WE OFTEN hear North Korea is a deprived nation, ‘the most repressed society on Earth’.
But what if that’s just baloney?
Our stereotype of North Korea is totally inaccurate, says a top Australian scholar who knows the country better than most. It’s the modern day version of “yellow peril” – the xenophobic fear of Asian culture
Professor Stewart Lone, from the Australian Defence Force Academy, spent months teaching English to North Korea’s future leaders from 2010 to 2012. Now he has provided a rare and sometimes romantic account of life in North Korea in the book Pyongyang Lessons: North Korea From Inside The Classroom.
The country is much more advanced than many people believe, he writes.
You can even pick up Kylie Minogue or David Beckham-branded perfume in the shops, despite the fact barely anyone knows who they are. Tom and Jerry is on TV, mobile phones and foreign cars are popular in Pyongyang. And in his view, the people certainly aren’t scared or deprived.
“Having spent a good deal of time in the company of more than 400 North Korean teenagers, I dismiss the idea that everyone lives in fear and privation,” Prof Lone told news.com.au. “I saw young people who were secure, contented and proud of their society.”
“The stereotype of North Korea… is the contemporary version of ‘the yellow peril’ and follows many of its key features (irrationality, brutality, docility)”.
North Koreans are so used to hardship that they may be better prepared than us with some of challenges of the future, Prof Lone writes.
He argues that unlike here, the North Koreans still hold on to a sense of community, citizens are not afraid of each other when they walk down the streets and they don’t entertain themselves with movies and TV shows about horror.
The kids are all right, too, he says. Unlike several North Korean defectors have argued, Prof Lone denies that children are “brainwashed” into adoring the country’s troubled regime.
Like millions of children around the world, they really love football (the national football team has made it to the World Cup in the past). Many are obsessed with soccer stars Ronaldo, Messi and former Brazilian great Pele.
He said a favourite phrase of children was that they were blessed by the “warm love of Marshal Kim Jong-il”, but they said it out of dedication, not slavery.
“Where one has choice, one has freedom,” he writes. “The general belief was, and is, that the leader exists to oversee their security and their welfare.
“Whatever was positive in their lives could be attributed, at least in part, to his benevolence. Whatever struggles they collectively encountered, his presence ensured they would be protected.”
One of the biggest problems with the world’s dealings with North Korea is a lack of respect, Prof Lone writes.
He says it was because the Western world does not reflect on how it must appear to Koreans