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Rambler's Top100

Irina Malenko

Translated from Spanish by Jenny James

(previously translated from the original Russian)

It's not easy to convey first impressions of a visit to the People's Democratic Republic of Korea, especially because little time and energy were left after each day's intensive cultural programme during my stay there.  It's a long time since I had such a busy programme during a journey  - I would have to go back to the times of the Soviet Union!  At that time our travels were also undertaken with the objective of getting to know as much as possible of new and unknown parts of the country in the short time one stayed in them, not in order to get drunk and end up groggy or spend all day lying around.

I consider myself very fortunate to have had the opportunity to visit this country.  Not everyone has this honour.

When I was getting ready for the journey, I told a Russian acquaintance of mine that soon I would be going to N.Korea.  "To the normal one, or to the North?" she asked me, doubtless thinking that her comment was very funny.  But is it actually funny that our people are being taught not to think for themselves and just repeat in a servile parrot-like fashion everything that is translated for them from the Western press by our so-called journalists?

Perhaps it is not 'normal' that the streets should be clean?

That you can move around them safely by day or night?

That at nighttime they are not filled with the shouting of drunks, and that people don't piss in the doorways?

That people can be completely happy without bars, casinos and brothels?

Perhaps it is not 'normal' that everyone gets up happily in the morning and with a sense of their own dignity goes to work without the fear of ending up redundant because of some workforce 'restructuring'?

Perhaps it isn't normal that shops should sell only what people need for their daily lives, and not loads of gadgets specially designed to suck as much money as possible out of their pockets, insulting them by offering some piece of rubbish which is absolutely not necessary for their happiness?  ("Oh, if I don't have the latest model, I'll.... commit suicide!")

Perhaps it's abnormal that the children should do sports, music and drawing, that they should help the grown-ups instead of begging, cleaning the cars of the rich or hanging around in corners sniffing glue, taking drugs and delighting in their own degradation?  Perhaps it's abnormal that the children, even the very youngest primary school kids, can go alone to school without any danger or risk from being taken away by paedophiles or run over by drunken Mercedes drivers?  Perhaps it isn't normal that the children should behave and dress like children, and not like cheap street prostitutes, and that they should not be in a hurry to go to bed at the first possible moment with anyone just to be 'like the rest.'?  Is it abnormal that on TV, there are no stupid games, adverts or sex with violence? 

Or that there are no homeless people and that people are not indifferent to the fate of the rest? Or that there is no fear that you won't be able to pay your bills on time?  Or that in the shops they sell goods made in one's own country?  And so on, endlessly.....

If people really think that everything described above is abnormal, then our whole society urgently needs to visit a psychiatrist.

And then there are those who yell to heaven that a society which has all that described above is deprived of some mythical 'freedom'.  If all that isn't freedom, what is?  The chance to vote for some idiot president?  The right to tell someone, including people who are absolutely not interested in knowing about it, your sexual preferences?  To have the chance to choose between things or people which in practice bear no substantial distinguishing features one from the other?  What is there to be gained from this 'choice', either for oneself or for society in general?  Does this result in there being fewer homeless people, fewer hungry people, fewer dead from drugs or alchoholism?  Do the children get a better education?  Does a better future await them?  Are there more jobs?  Fewer orphans relegated to orphanages or fewer old people left alone?  I don't think so...

I am not a sentimental person, more on the hard side.  But I was nearly in tears, literally, good, happy tears, at seeing what I saw in Pyongyang.  Anyone who says this is a 'poor country' has not seen real poverty.  If you want to see that, come deep into the heartlands of Russia, where old people mill around picking through the garbage.  Or to countries which are members of the civilized European Union, like Bulgaria and Rumania.  Or even to part of the prosperous kingdom of Holland, the island of Curacao.

It's a long while since I felt as calm and relaxed as I do in North Korea.  In the streets I see normal people, well dressed, modest working women, happy with their lives, people who like to laugh at a good joke and who live a rich cultural life which is not within reach of the majority of the population in Western countries, people who in no way resemble the fanatical robots the Western press describes them as.

And as for tourists who say they feel 'restricted in their freedom' or who find N.Korea 'boring', well why don't they just go to any place like Spain or Turkey and get drunk till they're sick if that is the only thing they find entertaining, and not besmirch this beautiful country with their presence.

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