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Valar Qringaomis

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Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Adulation for the Kims / Fences vs Curtains

BBC Radio 4 - From Our Own Correspondent, What is Truth? What is Fantasy?

"It's a world of pythonesque absurdity. I've just come up in the lift at the Kim Chaek university of technology. There is a lift attendant, but the lift is automatic. I could've just pressed a button for a floor. So, I wondered aloud, why have an attendant in an automatic lift? To prevent accidents, I was told. Our students are very precious.

I'm here in the land of the Supreme Leader, Marshall Kim Jong Un, with an European aristocrat, his Serene Highness, Prince Alfred of Liechtenstein. Prince Alfred is driven round in a black Mercedes. He propounds his message of peace in the lecture halls of Pyongyang under pictures of... Kim Il Sung and his son and successor, Kim Jong Il.

These icons are everywhere. There is a heriditary system here and the rulers have a religious aura. Prince Alfred believes very strongly in dialogue, that's why he's here. He thinks much about morality. He told me he tended not to eat meat unless he'd shot it himself. He points out that housing and education are free for the citizens of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea - a surreal title in itself - this place is not democratic.

How I wonder can he know the truth of the place? How can any of us from the outside?

We're given tours of hospitals and universities but it's hard to know how much is being staged. When I walked into the computer room at Kim Il Sung university, the Google homepage seemed to be up on many of the screens, but a bit of probing of the students' knowledge and skills revealed that at least some of them were not that familiar with the internet.

Are the children singing in the grandiose school children's palace there for the education for which the place is officially designated, or are they there for the Western visitors? Are the worshippers in the Anglican church genuine believers or are they part of a performance done for outsiders? Was the power cut in our part of town the other night an innocent malfunction, or was it a created darkness to mask tanks rumbling into the city for the great celebrations around the Workers' Party Congress?

I still don't know, but the perpetual puzzle and incongruity is disconcerting. It throws me off balance. You start whispering to friends in rooms. You wonder who's looking over your shoulder, or listening just outside that door. Pyongyang surprises.

Oh look - there's David Attenborough on television in Kew Gardens, voiced over in Korean. People speak more English than I expected - they laugh at jokes by English-speaking lecturers before a translator delivers the Korean version.

North Korea is stereotyped. The regime is repressive - no doubt about that. But it's not the whole story.

I watched a group of girls feeding ducks at a park. I was too far away for them to have noticed me. I watched them quietly as they crossed to a pair of statues of Kim Jong Il and Kim Il Sung. The father and grandfather of the current leader. These girls stood stock still reverently in front of the images. After some time, they turned and walked away. Their eyes were moist. Some will say brainwashing but I believe those tears were genuine. Do not doubt the loyalty North Koreans feel towards their country...

Hungary is again erecting fences. And Arpad Bella, the man who broke the Iron Curtain, supports that policy. In 1989, we buried an empire here, he says. But now it seems we're entering a new era in which as a consequence of globalisation and liberalisation, we appear to be digging ourselves a new grave"
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