Movie: Comrade Kim Goes Flying

Two very different movies about North Korea were featured in September’s Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). The first was a documentary entitled “Camp 14 – Total Control Zone”, by the German filmmaker Marc Wiese. According to the TIFF publicity, this is “An enthralling documentary portrait of twenty-nine-year-old Shin Dong-huyk, who was born and spent the first two decades of his life behind the barb wire of a North Korean labour camp, until his dramatic escape launched him into an outside world he had never known.” The movie is based on the book by journalist Blaine Harden entitled Escape From Camp 14which has been reviewed for CanKor by editor Jack Kim.

The second film featured at the TIFF was a romantic comedy, a joint Belgium, UK & North Korea production. According to TIFF, the movie is about “A young female coal miner (who) struggles to realize her dream of becoming a circus acrobat in this winning, life-affirming fable that is the first Western-financed fiction feature ever made in North Korea.”

In reviewing the TIFF, the New York Times had this to say about the film:  Read the rest of this entry »

An Atmosphere of Departure and Two Speeds, Korean Style: Where is North Korea Heading? by Ruediger Frank

[CanKor Brain Trust member Ruediger Frank has once again returned from a tour to North Korea. In the following article, first published by our partner-site 38North, Frank delves into what he sees as changes that have occurred in North Korea since his last visit in April. Please follow our link to the current article on the 38North site. –CanKor]

South Hwanghae, September 2012 (Photo: © Rudiger Frank)

The Country Is Changing

Not that it has ever been static, but within the few months between my travels to North Korea in spring and autumn of this year, the country has changed to the degree that even a foreign visitor cannot avoid noticing. While in April, everyone seemed to be somewhat tense and edgy, unsure about what would happen under the new leader and torn between hope and concern, by September, the atmosphere was almost upbeat and optimistic. It is even now clear which is the new standard badge (the big red flag with the two leaders), and everyone is waiting patiently to receive his own. Admittedly, the season is nicer in the fall than in the spring: the temperature is warmer, the landscape greener, and food from the new harvest is on the table, while hard manual labor in the fields and the cold of winter are still a few weeks away. But there is more. Read the rest of this entry »

DPRK Business Monthly Volume III, No.5

The DPRK Business Monthly, an international business report edited in Beijing, has been made available to CanKor readers by its editor, Paul White. Please check the current June 2012 edition here: DPRK Business Monthly Vol III, No.5

Titles of articles found in this issue include:

In Chiba in 1991 Hyun Jung-hwa of the ROK (right) and Li Bun Hui of the DPRK formed a

In Chiba in 1991 Hyun Jung-hwa of the ROK (right) and Li Bun Hui of the DPRK formed a joint Korean team. The pair won the female finals by defeating China.

  • China Offers Work Visas for 40,000 N.Koreans
  • UN Report Highlights Plight of NK Children
  • Politics Hampering UN Aid Efforts
  • Female Participation in North Korea’s Business Sector
  • Table Tennis Player Sees Opportunity for Unity
  • NK Could Be Major Carbon Credit Player
  • Visa-free Access to Yalu River Zone

    …plus a number of other items, including a selection of North Korean tours by various tour operators.

Comment by the Business Monthly Editor:

China’s issuance of 40,000 work visas, and perhaps more in the pipeline, to North Koreans is a step in the right direction. It is well attested that the vast majority of North Koreans who have fled their homeland since the famine of the 1990s (the “Arduous March”) have been economic migrants seeking a better life, not political refugees, of whom only a handful were recorded in the previous four decades. The deal apparently came about as a result of a request by the DPRK’s new leader Kim Jong Un. Now, those who wish to do so will be able to legally work in China — as many already do in Russia — and send money (the Renminbi yuan is regarded as a hard currency in NK) and food home, avoiding falling into the hands of human traffickers and being smuggled into South Korea, where their lot is not a happy one. This will reduce the profits of this evil trade, and help the Chinese police crack down on the gangsters and rescue their victims.

It will also take the wind out of the sails of those who claim that North Koreans flee and fall prey to the traffickers because Pyongyang doesn’t allow them to leave.

Please feel free to consult the full issue by clicking on this link: DPRK Business Monthly Vol III, No.5

North Korean refugees in Toronto carry burden of fear (Toronto Star)

by Mary Ormsby and Leslie Scrivener, Toronto Star, 30 April 2012

will not have their faces photographed. They will not disclose their names. (Aaron Harris/Toronto Star)

Three unidentified North Korean immigrants in a Toronto church (Photo by Aaron Harris, Toronto Star)

The three North Korean women will not have their faces photographed. They will not disclose their names.

But certain things they will reveal. How they ground tree bark and cooked it into a thin gruel for food. How they were sold to brokers to work as maids or “unofficial wives” in China. How starving neighbours — children as well as adults — were executed for stealing even a morsel of meat.

“Our lives meant nothing,” one of them says. “We were like flies.”

The fear that propelled the women to flee the brutality of their homeland clings to them as refugees in Toronto, terrified their freedom in Canada will mean death to family and friends in North Korea, which calls itself the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

That may explain why some, like 13-year-old Sol Han, reported missing from a local shelter this week, melt away into the broader GTA population. Maybe never to be heard from again. Read the rest of this entry »

North Korean Gulag Conference to be held in Washington DC

The US-based Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK) has announced that a one-day conference will be held in Washington, DC, on Tuesday, 10 April 2012, entitled “Hidden Gulag: Exposing North Korea’s Political Prisoner Camp System & Calling for Its Complete, Verifiable, and Irreversible Dismantlement”. The conference is organized together with the Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights, and will be hosted by the Peterson Institute for International Economics at the C. Fred Bergsten Conference Center (1750 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20036).

Two CanKor Brain Trust members have prominent parts in the proceedings. As Chair of HRNK, Roberta Cohen (Non-resident Senior Fellow at The Brookings Institution) will make opening remarks. David Hawk, author of “Hidden Gulag” (First & Second Edition), will be the first presenter in the first panel of the conference.  Read the rest of this entry »

38 North: Beyond the Golden Couples of Pyongyang By John Feffer

[From time to time CanKor alerts readers to papers published by our partner-site 38North. The following article is authored by John Feffer, a long-time friend and supporter of CanKor. John Feffer is the co-director of Foreign Policy in Focus at the Institute for Policy Studies and the author of several books and numerous articles. His latest book, Crusade 2.0: The West’s Resurgent War against Islam, is being published this month by City Lights Press. In this outstanding article, Feffer analyzes the emerging new class system of North Korea. “Any policy toward North Korea,” according to Feffer, “must somehow take into account these three groups of people: the prospering, the struggling, and the incarcerated.” He lists projects that are currently being implemented by various actors that aim at an overall human security objective, which he believes is the best way to promote the well-being of North Koreans beyond the “golden couples” that represent the new entrepreneurial elite of the country. Please follow our link to the current article on the 38North site. –CanKor]

It’s not likely that an Occupy Pyongyang movement will set up tents in Kim Il Sung Square anytime soon. Protest, after all, is virtually non-existent in that society. But the same widening inequalities that plague the United States and the global economy can also be found inside North Korea. What was once a relatively equitable society, albeit at the low end of per-capita GDP, has been experiencing a rapid polarization in wealth. The implications of this widening gap on North Korean government policy—as well as on international policies promoting human security inside North Korea—are enormous.

The headlines coming out of North Korea these days are a study in contrasts. On the one hand, four separate international nutritional assessments in 2011 found chronic malnutrition that, according to the UN, affects one in three children under five. Although 2012 is the year of kangsung daeguk—an economically prosperous and militarily strong power—the overall statistics tell a different story. The North Korean economy, which had recovered somewhat by the beginning of the new millennium from its near collapse in the mid-1990s, contracted in both 2009 and 2010, according to South Korean sources. Pyongyang has been unable to wean itself from dependence on Beijing’s food and energy assistance, and, out of necessity, has negotiated lopsided deals with China over access to mineral wealth and ports. Farmers have been forced by the lack of fuel and spare parts to rely more heavily on manual labor. Workers steal from their factories to supplement meager salaries. The inability of North Korea to revive its agricultural and manufacturing sectors has adversely affected the larger bulk of the population, the broad class of workers and farmers who have relied on employment in state enterprises and state farms as well as food from the public distribution system. Read the rest of this entry »

38 North: North Korean Women – Markets and Power

[From time to time CanKor will alert our readers to papers published by our partner-site 38North. The following article is an interview conducted and translated by Janice Lee, a researcher at the Database Center for North Korean Human Rights in Seoul, and Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein, a Swedish economics and political science student at Stockholm University. Please follow our links to this article on the 38North site. –CanKor.]

North Korean Women: Markets and Power By 38 North

Researchers, diplomats, tourists, and defectors have all spoken of gradual changes in recent years to the complicated role women play in North Korean society. Andrei Lankov, a scholar at Kookmin University in Seoul, points out that women are able to play a dominant role in the black markets that emerged during the famine of the 1990s because they come under less scrutiny than men in the North’s patriarchal society.[1] Some scholars have also argued that the increasing flow of information from abroad is changing the way North Korean women dress, behave, and regard themselves, setting the stage for major changes in the country’s social dynamics.

A picture of a woman dressed in a western suit walking down a city street would usually be of little interest. But when that street is in Pyongyang, imaginations tend to run wild, contemplating what the image may reveal about North Korea’s closed off society. (Photo: Irina Kalashnikova)

However, North Korean defector Hyun In-ae has cautioned against overstating the significance of these changes for women in the North. A former professor at Chongjin University, Hyun fled the country in 2004 after her husband was arrested by North Korea’s infamous State Security Agency. She is now working on a Ph.D. in North Korean studies at Ehwa Women’s University in Seoul, and heads the North Korean Intellectuals’ Society, an organization of North Korean intellectuals who defected to the South.

38 North met with Dr. Hyun earlier this month to get her insights about the status of women both in the DPRK and in the defector community in the South. (Note: This interview has been edited for clarity and conciseness.) …Read More

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