20 crazy facts about North Korea
1. There is a “three-generation punishment.” This means that when a person is sent to prison his whole family goes with him, and the next two generations of his family are born in prison and live out their lives there.
This fact is absolutely, horrifyingly true, and you can read about what it means to be second generation in the book Escape from Camp 14. We don’t claim it will make you sob nonstop, but if you can read it without a single “Damn it, I can’t take it anymore…” then you must be a robot. If you are wondering what a North Korean has to do to get into one of these prison labor camps, the answer is simple: political crime. And a political crime means criticizing the government or trying to flee the country.
2. the six-day work week and another day of forced “volunteer” work ensure that the average citizen has virtually no free time.
This fact appears periodically on the Internet, but its source is unknown. However, one can easily learn a little about how jobs are organized in North Korea. It seems that everyone after high school is automatically given a job by the government, and attached to that job for life. But the system breaks down, and North Koreans now have to make money for themselves–by bribing their factory bosses. There are other jobs in state-run “companies” where you can earn foreign currency, but it is impossible to get in without a bribe.
3. In North Korea the production, possession and use of marijuana is legal, and recommended by the “Ministry of Health” as a healthier alternative to tobacco. “Tourists tell stories of marijuana bushes growing freely by the side of the road.
Surprisingly, this is 100% true and in fact even more so. Marijuana is not the only drug that is legal in North Korea. The government encourages people to grow opium on land they are not using. As for marijuana bushes growing freely on the side of the road, it turns out that marijuana is often planted along railroad tracks to support the rails with its deep roots. Meth, on the other hand, is strictly forbidden – and you can “face a firing squad if you are caught for meth.
4. According to official documents, Kim Jong-il learned to walk at the age of three weeks. During his university studies, Kim also wrote 1,500 books, including six major operas, according to official documents. According to his official biography, all of his operas are “the best in the history of music.” Then there are his athletic accomplishments. In 1994, the Pyongyang media reported that when Kim visited the golf club for the first time, he had brilliantly completed 38 holes, 11 of them in one stroke. All this in front of 17 personal bodyguards. After that, he decided to retire from the sport for good.
These facts were widely reported even by the Western media immediately after Kim Jong Il’s death. While it is impossible to verify how many holes at a time the Dear Leader surmounted, we assume that the actual number is slightly lower than the official documents claim. But Kim wasn’t just serious about sports, the supposedly North Korean soccer team was publicly mocked for losing the 2010 FIFA World Cup for six hours. Better not to play soccer in this country.
5. If North Korea launched its biggest nuclear warhead to explode in Time Square, it just wouldn’t make it there.
This fact is hard to confirm or deny without an actual test launch, but it’s worth remembering that the reclusive country successfully launched its own satellite in 2012. On the other hand, as everyone knows, Korea simply doesn’t have a launch vehicle powerful enough to get something heavy enough off the ground. So this is mostly true, but the U.S. should not be complacent after all.
6. The success rate of this country’s space company is 20%.
This is a very strange statistical figure, because it is not clear what kind of success is meant. We think it refers to satellite launches, because of the five launches made by North Korea, only one successfully reached orbit. However, the North Korean government claims that there is another satellite that went into orbit in 1998 and is now sending patriotic songs into space. For science, I guess!
7. The Hoeryong concentration camp in North Korea holds 50,000 men, women and children who are used as slaves, tortured and experimented on, just like during the Holocaust.
The number quoted here seems to be taken from an Amnesty International report in the 1990s. One ex-guardsman who defected from North Korea estimated that approximately 2,000 people die of malnutrition in Hoeryong concentration camp each year, but that the number of residents remains constant and equal to 50,000, thanks to an equal number of newly “chosen” prisoners. The same guard estimated that 30% of the inmates have physical deformities, such as missing limbs.
8. “Researchers” from North Korea concluded that North Korea is the second happiest country after China.
This study was widely reported around the world in 2011, so you’ve probably heard of it before. What you may not have heard was the U.S. happiness ranking. Researchers from North Korea placed the U.S. at the very bottom the summary characterization was, “Long dead.” Hmmm … we’ve always suspected that all Americans are secretly depressed. I think we’ll agree with the Korean scientists.
9. All teachers in the 1990s had to know how to play the accordion – and they had to pass an accordion exam before they could get a teaching certificate.
This fact seems to come from a 2009 book, Nothing to Envy, which described the lives of six North Koreans for more than 15 years. Among them was one schoolteacher. Apparently her accordion exam was postponed because of Kim Jong-il’s death, although she was able to get a job as a kindergarten teacher before she could take the exam.
10. Kijong-Dong is a propaganda town that was built by Kim Jong Il’s father in the 1950s on the country’s border. It was supposed to show the superiority of the North over the South and inspire people to defect from the South to the North.
But in fact it had no inhabitants. The government had spent a great deal of money and every effort had been made to create the appearance of a functioning city, including lights in the streets. It was enough to look through good optics to expose a city whose glass buildings were essentially just boxes with a complete absence of any interior. The city also housed the world’s largest flagpole.
In addition to the empty buildings, North Korea also had loudspeakers that trumpeted propaganda to its southern neighbors. Those, in turn, returned the favor. Fortunately for all, both countries agreed to stop their noise-gamming in 2004.
11. Every North Korean household and business is equipped with a government-controlled radio that cannot be turned off, it can be turned down.
This is another fact that cannot be fully confirmed. Many Web sites report it, but the original source is unknown. But the fact that there is a constant blackout at the very least suggests that the fact cannot be 100% true.
12. idolatry in North Korea is such that a portrait of Kim Jong-il is the second thing ordinary citizens have to save in case of fire after themselves (there are even special bunkers for statues in case of war).
You can’t say for sure about the paintings, but the 100% truth is that all the statues of the leaders are guarded by the armed forces, like the real leaders of the country. Even we with our cat worship haven’t gotten that far!
13. It’s not 2014 in North Korea. It’s 103 there because North Korea counts years since Kim Jong Il was born, not Jesus.
What about those things that happened before Kim Jong Il was born?
14. Literacy in North Korea is defined by the ability to write “Kim Jong Il.”
This may be true, and is explained by the fact that in North Korea, according to their data, 99 percent of the population is literate. Obviously, almost no one believes this statistical figure (remember the 1998 satellite?). But the North Korean education system includes 11 years of compulsory education, so it is possible that the average North Korean can actually read and write.
15. Execution by mortar shell in North Korea.
That’s just awful, isn’t it? Yes, execution by mortar shell is used in North Korea and this is a fact, but it is not particularly common. It was used on a top government official who didn’t wait long enough to have a party after Kim Jong Il died and was executed for lack of proper mourning.
16. The North Korean constitution says: “Citizens are guaranteed freedom of speech, press, voice, demonstration, and union.”
This is certainly true, and you can even read the North Korean constitution if you like. If you think this defies reality, you are completely wrong, but the document also contains some “buts” that will not seem very “democratic” to foreigners. For example: “Citizens should firmly guard the political and ideological unity and solidarity of the people,” and “Work is a noble duty and honor for a citizen.”
17. North Korea’s economy was larger than South Korea’s before the 1970s. Now the GDP is only 2.5% of South Korea’s.
North Korea’s economy is even smaller than its own shadow. In 2011, the estimated GDP per person was about $1,800 per year, slightly less than, say, South Korea’s GDP per person of about $30,800. On the other hand, we assume that there is not much to buy in North Korea.
18. North Korea holds elections every 5 years with only one candidate listed on the ballot.
This fact hardly seems surprising, although we should note that while there is actually only one candidate for any government seat, voters can, technically, veto a candidate. That means they can vote against someone by crossing their name off – but to do so, the voter has to go into a special box where everyone can see that they are making a choice and no doubt their name is already “blacklisted.”
19. In North Korea the number of Internet users is only 605.
We have not been able to find actual numbers for this fact, but we suspect it may have been a little out of date. Computer and Internet use seems to be growing by the day, though mostly limited to upper-class officials and students. For example, North Korea recently debuted its own Linux-based operating system called Red Star. Moreover, some even say that North Korea is undergoing a digital revolution-though on such a small scale that we think the word “deviation” would fit better than “revolution. However, it has been claimed that the North Koreans have a hand in the evolving software for everything from Middle Eastern banks to … Nintendo and Sony? Mmm … let me just say that we don’t … believe it a bit.
20. North Korea sells its citizens to Russia as slaves for logging camps.
We have nothing to add to this except that the timber is obviously sold to a British company and used in “making furniture you have at home everywhere.”