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North Korea: Witness to Transformation

Glimpses: New Rimjingang Footage

by | July 2nd, 2011 | 02:08 pm
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We are creating a new thread called “Glimpses” which will post video and photographic images of North Korea.

Last week, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Mark Willacy broke a story on hunger in the country among the military, drawing on new video footage by “an undercover North Korean journalist.” As the story notes, the reportage came from Jiru Ishimaru’s Rimjingang. In an earlier blog we described his extraordinary effort to train North Korean journalists—at incredible risk–and a recent book-length collection of the organization’s must-read journalism.

The video—which has been removed from the ABC site—is posted on Rimjingang. Among the highlights noted by Willacy and Rimjingang:

  • The usual assortment of kotjebi (literally fluttering swallows): the orphaned and malnourished children hovering at the edges of markets looking for food;
  • An interview with a solider who claims that half of the 100 troops in his unit are malnourished;
  • At the same time, reporters find markets stocked with white rice, corn, pork and liquor.
  • In one vignette, an official responsible for managing the market gets into an altercation with a market vendor over “contributions” to the military.

Ishimaru, who has been working this issue since the 1990s, believes that conditions this spring are as bad as since the great famine. Even Pyongyang is affected. The title of his piece conforms exactly with the analysis we have repeated ad nauseum: that distress is “not a matter of absolute shortage, [but] a matter of distribution and access.” It is false comfort to see food in the markets and think that everything is OK. Those without cash to access the markets—including soldiers—can go hungry even when the nouveau riche are living well.

An additional benefit of the Rimjingang site: updates on market prices. We will be posting on prices and on the aggregate food balances in the near future.