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Insights into a totalitarian dictatorship 

The fascist state of North Korea – an unusual travelogue
Forfatter: Terje Albregtsen
Forlag: Kolofon Forlag (Norge)
What kind of country is North Korea, and what do we really know about the North Koreans? 


The only ones I experienced as genuine fremmede during the World Youth Festival in Sochi (see article in New Time November 2017), the delegates from the Democratic People's Republic of Korea – popularly called North Korea. We had two short meetings with them – a panel debate in which a North Korean defended the nuclear weapons program as a necessary defense against the United States, and when we sat next to North Koreans on the plane from Sochi to Moscow. My friend, who had studied with North Koreans in China, thought we were ridiculous, but the rest of us were deeply fascinated by these strange people who seemed to be from another planet. What were they thinking? What were your dreams? Why did they always have these expressionless stone faces?

Whoever hopes to get answers to such questions in Terje Albregtsen's travelogue Fascist State of North Korea, will be disappointed. It is not because of the author, but that contact with ordinary people and to move outside the predetermined destinations is forbidden. The main part of the book consists of a detailed account of the journey, with helpful advice for other travelers (do not include religious or political literature, but please bring your own toilet paper). For my part, however, it was the author's attempt to analyze North Korea's society and relations with the rest of the world that made the book worth reading.

Why are travelers forced to perform ceremonies that confirm that North Korea is a totalitarian dictatorship?

North Korea's place in the world. It is interesting to read what the North Korean regime tells its visitors. Albregtsen says that the North Koreans' map of the country shows both North and South Korea, and that they argue for a peaceful reunification of the two countries into a federal state where both countries can maintain their own governance. South Korea is referred to as occupied by the Americans, and the United States as a threat. The latter is understandable, considering that a fifth of the North Korean population was killed by the US terrorist bombing during the Korean War, which is still only regulated by a weapons permit.

The lawmaker is wary of meeting the regime in Pyongyang with sanctions and threats. He writes that a nuclear war on the Korean Peninsula "means the downfall for all of us, and that is why we who do not live in Korea must help prevent it." His solution is for the US to withdraw its military forces from South Korea and for a permanent peace treaty between North Korea and the United States to be signed. He also argues that increased contact in the form of trade and travel could cause the North Korean regime to be loosened. Perhaps increased exposure to prosperity in neighboring countries is what is needed to undermine the belief in the regime?

What kind of state is North Korea? Albregtsen is concerned that North Korea is no longer based on Marxism-Leninism. It is therefore not right to refer to the country as a "communist state", as is often the case here in the West. He is right in that. The word "communism" was removed from the North Korean Constitution in 2009, and from the statutes of the state-bearing Korea Labor Party in 2010. In 2016, the youth federation removed the word "socialist" from the name and replaced it with "kimilian-sung-kimjongilism".

The official ideology is Juche og Songun, which can be translated by "self-storage" and "the military first." Albregtsen argues that the most important features are totalitarianism, militarism and nationalism, and that the state can thus be defined as fascist. As I read the travelogue, my mind wanders to the god-kings of ancient Mesopotamia. Albregtsen says that the traveling companion had to dress several times in his finest and perform what he calls "today's religious act. At Mi Cha's command, everyone had to bow deeply in front of the statues the great leaders – the beloved leaders; Kim Il Sung – the eternal president and Kim Jung Il – the eternal leader. " The time is calculated after Kim Il Sung's birth year – 2018 AD with us is the equivalent of Juche-107 in North Korea.

Who are the North Koreans? Why are travelers forced to perform ceremonies that confirm that North Korea is a totalitarian dictatorship? Albregtsen notes that work is carried out with primitive tools such as sickle and shovel, and that the North Koreans are noticeably less well-off than the South Koreans, but also says that conditions seem comparable to other underdeveloped countries. So why this game of fooling the regime?

It is a general problem that information from authoritarian states usually only reaches us through two channels: the official version of the regime, which few people believe in, and the stories of defectors and refugees. The stories of the refugees are important, but as a rule they will only show us the most reprehensible aspects of the regime they fled from. The British Parliamentary report on the Libyan war (see article in Ny Tid October 2016) emphasizes that decision-makers in Europe were influenced by exiled Libyans, who had personal interests in the fall of the regime and exaggerated the general opposition to Gaddafi. What do we really know about the thoughts and lives of the average Libyan and the average North Korean?

Stein Ørnhøi wrote in the Class Fight in October that Russians are not so different from Norwegians, under the headline "I have seen a Russian laugh". In Albregtsen's book, I mostly see the stone faces that I met in Sochi (the book is unfortunately without pictures). But one place loosens it. During an excursion near the border of South Korea, an object from the sky suddenly falls on the hat of the military guide. It turns out that a squirrel has lost its king. "Was it a squirrel in from the south?" asks Albregtsen. Whereupon "the serious militarist, the intelligence guide and the committed audience member made a laughable break". It's good to hear that the North Koreans can laugh, too.

Aslak Storaker
Aslak Storaker
Storaker is a regular writer in Ny Tid, and a member of Rødt's international committee.

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