Saturday, 5 July 2014

North Korea becoming more like (a stereotypical) South Carolina
Ah Rodman, are last best hope for peace. Sadly that isn't a joke.

With everything that's been going on in the world this is admittedly a minor point but it struck me as interesting. Among my many obscure hobbies I include Ostalgia and North Korea watching. Now North Korea watching is a bit like hunting for Bigfoot there's a lot of reports but most of them are exaggerated or an outright hoax. The only real difference is that here Bigfoot does his share of the exaggerating and lying.

This has been a hobby of mine on and off for years, I've watched every documentary on North Korea I know of, read several books and on rare occasion give the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) a curious look through. If you're not familiar with that network the KCNA is the official English language news service -with a small Spanish version- of the North Korean government, which is strangely hosted in Japan. It has many problems and you'll quickly realise what they are when reading through them.

For the most part it doesn't actually give you any relevant information, most of the articles are acknowledgements that the North Korean government "greeted" or more accurately sent a letter to a head of state somewhere congratulating them and saying how nice it would be if the two nations worked together. The rest was really dull lists of things the leader did and attended. As a result I go months without even glancing at it, as a result I missed what is possibly the closest the KCNA has come to reporting and indeed making news in a long time.

I'm sure you're familiar with the UN's Human Rights Council's investigation on North Korea, the one that's sparked fresh allegations of torture, prison camps and mass systemic brutalisation of a large number of North Korea's population. The one were those sketches came from.

 Drawings by former prisioner 1Drawings by former prisioner 2

Well predictably the North Korean regime didn't take that well, and it reacted just like every other political group does when under criticism, deflect attention by claiming the source of the criticism is acting in ill faith. They did so by going in a strange direction however, the official line accuses the USA of being behind it shocking no one, but in addition to that they attacked one of the Councils Commissioners Michael Kirby. Since his from Australia a close ally of the USA that's not really surprising either, but instead of cracking jokes about Crocodile Dundee and ending with "G'day mate" the KCNA decided to attack his sex life.

Kirby is homosexual and currently Australia's been having one blazing row after another over the Gay marriage thing. The KCNA singled out Kirby's homosexuality and mocked this facet of Australian domestic politics. Here's the article in full emphasis is my own.
KCNA Commentary Slams Artifice by Political Swindlers

Pyongyang, April 22 (KCNA) -- Michael Kirby, chairman of the "Commission of Inquiry (CI)" on human rights situation in the DPRK, called a press conference at the UN headquarters on April 17.
He told reporters of different countries, skeptical about the truth of CI's "human rights report", that it was based on "testimonies" by "defectors". With such awkward excuse, he asserted it is high time that a UNSC was called to discuss the DPRK's "human rights issue" and bring it to the International Criminal Court.

His rash act is a last-ditch effort intended to lend credence to the "report" peppered with fabrications and create an atmosphere of international pressure on the DPRK in this regard.

Lurking behind it is a dishonest and political purpose of the U.S. and its followers seeking to undermine the ideology and social system of the DPRK.

Now, the forces hostile toward the DPRK regard the "human rights issue" as a main lever for stifling it since they had no way out over the "nuclear issue".

After all, such political swindlers as Kirby were mobilized so as to internationalize the nonexistent "human rights issue" of the DPRK.

As for Kirby who took the lead in cooking the "report", he is a disgusting old lecher with a 40-odd-year-long career of homosexuality. He is now over seventy, but he is still anxious to get married to his homosexual partner.

This practice can never be found in the DPRK boasting of the sound mentality and good morals, and homosexuality has become a target of public criticism even in Western countries, too. In fact, it is ridiculous for such gay to sponsor dealing with others' human rights issue.

As been already known, what was put up by Kirby and his group as data is all testimonies made by those "defectors", who are runaways or terrorists as they betrayed their country and nation after committing indelible crimes.

However, the Kirby group styling itself a judge accepted such unconfirmed data to cook up the "report". This makes one question if the group has an elementary legal sense. After all, they changed their position as judges with money paid by the U.S. and its followers.

At present, many countries and even Western media and personages are astonished at the Kirby group's "report" presented to a sacred UN body, terming it a replica of Nazi-style arbitrariness.

It is so pitiable for the U.S. and its followers to attempt to frighten the DPRK by letting such dirty swindlers, ready to do anything for money, invent an anti-DPRK false document.

The army and people of the DPRK reject the fabricated document as a foul crime unprecedented in the world history of human rights and will surely force them to pay dearly for it.
So in one brief article the KCNA and by extension the North Korean government has managed to cover an impressive number of homophobic slurs, we've got references to promiscuity, describing gay marriage as absurd and denying homosexuality exists in North Korea. The last one reminds me of when North Korea claimed disability not caused by an accident didn't exist in North Korea either.
The old lecher himself

Now I doubt this really surprises anyone North Korea is many things but San Francisco it isn't. And if as many have suspected for a long time that the North Korean regime is capable of treating its own people in just a handful of the atrocities alleged over the years then a like of social progressivism is trivial by comparison.Though given that the new line appears to be that North Korea treats homosexuality as a form of decadence and taking into account how their system treats people for lesser deviations that doesn't really bode well North Korean gays.

The KCNA article did however surprise me, since I can remember a time when North Korea was bragging about how irrational the West was in regard to homosexuality. Several years ago I went onto "the official web page of the DPR of Korea" but in reality its run by the Korean Friendship Association (KFA) a small international gathering of mostly alienated Stalinists. However since the KFA is sponsored by the North Korean government and organises a lot of those group travel packages to North Korea, it is an unofficial arm of North Korean foreign policy. Anyway they had an FAQ section which I browsed, though interestingly I can no longer find it on there website and had to use a webarchive. The FAQ seemed pretty shifty though I was amused by the answer to a question about working in North Korea being answered with "No", whereas all the other questions got a paragraph at least.

Question twenty was

20. What is North Korea's stance on homosexuality?

Due to tradition in Korean culture, it is not customary for individuals of any sexual orientation to engage in public displays of affection(1). As a country that has embraced science and rationalism, the DPRK recognizes that many individuals are born with homosexuality as a genetic trait and treats them with due respect.
Homosexuals in the DPRK have never been subject to repression, as in many capitalist regimes around the world. However, North Koreans also place a lot of emphasis on social harmony and morals(2). Therefore, the DPRK rejects
many characteristics of the popular gay culture in the West(3), which many perceive to embrace consumerism, classism and promiscuity(4).
1: What has this got to do with homosexuality?
2: What exactly does this mean? to me it sounds like they "voluntarily" conform to societal pressures, but I don't know because they don't elaborate.
3: A false implication that there is such a thing as monolithic gay culture.
4: Ok, so what do they do instead?

Looking for official laws on the subject or statements didn't clear it up, as far as I can tell there have been no official statements by the North Korean government or the three legal political parties in North Korea about homosexuality. Though North Korea did vote against the UN declaration in support of LGBT rights, and also voted in favour of a resolution that supported sexual orientation as grounds for execution.

So over all not really great but there is definitely a regression and contradiction between this and the much more recent article by the KCNA. So could this be a sign of a drift into even more extreme social conservatism by the new Dear Leader? Maybe its worth keeping an eye on so long as its part of the overall framework of critique and observation of North Korea. Personally speaking if Kim Jong Un decided to embrace the Gays and use them to make his regime look more palatable and reformed internationally, whilst maintaining the oppressive system as a whole like his fathers administration sort of did in 2009 then I won't be cheering. This is just another example of the poor relationship between sex and sexuality and authoritarian politics.

Now before we wrap up you may be thinking this is evidence is a bit slim, and I agree assuming you are thinking that. The reason why I'm using just these two sources for my main argument is because those are the only two sources I am absolutely sure accurately reflect the views of the North Korean government regarding homosexuality at the time they were published. The said thing is that most stories about North Korea even those appearing on fairly reliable news sources can be false or exaggerated. I did however find other sources on the status and treatment of Gay North Koreans and will give a few interesting extracts. But I can't really vouch for there accuracy so keep that in mind if you wish to read on.

North Korean news has a pretty interesting article on the subject that talks to several defectors, KFA and KORYO tour operators and other North Korea watchers.

“You have flourishing same-sex relationships before marriage – it’s not conceived of as sex, it’s just physical affection,” Smith told NK News, and she said it is highly likely that same-sex relationships take place, just as in the West, in gender-segregated places such as the army.
Overall I find NK News to be fairly reliable, they have access to KFA and North Korean sources but are willing to criticise and examine North Korea too. They also have a KCNA watch section which despite just posting KCNA news verbatim manages to improve KCNA coverage. For starters they have a search bar meaning its possible to actually search for specific news items, to do that on the KCNA website you have to go to the calendar and check day by day. It also includes photo's KCNA does have photo's but to see them you have to go onto there Korean language photo service. It also a graphing tool so you can see how many KCNA news pieces are about or mention something in particular.

Echoing the NK News story I've found this piece by Koryo tours, the company that handles most of the group visits to North Korea, they supply the guides and pass and assign the travel plans. This is what it had to say.

While North Koreans will deny that homosexuality exists in the DPRK it is more a case of not existing culturally than anything else. It isn’t an inherently anti-gay country, just somewhere that this is never mentioned, and people grow up generally completely ignorant of the existence of alternative sexuality as well as gender issues, not to mention the mechanics of any kind of non-vanilla sex.

Now I personally don't like Koryo tours as a source of accurate information on North Korea in most areas because they are simply very dishonest. In that same article they deny that Koryo tours is part of the North Korean government, even though they admit to being set up by the KITC which is the national travel company and owned by the state. In this particular case they claim that "there are many differences between the State, state-ownership, and the Government" that simply is a lie. The government runs the state so it is also in charge of the states institutions like KITC. In Britain state owned businesses while run like any other company were ultimately under the control of the relevant Minister, Energy, Transport, Housing etc.

But in this case I don't really see what they'd gain by lying and what they say is backed up elsewhere so I guess its reliable.

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