Tag Archives: leader

North Korea – the Leaders’ spectacles

A woman walks in front of the Great Statues

Did I mention the loudspeakers on the street lamp posts and the small speaker vans roaming the streets?

At 7.15am, sweet and sickly music drifts through Pyongyang, like unavoidable muzak. Freedom means your own choice of music. There is no choice of music in the morning streets of North Korea.

Last night in my hotel… rock hard bed; no mattress; cold water; no hot water. Our young female guide slept in the lobby because there were no spare rooms.

In the morning, we are taken to see the giant statue of the Great Leader Kim Il-sung on Mansudae Hill, which I first saw when I was here before in 1986. And, in fact, as of today, there are now two statues – of the Great Leader Kim Il-sung and of his recently-deceased son the Dear Leader Kim Jong-Il.

What surprises me is that, in both statues, the Leaders are wearing spectacles.

Kim Il-sung’s statue was not wearing spectacles in 1986.

Our North Korean guide, a little surprised that I had remembered the statue so well, explains that the original Kim Il-sung statue was replaced at some unknown time by a new one in which he wore spectacles and was smiling.

“The Great Leader felt he looked too stern in the first statue,” the guide explains “He wanted to smile at his people.”

So now both statues smile.

Then we are whisked off to a gigantic flower exhibition packed like sardines in a thimble. And to the Great Leader’s birthplace.

We are also taken to the American spy ship USS Pueblo, captured in 1968 and now moored on the river bank in Pyongyang. It is guarded by armed sailors. Do the North Koreans really dream the Americans will try to snatch it back? We are shown round the ship and treated to a film on the perfidy of the American Imperialists, but we are not allowed to enter the ship’s code room, the entrance to which is blocked by a uniformed, unsmiling North Korean sailor.

Why? I wonder.

Do they think there are still secret messages lurking there, un-decoded since 1968, which we could use to undermine the people’s paradise of North Korea?

As we leave the Pueblo, there is an American standing on the bow, like Leonardo Di Caprio in Titanic. On the river bank, a cameraman is profusely thanking a North Korean minder. We are told the man on the bow is a reporter for the (right wing) Fox News TV channel in the US and he is recording a report.

Have the North Koreans totally lost the plot?

Yes, of course they have.

We are taken for a ride in the metro. Only a few stops because, as I understand it, only a few stops are decked-out in the Stalinesque marble-and-chandelier manner.

Our first train is relatively empty. Our second is packed tight, not dissimilar to the London Underground in the high tourist season but even more like the Tokyo Metro with people pushing and elbowing to get on. I stand by the door, my back protected, slightly separated from our guides/guards by the shoulder-to-shoulder throng.

A small, wiry man perhaps in his mid-thirties pushes onto the train and sees my white Western face.

“Where you from?” he asks.

We have been told (true or false) that English is now taught in all North Korean schools.

“England,” I reply. “UK… London.”

“I love your country,” the man says, pushing past, looking into my face. “I love your Par-lee-ment. Our country is…”

His last word is, annoyingly, inaudible. It sounds like “putrid” but cannot be: it is too sophisticated a word for his limited English vocabulary.

I hold my finger up to my lips, as if to say, “Quiet!” and glance sideways towards our guides to warn him they are there. Then he is lost in the stuffed carriage.

I do not know what he said, but it was not complimentary.

Short and slippery slope, I think to myself.

Later, I ask one of our guides where Kim Il-sung used to live. I am told he used to live in what is now his mausoleum: the very grand Kumsusan Memorial Palace (currently closed for unknown reasons)

“Where did Kim Jong-il live?” I ask.

“I do not know,” I am told. “It is not known.”

In fact, anyone outside North Korea can see inside what used to be Kim Jong-Il’s compound on Google Earth. You can see the swimming pool, the water slide, the personal train station which linked into the metro system and, one presumes, into the above-ground rail system.

That is what is so mystifying about the North Korean paranoia about GPS positioning. You can bring a computer into the country; you can bring a WiFi-enabled Kindle into the country; but you cannot bring in mobile phones or tablets, because they have GPS positioning. They have not yet twigged that the more modern digital cameras have GPS. They are obsessed with the danger of people with GPS-enabled devices.

But anyone with a GPS iPhone or iPad is not actually a security risk who is going to help the Americans target their cruise missiles. Because the GPS positioning we use comes from the American spy satellites anyway. Anything I can do on an iPhone or iPad is something I do courtesy of the CIA and the NSA.

The North Koreans are obsessed by people seeing into secret above-ground areas, but seem to ignore the fact that the satellites can see everything anyway and, going to any computer in my home, I can see Pyongyang in detail on Google Earth.

In the evening, from my hotel window, I see another big fireworks display taking place near the river, by the Tower of the Juche Idea.

… CONTINUED HERE …

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North Korea – A land of nuclear bombs and satellite launches, but no electricity

North Korea reveals the face of the evil Americans

I look out of my hotel window in the early morning and see a Turner sunset with two tall Dickensian chimneys, a yellow golden sun, the indistinct nearby river and a bleak landscape in a misty, disfiguring white haze. It is The Fighting Temeraire with pollution. It is Pyongyang, capital of North Korea.

We are driven south in our coach on long, long, decidedly dodgy potholed-pitted roads to the DMZ – the Demilitarised Zone between North and South Korea. The countryside is eerily empty as we pass through it, as if all human life has been hoovered up by some giant alien vacuum cleaner.

I would like to come back here with a farmer who could explain what I am seeing. The barren brown supposedly agricultural land looks barren to me, as if the regime has over-farmed it or something, but I am no expert. To my inexpert eye, something has gone very wrong; no-one is farming the occasionally slightly-ploughed fields for mile after tens of miles.

If your land is devastated, you would normally invite in specialists with expert advice but North Korea is no normal country and has, I suspect, screwed itself.

On the one hand, they have lived in self-imposed isolation for decades. On the other hand, the Great Leader Kim Il-sung thought up his superficially-attractive philosophy of The Juche Idea.

This basically means the country and everyone in it should be self-reliant. But, this being North Korea – a land which is not of Planet Earth – the Juche Idea is counterbalanced (or negated) by the idea that the Great Leader Kim Il-sung and subsequently his son the Dear Leader Kim Jong-il and now the grandson the Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un go round the country giving on-the-spot advice.

This is a paranoid country with a population indoctrinated since birth into worshipping – and that is not too strong a word – the ruling family. Nothing will happen until the current Leader comes to a factory or a field or a region and says, “I think we should produce more cabbages/paperclips/babies.” Once that is said, a plaque goes up commemorating the visit and (certainly in Kim Il-sung’s day) the fact that the Great/Dear/Supreme Leader gave on-the-spot advice.

How the advised people are going to produce more cabbages or paperclips, of course, is up to them. I imagine they can cope with the details of complying with any advice to have more babies.

But, for whatever reason, the countryside on the long, rough road to the DMZ at Panmunjom looks devastated. And this is dangerous.

North Korea had actual famine in the 1990s and currently the proud, independent nation which follows the Juche Idea of self-reliance and accepts no help from others, gets food aid from its arch-enemy the United States in return for (in theory) not furthering its nuclear ambitions and arsenal.

But picture a country with no real knowledge of how diplomacy, international relations or the outside world actually works. Picture this country with a devastated farming industry, a situation so desperate that they have to go ask their arch nemesis for help. This is a country whose leaders, if they have their noses tweaked or their pride dented even slightly more or unintentionally more, will react with sudden, unpredictable behaviour which is totally OTT. If they think they are being treated like children, they will react like children with no concept of any rules or what is a normal or balanced response.

On our way to Panmunjom, at about 10.30am, we are told that, this morning at 8.00am, North Korea successfully launched its rocket – the one the West thinks is a test for an ICBM – carrying what our young female guide called “our satellite number 3”.

At Panmunjom, next to a small block of gents and ladies toilets, up a slight slope, I see a tall man with his back to me facing a tree. It is evident he is pissing on the tree. A guard spots him. Two soldiers bring him back from the tree. Two non-uniformed men are called. They look shocked. The man’s Western tour guide is called. Much worried discussion ensues. The man looks slightly triumphant. They are standing perhaps 20 feet away from me. It seems, from talking to other people, that the man is an American.

In certain circumstances, it is possible to agree with the North Korean view that the Americans are, en masse, barking at the moon.

Eventually, as we are taken down to the actual border itself, the man seems to be let off with a severe reprimand. But I would pay to be a fly-on-the-wall when he tries to leave the country and the border guards go through his belongings.

At the border, things have changed slightly since I was here in 1986, but only slightly.

There are still three blue huts where peace negotiations have taken place since the early 1950s. In the middle of a central table in the middle hut, negotiations took/take place. The border runs through the middle of the table; the North Koreans sit on one side; the South Koreans/Americans sit on the other side. The huts are painted by the Americans. They are blue because that is the United Nations colour but, since I was here last, it is a slightly darker blue. Perhaps this has been dragging on for so long that they have forgotten why the huts are blue.

When I was here in 1986, opposite a large stone North Korean building, stood a small South Korean pagoda on the upper of level of which stood an American G.I. with what, I presumed, was a directional microphone. Today, the pagoda has been moved to the left (as seen from the North Korea side) and a large building erected to rival the North Korean building.

When I was here last time, the two sides had just finished a ‘flag war’. One side erected a giant flag pole with a giant national flag flying from it. The other side erected a taller pole with a bigger flag. The first side then erected an even bigger pole with an even bigger flag. And so on. And so on. Looking at the poles today, the North Koreans won the flag war.

Party people (a phrase which has different meanings in Manchester and North Korea) wear small flag badges with the Great Leader Kim Il-sung or, less often, the Dear Leader Kim Jong-il’s face on them. The soldier designated to tell us the ‘truth’ at Panmunjom has a badge with two heads on it – both the Great Leader and the Dear Leader. This has more prestige and is, we are told, specially awarded.

I notice that our two North Korean guides wear single-head badges, but our driver wears a double-head badge.

We overnight at a hotel in the nearby town of Kaesong. The hotel has no hot water or electricity.

North Korea launched a satellite this morning, but the country’s agriculture system is medieval. They are proud yet have to accept food aid from their arch enemy America. On a hill overlooking the town of Kaesong is a gigantic bronze-coloured statue of Kim Il-sung. It is floodlit at night. But even the hotel which aims to impress foreigners has no hot water or electricity.

The older male North Korean guide tells me it is too cold in his room to sleep.

Earlier, when it was still daylight, he took us to a roundabout at a road junction to get a better view of the town. Before we crossed the wide road, he warned us: “Take care crossing the street because of the traffic.”

There was no traffic.

Giggles were stifled in the group.

You do not laugh at or with North Korea. This is a land without a comedy club and without a sense of humour.

Humour is a dangerous thing.

But the country has something else which, I think, will eat away at it.

Children sometimes wave at our coach as it passes by. This never happened in 1986. Coaches and people who were visibly foreigners were ignored.

Children who wave at coaches containing people who smile and wave back at them will grow up into adults still willing to believe all Western foreigners are devils. But imperceptible cracks will be inbuilt in their indoctrination. It is the start of a slippery slope.

… CONTINUED HERE …

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Ed Miliband and Ed Balls – Are they the Laurel and Hardy of British politics?

What is happening with Ed Miliband and what has happened to the Labour Party’s once-feared PR machine?

Young Ed looks like he is being paid by the Tories to undermine his own party and Alastair Campbell’s once gleaming and perfectly-oiled Labour PR machine seems to have seized up with rust or is being operated by 5-year-old children who are too small to reach the levers they have to pull.

That Labour Party conference speech yesterday and all the interviews around it were an unmitigated piece of failed image-building tripe.

The long-thought-out line – they are supposed to have worked all night on the speech – seemed to be:

“We, the Labour Party, would like to apologise for the things we did wrong which we humbly admit, sort of, but it’s the Tories’ fault for anything we did really and, if they are doing now what we said we would do or what we would have had to do, well, that’s what comes of all those years of Tory… erm… government… erm… oh…

“Oh… and the government should make things better and tell other people to make things better. We have had long discussions about this and decided that both the people and the country would be better off if the Economy were in a better state and not worse. Vote for us next time because we are new people not the ones who made any of the mistakes before. Well, sort of.”

One of Ed’s problems is he cannot ‘do’ passion. Someone is writing passionate speeches for him, but he is unable to deliver them. He tries to be passionate, but his lightweight voice is just not up to it and his heart is clearly not in it. It is like he is reading Chaucer to the English class.

I saw an interview he gave a couple of days ago in which he said, basically: “The government should not lecture the Europeans and tell them how to make things better. The government should make things better and, if we were in power, we would be pro-active and tell the Europeans how to make things better.”

The main problem young Ed has is not difficulties in writing credible speeches and an apparent lack of any actual policies. The even bigger problem is a superficial presentational one.

Before Margaret Thatcher came to power, she listened to her very wise advisors. She softened her hairstyle and she lowered the pitch of her voice.

Tony Blair was already a master of fake sincerity when he got the Top Job – that’s what comes of being a good lawyer – lots of experience telling barefaced lies. His technique was so good he almost made me believe in David Icke’s theory that all the top-nobs in Britain are actually alien lizards in human skins.

But no-one seems to have given poor young Ed any advice at all. He is an apprentice lizard.

He still looks like a scared schoolboy unexpectedly made into a prefect and, with his rabbit-in-the-car-headlights eyes, looks shit-scared that people will find out that even he does not believe he is up to the job.

A couple of days ago, there were staggeringly mis-judged PR pictures of slim Ed Miliband and chunky Ed Balls – and there is an image problem here to begin with, as Ed Miliband looked like Stan Laurel to Ed Balls’ version of Oliver Hardy and who wants Stan Laurel as their Prime Minister?… I almost expected Ed Miliband to scratch his head and stare at the camera in innocent confusion with those big open calf’s eyes.

Anyway… there were the two of them walking across a square, being filmed smiling for the TV News, smiling and chatting in an attempt to look in relaxed conversation, but the separated body language and the appallingly stilted audible conversation appeared to show there was no chemistry, no amiability, no ability nor desire to communicate with each other.

They looked as if, in a party – let alone in a Party – they would stand alone at opposite sides of the room and try to avoid ever meeting because they knew there would be an embarrassing, awkward silence.

In this case, two Eds were not better than one.

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