[Image: United Nations]
PAJU, South Korea — At the base of a mountain almost two miles from the North Korean border, the giant helium balloons slowly float upward, borne by a stiff, cold wind. These are not balloons in the conventional sense—the transparent, cylindrical tubes covered in colorful Korean script are more than 20 feet in length and each carries three large bundles wrapped in plastic. The characters painted on one of the balloons reads, “The regime must fall.”
The launch site is at the confluence of the Imjin and Han Rivers, which form the border with North Korea. From here, it’s possible to see the Potemkin village constructed on the shores across the river. The picturesque agrarian hamlet is really just a series of uninhabited sham structures, which contrast sharply with the bustle and industry of the South Korean side. Using binoculars we can see people “walking” back and forth and pretending to till the land despite below-freezing temperatures.
We’re here to hack the North Korean government’s monopoly of information above the 38th parallel on the Korean peninsula. The North Korean dictatorship continues to be one of the most totalitarian regimes on the planet. While other regimes oppress their dissidents and censor the Internet, North Korea has no dissidents and no connection to the outside world. It has no Internet. The Kim family rules with absolute authority, arbitrarily imprisoning or executing anyone who stands in their way. The regime goes even further; not only is the offender imprisoned, but entire generations of his family are also sent to the gulags. The embargo of information into and out of the country has forced human rights groups to be creative in their methods of reaching North Korean citizens.
Read more. [Image: Reuters/Kim Hong-Ji]
On Friday, North Korea’s state-run Korean Central News Agency released a stunning 2,700-word diatribe announcing that Jang Song Thaek—the once-powerful uncle of Kim Jong Un and now a “traitor for all ages” reduced to “despicable human scum”—had been executed for plotting a coup and committing “thrice-cursed acts of treachery,” including “half-heartedly clapping” at a ceremony for Kim. With analysts divided over whether the news suggests the young North Korean leader is consolidating or losing control, we asked Adam Cathcart, a historian of North Korea at the University of Leeds, to annotate the most notable sections of KCNA’s report. Beyond the florid rhetoric, what is the significance of this unprecedented glimpse into power politics in Pyongyang?
Read more. [Image: Reuters/Kyoto]
Some problems travel well. Sometimes too well. Financial crashes have taught us that in some cases what starts as a very local economic problem quickly escalates and becomes a global crisis. Think Greece—or more recently Cyprus. And we know that terrorism also has a way of going global in unpredictable and dangerous ways.
But what about regions? Which continents are more prone to infect the rest of the world with their problems? Africa and Latin America’s woes, for example, remain mostly insulated. Of course, the mass emigration of Africans to Europe and Latin Americans to the United States is an example of how one continent’s problems spill over into another, but this contagion has had much less of an impact than the economic crisis in the U.S. or Europe, for example. Millions of people all over the world, and especially in Europe, are still paying the consequences for that financial earthquake.
The point is that the problems of some continents are more ‘systemic’ than others. This is to say that the agonies of some regions affect the entire world, no matter how far away they are. The question, then, is: Which of the five continents is bound to spread more unhappiness in the future?
Read more. [Image: Wikimedia Commons]
A statue of Dennis Rodman made for the former basketball star in North Korea, where Rodman recently traveled for the second time.
Rodman just finished a press conference in New York with Daniel Pinkston, Crisis Group’s North East Asia Deputy Project Director. Watch a recording of the conference here.
PYONGYANG — I’m standing outside the Egyptian Palace nightclub in Pyongyang’s Yanggakdo Hotel, a place that promises all the advantages of a combination bar, nightclub, sauna and massage service, geared toward the tired and terminally lonely (which, like all other services at the Yanggakdo, means “foreigners only”). The only problem? It’s nearly midnight, and the bar is firmly, implacably closed.
Welcome to North Korean nightlife.
Read more. [Image: Robert Foyle Hunwick]
We all do stupid things when we’re drunk, but among bad decisions, this one deserves special distinction: on the night of January 4, 1965, U.S. Army Sergeant Charles Robert Jenkins pounded 10 beers, deserted his infantry company at the edge of the Korean Demilitarized Zone, walked alone across a minefield, and defected to North Korea. He was thrown into a chilly, spartan house (he tried, unsuccessfully, to leave) and forced to study the works of the North Korean dictator Kim Il Sung for 11 hours every day. By 1972, he could recite Kim’s core principles by heart in Korean. That year, he was forcibly naturalized as a North Korean citizen. He went on to work as an English teacher, a translator, and an actor, under 24-hour surveillance and conditions of near-starvation.
Read more. [Image: John Cuneo]
"If we farm in the way the General tells us, we will become happy," she said and laughs.
As tourism from China increases, citizens of the Hermit Kingdom ask to be treated with more respect.