Saturday, 5 January 2013

I have just finished reading

two books about daily life in North Korea - insofaras anyone can write about such things.
The first was "The Hidden People of North Korea - Everyday Life in the Hermit Kingdom (Ralph Hassig and Kongdan Oh  2009) and the second was "Nothing to Envy - Ordinary Lives in North Korea" (Barbara Demick 2009).
Neither made pleasant reading but they were useful for my purposes. I was left feeling depressed. All the writers make it clear that getting any information, especially accurate information, about North Korea is difficult.
The capacity of foreigners to gather any information is extremely limited. They need to rely on accounts from defectors (who naturally have their own agenda), diplomats (who have limited channels of information) and what they can observe by other means. Border areas are, naturally, even more tightly controlled than the rest of the country.
North Korea is short of food. It is short of fuel, housing, clothing, transport and just about everything else. It is also short of information. It has to be or people would not put up with the conditions under which they live. It is that which is perhaps most interesting of all because the present leader Kim Jong-un has spent more time abroad (at school in Switzerland) than his father or grandfather did. His father scarcely travelled at all. The present Kim knows far more about the world. It is likely his wife knows much more than the average North Korean too.
I was discussing this with a colleague yesterday, preparatory to doing some work for him. He suggested that perhaps things would change "when the two Koreas get together. It has to happen."
I am not so sure. The situation is not like that of East and West Germany and unification there, while it went ahead, was resented by some. There were those who felt that the economic price was going to be too great. There were those who felt suspicious of their East German neighbours - possibly they still feel that way.  The old East German sector is, I understand, still underdeveloped compared with the rest of the country. Unemployment is still higher there.
Despite all that East Germans were relatively well informed, well fed and well housed....compared with North Korea. If reunification of the two Koreas occurred suddenly and dramatically there would be economic complications of massive proportions. I doubt Seoul wants to see it happen. I doubt China does. Both are probably anxious to see conditions improve slowly so that people will not want to leave. They want to see change from within rather than external change. It is almost certainly what the USA and Japan want too.
So information will probably continue to be limited and what we can read will  be limited too. I am not sure I know very much about North Korea but I do know this. I do not like what I do know.

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