Rosalind robson reviews dispatches, undercover in the secret state, Monday 17 October, Channel four
In her film, American-Korean director Jung-Eun Kim returns to the subject of North Korea. She had filmed the plight of its refugees during the 1990s. Then, a famine killed an estimated two million people. Has life improved? Judging by the films secretly made inside the country, by dissidents of the ultra-Stalinist regime, and shown here, not much.
Another famine is predicted soon in North Korea. The effects may be even more horrendous and tragic. Many western countries are withholding aid, because they want the Kim Jong Il regime to give up all nuclear power production. Much aid, as we see in this documentary, does not go to the people, but is sold in the market place.
And the market — semi-introduced after the 1990s famine — has created huge inequalities. Food is expensive. Only the rich elite in positions of power can afford to eat properly. That means the majority are already malnourished and already vulnerable to famine conditions.
You don’t have to be George Bush to want to see an end to North Korea’s barbaric regime. Only a few deranged sects calling themselves “socialist” or “communist” would still support the reign of Kim Jong Il. No doubt they have been convinced by tales of his super human powers of concentration and erudition (he can build a jet engine in five minutes flat etc).
We would prefer to base our attitudes on the testimony of the brave dissidents who swin across the Tunem river to China, dodging the bullets of the guards, to bring to the west film of what life is really like in the “secret state”.
People lying dead in the streets. Public executions, introduced as Jong Il gets scared of being removed. People scrambling to steal fertilizer from a stationary train, so they can sell it to buy food. Homeless children. Concentration camps.
How big the opposition is no one knows. One group calls itself the Freedom Youth League and organises inside and outside of the country. One of its members/leaders, a “Mr Park” is interviewed. He says he knew of 100 activists in the country.
But only a few dissidents, now refugees, were willing to be interviewed. They live in fear of being kidnapped by North Korean secret police. And because these refugees are not able to get asylum in the countries to which they flee (Thailand, China), they are in hiding.
Politically the opposition is, for understandable reasons, pro-western capitalism. It is at that stage of political development where it can see little alternative. One of its strategies is to smuggle videos of South Korean soap operas into North Korea! Look at how prosperous life is in the south they are saying. We know that is not the whole truth, but the garish videos are the only tools that these extraordinarily brave people have to hand.