Life in North Korea: lies, potatoes and cable TV

Wed Jul 1, 2009 5:29am EDT
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By Jack Kim

SEOUL (Reuters) - North Koreans who recently arrived in the South live in a world of contradictions where their upbringing instills them with reverence for Kim Jong-il but their daily struggle leads them to believe he is a brutal despot.

By all accounts, they say North Korea is gradually spiralling out of control, its economy dysfunctional while people are suspicious of one another because of a network of informants.

They also speak of a sense of normalcy in the North. Most left for the chance of a better life in the South but they are uncertain if they can find their way in the competitive capitalist state.

The following is a snapshot of life in North Korea, compiled from accounts given by refugees who recently arrived in the South. Their identities are not disclosed because they fear persecution for family and relatives back home.


It is a political crime to talk about the family of leader Kim Jong-il but many recently arrived refugees said the average North Korean is probably aware of foreign media reports that Kim's youngest son Jong-un may likely take over. Most North Koreans have no idea that Kim, 67 and thought to have suffered a stroke a year ago, has three sons.

"In Pyongyang, you take it for granted that leadership will be inherited," one refugee Park said, adding she knew Kim Jong-il had two daughters and a son and his name was Jong-nam. That is the portly and oldest of Kim's three known sons, believed to have fallen from his father's favor years ago after being arrested for trying to enter Japan on a forged passport.

"I don't want to say Kim Jong-il is bad," another refugee Choi said. "It's the people who report to him who are not doing their job right. They make false reports." Choi said she knew from experience that crop production is something that gets most often falsified "so as not to make the General worry."   Continued...

<p>Men watch file footage of a North Korean missile launch, which took place in 1998, on television at the Seoul railway station in Seoul April 5, 2009. REUTERS/Jo Yong-Hak</p>