I always wanted to know how communism and its altered reality impacts a human life. One human life. One person. Then another one. In the end, you’ll have a full image of a country.
This interest has to do with me being Romanian. I couldn’t understand my family’s past and stories without knowing the context of these past and stories. For example, I couldn’t understand why years after communism fell, my grandma still stuffed the fridge with food even through we had supermarkets around. And besides these kind of many more other examples, I also wanted to put my few childhood memories in context.
So I spent time asking, reading and researching. In the end I got a Bachelor Degree in Political Science and a better and clearer understanding of what it was like to live a life where you had to think twice before saying something, where food was sold on a ‘black market’ and where letters arrived already opened. All this and more while singing happy songs and pretending life was just fine.
This is why, when I think of North Korea, I imagine beyond the extreme circus, the tears for the ‘Great Leader’, the gratefulness, the hunger and the fear… I imagine people living inside their mind. Not all of them, but a good part. Isolating themselves into the only free place. The mind, where all the reality hides, the free thoughts, the real dreams. And the jokes. The dangerous ones.
That’s the only way to survive.
The regime survives on people’s fear and suspicion of each other. Everyone can turn you in. And that’s a place where owning a DVD player is an extreme act of rebellion. It can put you in jail, somewhere far away and it can have repercussions on your family. The extend of the fear is probably unimaginable for someone who never lived communism.
And the after effects, the reflexes created by such a life last for a lifetime.
Do you know anyone who traveled to North Korea?
Reality is cosmetically improved for foreign visitors. About 1500 Western tourists are allowed in the country each year and a few thousands of people from Asia. They cannot travel freely, they have to be guided at all times by official tour guides. It’s just as being in a absurd theater play. The pretending, the covering, the smiles. The convinced voices. All these stimulated by the fear of what can happen if these tourists happen to have a glimpse of the real North Korea, the one everyone is trying hard to pretend not to see.
Ironically, one of the most clear documentaries of what this country is like didn’t need a hidden camera. It was actually made by the rules, with what was allowed and what not. And that meant everything.
Below you can watch ‘A Day in the Life’ made by Pieter Fleury and presented at the International Documentary Festival Amsterdam in 2004.
Another film that stood in my mind is ‘Friends of Kim‘, that documents the trip to North Korea of an international group of supporters of Kim Jong Il and their reactions to the propaganda and the reality there.
There are also other good documentaries. Funny in a very said way is that the regime has a group of well fed happy loyal people to display, but because they’re the same ones every time, you begin to recognize them in each film.
Just the other day North Korea finally ended the 100 days of mourning for Kim Jong Il.
I read this news this morning and ironically, I found the video below at the same time. And because no one in North Korea can afford to laugh at it, we should do it then.