I was at a fascinating forum tonight about North Korea, featuring a slide show and panel discussion by three people who had recently visited there; Yong-Bin Yuk of Mindullae, Kil Nam Roh of Minjok.com, and Maggie Vascassenno of the International Action Center.
Yong-Bin, American-born of South Korean ancestry, said he went on his ten day visit with the same questions many may have. Are North Koreans starving and in desperate condition? Will he be allowed to talk with regular people and get non-scripted answers? Do the people follow or fear the government? Are they all puppet drones of a mad dictator?
He said he was satisfied that he got real answers from real people, that they appear to support their government and most definitely are not zombies. This is a culture that believes in communal values, self-determination, and solidarity. North Korea, he said, is radically different from anything in the West, and that he, in a mere ten days, didn’t pretend to fully understand it.
Yes, they said, things had been hard but were getting better. Food was becoming more plentiful. The droughts and floods of the mid-90’s had been ruinous, the collapse of the Soviet bloc in the early 90’s and the US sanctions meant they had to fend for themselves with no help from anyone else.
In North Korea, medical care is free, so is education. Literacy is 95%. Everyone rents and rent is trivial, with 0.8% of the average income going for rent – yes that’s less than one per cent… These are not trivial accomplishments.
More than anything, the huge majority in North Korea and South Korea want unification and US troops out. They wish to be one again.
The poster, with English, is made by North Korea for distribution outside the country, and is based on a poster written in Korean.