personality cult of Kim Il-sung. It is not self-sufficient as “Juche” ideology says. It is bankrupt and its people are hungry, brainwashed and paranoid.
This country is a prime example of a dystopia. No one familiar with the novels of George Orwell, Aldous Huxley or Franz Kafka would want to have anything to do with this country.
So what is it about the DPRK that I like? Could it be the novelty of the place? The fact that I’d be guaranteed a job, even if it’s boring and back-breaking? Or is it because there’s a proper culture there and not the merest sign of American junk “culture”?