SECOND EPISODE OF “TALES FROM NORTH KOREA” – BY ANDREA GESMUNDO – (CLICK HERE TO READ THE FIRST PART)
The university of agriculture was established by Kim Il Sung with the purpose to “remove hard labour from the farmers”. Sickle is a symbol of the farmers’ hard work. Sickle is a part of the international symbol of communism and of the Worker’s Party of North Korea. Nowadays, sickle can be found in history museums in most of the developed countries while in DPRK it still is the main tool for harvest.
We travelled the country during the harvest season and the fields were crowded by malnourished but well-tanned farmers harvesting with the sickle. Recent rumors of starvation in the country echo the horror of the “big famine” that killed millions during the 90s. “We love our leaders because in 70 years they never failed.” said Mr Kang.
The holiest site in the country is the Palace of the Sun where the bodies of the past leaders are exposed.
We are walking along the corridor that leads to the room where the bodies are exposed. The left wall is decorated with pictures of president Kim Il Sung – the first leader, the man that “in one generation defeated the Japanese colonialists and the American imperialists”. On the right wall, there are pictures of his son, general Kim Jong Il – the guy that just happened to be around when his father died, so shy that he ever gave only one speech of 9 words, he doesn’t walk like a leader, doesn’t talk like a leader, doesn’t look like a leader.
Barbara: “This guy on the left looks like a boss, but this other one…”
I instantly squeeze her arm to interrupt and move the lips as if to say “WHAT THE FUCK!?”. She frees herself from the grip and whispers “Why are you so afraid?”. I point at Mr Kang, walking one step in front of us. Then I wonder if the evangelical priest that spent a couple of years in jail for praying out loud for God to help Koreans to “tear down barriers” was ever afraid.
Mr Kang appears as a friendly pal if you are able to overlook his casual propaganda statements and the military stance.
While hiking on Mount Kumgang, Mr Kang was telling funny jokes:
“pLesident Clinton asks the pLime minister of Japan ‘how often do you have elections in Japan?’, the pLime minister of Japan answers ‘evLy moLning!’, it’s funny because Japanese pipoR cannot distinguish L and R!! HAHAHA”.
Mr Kang doesn’t realize that he has more in common with the Japanese people than he expects. Mr Kang doesn’t realize that this joke gains an additional layer of sarcasm when told by a person who never took part in elections.
The main event was a concert for the 70th anniversary of the foundation of the Worker’s Party. A 3-hour sequence of songs and dances. The background of the stage is a huge screen showing videos of the history of the country. Suddenly the screen shows the leader inspecting. Everybody claps! More dances. Screen shows leader pointing. Everybody claps! More songs. Screen shows leader group hugging. Everybody claps! More dances. Screen shows huge statue of the leader. Clapping? Yes! Screen shows painting of the leader. Clapping? Yes! Screen shows ship with the face of the leader painted on it. Clapping? No, that’s where we draw the line in DPRK. More songs. More leaders. More clapping. I realize the show is at its 4th hour. A drone with camera flies over our heads. North-Koreans look confused, as if they just saw an UFO. Clapping! Another leader on the screen! Arrived back to the Hotel, I switch on the television. I realize I’m clapping. The leader is on the screen.
The country is famous for its huge monumental bronze statues. The biggest measure 22 meters. Clones of the same subject in smaller sizes are placed in all major cities. For all citizens to enjoy the view of the bronze smiling leaders, even if they are not allowed to leave their city or village without a permit.
Those statues are respected as the leader himself. The village of Kaesong is pitch-black at night. There is no public illumination, no traffic lights, no car lights. Only one thing is illuminated: the gigantic leader’s statue on the top of the hill.
Only few other idols are allowed to exist in the country. A few buddhist temples were preserved as an exception to the rigorous atheism imposed by the soviet doctrine for the explicit will of the leader. Smiling buddha statues have a color that reminds of the bronze statues of the leaders. This similarity seems to suggest that ideologies of different times are willing to offer different answers to the same questions. There, it can be perceived as a unity in the broken history of Korea. A unity divided by a line that is real only in the eyes of the witness. An imaginary line. Imaginary like a border between two countries. Imaginary like the Military Demarcation Line.