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North Korea, also known ironically as the "Democratic People's Republic of Korea" (DPRK), is a small remnant of the Cold War ruled by third generation "leader" Kim Jong Un. The former ruler and father of the current, Kim Jong Il, lorded over the country as a God-king, and had the world's largest personality cult. He inherited power from his daddy, Kim Il Sung, who founded the nation with the assistance from the Soviet Union. However, since the current leader is the third generation Kim, that would make North Korea the world's only Communist dynasty. This is especially bizarre since monarchism was one of the things Marx railed against.
North Korea is perhaps the most undemocratic and totalitarian state in existence, with possibly the world's worst human rights record, and one of the only countries in the world in which internet access is hugely censored and generally only available in the capital.
Seriously, the people in that country are starving to death, and yet Kim still thought that one day he'd reunite all of Korea under his benevolent heel. Not to mention that, as pointed out at the beginning of this page, the official name is actually less accurate than the informal name (in contrast to how the Republic of Korea is, well, a republic on the Korean peninsula).
- See main article, Juche
The country's official name (DPRK) is anything but accurate. Amusingly enough, the definition of the word "democratic" according to the Oxford English Dictionary is "a system of government by the whole population of a state," and the definition of "republic" is "a state in which supreme power is held by the people," meaning that North Korea's full name means "People-ruled People's People-ruled State of Korea." In reality, North Korea is neither a democracy nor a republic: it is a full on dictatorship - specifically, an absolute hereditary monarchy. The real leader, Kim Jong Un, is officially only de facto head of the party (With his death, Kim Jong-Il was declared "Eternal General Secretary" of the party, making him the head of the party de jure) and the head of the army. Kim Il-Sung, despite being dead since 1994, is still the official Head of State, which led columnist Christopher Hitchens to refer to the nation as a "necrocracy."
North Korea's official ideology is "Juche," a totally self-serving invention of Kim Il-Sung which combines Stalinism and Maoism with fervent religious worship of Kim Il-Sung, and now his son and grandson. As part of the Juche ideology, North Korea's government is a dictatorship of three groups in society: the industrial proletariat, farmers and peasants, and intellectuals. This is in contrast to the usual Communist notion that the dictatorship is of the industrial proletariat only, and, one supposes, makes North Korea slightly less bad in comparison to Cambodia under Pol Pot, who had all the intellectuals executed. Furthermore, after the fall of the USSR, the official North Korean propaganda shifted away from Communism (though much of the imagery in sculptures, etc. remained), and a few years ago references to Communism were removed entirely, despite the command economy still in force.
Whether any of the ideas that comprise Juche other than veneration of the Kim family matter is disputed. B.R. Myers argues that Juche is a Marxist-Leninist fig leaf that conceals a racial nationalism. Kongdan Oh and Ralph C. Hassig conclude that the supposed content of Juche evaporates once one peels away a few layers of the discourse. In either case, it hardly matters what Juche means. What matters is that North Koreans are presented with an ideology that legitimates the authority of their rulers. In this they share a common circumstance with the rest of humanity.
North Korea has three political parties, allegedly representing each of these classes, instead of the usual one in other Communist states. None of these parties is independent to any degree and are all fronts for the personality cult of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il, so don't let anyone fool you into thinking North Korea is a multiparty democracy or anything like that. The largest and most dominant of these parties is the Workers Party of Korea. The real opposition if it exists is forcibly suppressed by the government to the point of paranoia; anyone who fails to show sufficient religious fervor toward the Great Leader and the Dear Leader is suspect.
Its only real industry at this point is its military (which all men and women aged 18-35 are required to join). A joint North-South industrial park, Kaesong,
has been was set up, but rather intrusive "security" regulations on workers and businessmen has prevented it from doing as well as it might. During the Cold War, North Korea benefited from favourable trade deals with other communist countries, particularly the USSR. However, when the USSR collapsed there was no longer a market for inferior North Korean goods and NK stopped receiving favourable prices on fuel and the like. NK factories stopped functioning, and a 'rust belt' emerged, as factories fell into disrepair.
Instead, North Korea is trying to build up its tourism, by showcasing the "natural beauty" that exists there. Considering the nation's near total lack of development it does indeed have a lot of natural wonders. Of course, the tourist board does not mention the spirit-crushing hunger that most of the non-military citizens endure.
 Human rights record
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North Korea is possibly the most blatant violator of human rights in the world. While Kim Jong-il ate delicacies from around the world, most of the country's population is starving, brainwashed, and terrified. Most Western and South Korean food aid is given to the Army and to government officials, and only a trickle is available to the population.
At the same time, the government has told its people to blame Western sanctions, and even the story that it is stockpiling food to feed the starving South Korean masses. Millions have died of starvation, and many are forced to scavenge for food. Most of the population lives in impoverished villages with little or no food available, and must rely on themselves to survive and keep their families alive. If they can afford it, they can buy from the country's secretive black market. These villages are among the most filthy and impoverished areas in the world.
People living in cities or towns have slightly better lives. They have access to state media, and can get jobs in local factories, hospitals, or schools, but people's lives are constantly controlled by fear. The residents of Pyongyang, the capital, live better than the rest of the country. The government awards people by letting them live there. However, living conditions in Pyongyang are still poor by Western standards. In a sick parody of George Orwell's 1984, each home has a radio in the wall that blares propaganda at given times, and cannot be turned off. Each home in North Korean cities also must have well-maintained portraits of Kim Jong-il, Kim Il-sung, and Kim Jong-un.
Health care is almost non-existent in the country. North Korea's hospitals have extreme shortages of medicine and medical supplies, and use beer bottles as IVs. Most of their antiquated medical equipment is donated by the world, but few doctors know how to operate it. Doctors often have to donate their own blood and pieces of skin when operating.
Political repression is worse than any other country in the world. People often spy on each other for the slightest signs of disloyalty, and the government not only punishes offenders, but also punishes three generations of their families in order to purge their tainted blood. Police can at random inspect someone's home, and look for signs of disloyalty, such as foreign television or a secret lover (pre-marital relationships are strictly forbidden, despite both Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il reportedly having many of them). As well as any open criticism of the government, any slight sign of disrespect for dead dictator Kim Il-sung, complaints about living conditions, or offenses by a family member can get one in severe trouble. In North Korea, "punishment" includes either public execution, or imprisonment in one of a series of gulag-like camps in mountains near the Chinese border, where people, some of them there for life, slave away to brutal guards, scavenge for food, are tortured and interrogated and even raped, and are forced to watch and even participate in public executions. Many children do not even know that a world exists outside of the camps.
North Koreans are taught to hate and fear the rest of the world, and especially South Koreans, Americans, and Japanese, the latter of which are a particularly virulent target of official DPRK state hate. Although a privileged few get the chance to meet a Westerner in a carefully guided tour throughout Pyongyang, almost all North Koreans have had absolutely no contact with citizens of foreign nations. The only media available is government-controlled (consisting of the Korean Central News Agency, and a newspaper called the Rodong Sinmun). Access to the internet is strictly forbidden. Amateur radio licenses are not issued to North Korean citizens. Mail can only be sent within the country, and is carefully inspected. Access to telephone lines going into and out of the country are restricted and are always monitored. With information access from the rest of the world completely blocked off, no one except those who secretly listen to foreign radio or watch foreign television can get any real news. Many people don't even know that a man walked on the moon.
 Why do they still exist?
This is a question which is frequently asked, but infrequently answered. Part of it is due to its vicinity to post-Soviet era states, but it gets more complicated than that.
The primary reason is that the North Koreans have dug in a massive artillery network into the mountains, which is so deep that even the modern bunker buster bombs couldn't possibly reach them. These artillery pieces have the range to reach Seoul, which is one of the most densely populated cities in the world. Given the expectation of gas and chemical rounds, the civilian causalities could be in the tens, if not hundreds of thousands. After that, North Korea's ability to wage war would essentially be zero, as even their soldiers exist on starvation diets. These artillery pieces are in the process of falling apart, which necessitates North Korea acquiring, or at least pretending to acquire nuclear weapons to preserve this stalemate. Add into that the fact that the annexation of North Korea could be the single largest humanitarian crisis in history, and there is a strong disincentive for NATO to go to war. South Korea keeps up appearances, but taking on millions of unfed, untrained peasants may well destroy its economy for decades. While the US and South Korea could likely beat the North Koreans completely, the ultimate answer still remains "for what" and "at what cost," neither of which can be answered by the West.
In the end, all the cards are left with China, arguably its sole remaining ally on the entire planet. And even they have had enough with the Kims' shit, and are now devising plans beside the US on sanctions. With relations deteriorating further throughout March-April 2013 a confrontation seems inevitable. While North Korea is infamous for blowing a lot of hot air without much action, the air of this situation reaks of desperation. Nothing is certain, but the two most likely outcomes both lead to its destruction.
 See also
- A very funny North Korean government video on why citizens should keep North Korea beautiful, in accordance with socialist principles, by getting a haircut.
- North Korean news headlines from the official English language service of the DPRK. This has to be a parody, right?
- North Korea's official website.
Make sure your browser can handle frames, and you have the latest html and java update from 1998It got better.
- Hi-res photo of Taepodong-2 launch April 5, 2009
- The Toughest Job in North Korea
- North Korea: Explained
- If you're actually dumb enough to think that nothing's wrong in North Korea, here's a first-hand account of life in one of their gulags.
- Parody North Korea Tourism Page
- A good source of North Korean propaganda films
- Fan-translated North Korean propaganda animation
- ↑ Who continues to lead as the "Eternal General-Secretary" and "Eternal Chairman"
- ↑ It is not technically inherited, since Kim Il Sung is still the "Eternal President of the Republic"
- ↑ "The Internet Black Hole That Is North Korea", New York Times, October 23, 2006.
- ↑ http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/northkorea/9197729/Kim-Jong-il-made-General-Secretary-for-Eternity-at-North-Korea-ceremony.html
- ↑ Deadly Disinterest: Why has the Bush administration lost interest in North Korea?, Slate, December 24, 2007.
- ↑ B.R. Myers. 2010. The Cleanest Race. Brooklyn, NY: Melville House.
- ↑ Kongdan Oh and Ralph C. Hassig. 2000. North Korea: Through the Looking Glass. Washington, DC: Brooking Institution Press.
- ↑ I didn't choose the nuke life, the nuke life chose me.
- ↑ Reunification of the Koreas is a noble ideal, and might be seen in our lifetimes, but trying a repeat of West and East Germany will be downright impossible.
- ↑ Wikileaks cables reveal China 'ready to abandon North Korea' The Grauniad, November 19, 2010.
- ↑ Tougher Sanctions on North Korea Pass in Unified U.N. Vote, New York Times, March 7, 2013.
- ↑ See the Wikipedia article on Korean Missile Crisis.