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Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Kiwi Students Tour North Korea-Land of Heroes

In May, three Auckland University students, Rimoni Leota (AUSA International Affairs officer), Viadom Piatov (Auckland Uni Political Studies Students Society) and Nick Healy (a member of the NZ/Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea Friendship Society) toured North Korea.

Here are some highlights and snapshots of their holiday, excerpted from a Scoop article by Nick Healy.

After months of organisation and belated email exchanges between a North Korean tour company, the New Zealand DPRK friendship society and ourselves (group of three Auckland University Arts students), what begun as a faint idea sometime last year in the Quad was about to happen.

We were accepted and furthermore invited to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea or more commonly know round these parts as North Korea. Beginning with a 2 ½ hour flight from Beijing on board a 1960s Soviet jet, our six day glimpse into the ‘hermit state’ took us around Pyongyang, to the DPRK founder Kim Il Sung’s tomb, the Demilitarization Zone, to the ancient capital of Korea; the city of Kaesong.

The Juche tower is well over 100 metres tall

We also partook in some good old fashioned labour on the affectionately named ‘New Zealand Friendship Farm’, talked politics with some ‘Pyongyang officials’ and some highly intelligent students as well as sharing many good memories and conversations with young soldiers and our tour guides. The trip wound up with a 24 hour train ride from Pyongyang to Beijing on board yet another marvel of old Soviet design which dominates the infrastructure in the DPR of Korea.

Upon arriving at Pyongyang airport you realise exactly where you are. The proud, smiling face of the former ‘Great Leader’ Kim Il Sung’s portrait hangs above the only, relatively small and calm terminal. On each side of the airport runway, peasant farmers tend to dry fields which have only recently defrosted after a long, freezing winter.

A view of Pyongyang’s ‘arch of triumph’ with hundreds of young people practising for an upcoming, ‘mass gymnastics’ event.

Baat, a former military para-trooper who spent 22 years of his life serving in the ‘People’s Army’ and Kim a young, fresh faced and chirpy but quiet ex Mig fighter pilot (or so we assumed by his exceptional and often freakishly fast driving) were our guides, our; comrades if you will, for our time in North Korea.

A statue of the 'Greater Leader' Kim Il Sung

What soon becomes obvious when driving through the almost empty streets of Pyongyang is first; how few cars there are, and second; the immense pride the country bestows on its revolutionary history. Monuments that would literally dwarf anything we have ever seen (even in books), speckle the view of the city, monuments to the heroic struggles of the past and victories against ‘foreign imperialists’.

Wishing to make a desirable impression on our guests and being aware of the fact that when visiting important cultural sites in North Korea (as well as any country) one is to show a great deal of respect- we were already wearing suits when we visited a 30 metre, pristinely polished bronze statue of Kim Il Sung.

Bronze statues at a war memorial

At the foot of the statue we lay flowers handed to us by Baat and Kim. Flanked on either side of this impressive statue are 50 to 70 metre long bronze panoramic statues of revolutionaries, war heroes, children and mothers striving forward toward a socialist ideal with rifles, pitch forks, hammers and sickles.

Rising above the confused but intricately designed statue of Koreans marching forward- a strong hand holds a torch; an icon of North Korea, the ‘Juche’ torch. ‘Juche’ being a hybrid of ideas which Kim Il Sung developed as he lead the Korean fight against the Japanese occupation- its guiding principle is self sufficiency and the control of one’s own destiny- as well as maintaining classic Marxist principles.

On day two we are instructed to dress well for a visit to the ‘Kim Il Sung monument palace.’ We don our suits once again and after a short drive though a series of ordinary streets arrive at the beginning of boulevards that were surprisingly well maintained compared to any roads we had seen so far. The manicured streets surrounded by rows of trees with an almost Parisian style to them indicate that we were in the vicinity of the monument.

Facing us from the middle of the palace was yet another smiling face of the ‘Great Leader’ Kim Il Sung; atop was a fluttering North Korean flag. We entered a long corridor and passed through a metal detector which seemed strange to us at first; we emptied our wallets of everything, including wallets, keys and cameras. ‘This place is very sacred; nothing impure must enter,’ being explained to us in a whisper by our young guide- Kim. Next thing we know, our group as well as two Canadian tourists are instructed to walk over a grilled floor contraption with bristles to clean the soles of our shoes, then onto sponges to rinse the soles so as not to bring any dirt into the palace of the ‘Great Leader’.

All this happens while being completely surrounded by polished marble you could almost see your reflection in; everything in this memorial is made of polished marble. We continue on a horizontal escalator for over a kilometre, turn though a corridor and up an escalator until we reach a tunnel like doorway with small fans on either side to brush off any dust (we assumed) that our suits may carry.

We bowed slowly and solemnly and there is really nothing to look at while you walk through the hall but this amazing statue which mimics ivory in its colour. The only noise in the room is the music and the sound of foot steps echoing off the marble walls. To the right of the statue, we entered a smaller room, with black polished marble walls and floor; in the middle lay a preserved Kim Il Sung with a North Korean flag draped over his waist. Mao, Ho Chi Minh and Lenin were pickled in liquid, but as the Korean Leader only passed in 1994, he was preserved in a sealed case with the use of gases and as a result looks almost alive.

Visiting the resting place of North Korea’s founding father was one of the most humbling experiences of my life and it laid the foundations in our minds into understanding how important ‘The Great Leader’ and his ‘everlasting legacy’ is to the North Korean people. The word ‘legacy’ is emphasised because dotted around the city and countryside amongst many other repetitive slogans promoting national unity proclaim that ‘Kim Il Sung will live forever’ in the hearts and minds of the Korean people.

New Zeal Perhaps one of our Auckland Uni readers could ask AUSA, how much student money went towards this great, almost spiritual journey?


Blogger Just my opinion said...

Exactly. That was the first thing I thought. I hope more information comes forward.

9:15 PM  
Blogger Blair said...

Fortunately it's a voluntary union, so even if AUSA did fund it, the money comes from profit making enterprises. Of course this is a very poor use of student resources (how many kegs would a trip to North Korea buy?), but at least nobody has to join if they don't like it.

9:20 PM  
Blogger Trevor Loudon said...

Blair have i lost touch. I thought AUSA had returned to compulsion, or am I thinking of Waikato?

Clint. tried to call you, but the cell phone number I haddidn't work. Email your number to me if poss.

9:25 PM  
Blogger MikeE said...

Auckland is Voluntary, current pres (dan) campaigned on voluntary and won.

I should know - I nominated him for AUSA pres first time around! (and SRC chair).

AUSA isn't going compulsary any time soon, otherwise there will be a few alumni volunteering their time to help out against any compulsion campaign that I know of.

I'll email Dan and find out if student money went that way - I hope not.

9:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Of course AUSA could have saved money with one way tickets.

11:24 AM  
Blogger Trevor Loudon said...

Sorry guys, it was AUSA going back into NZUSA I was thinking of.

Correct me if I'm wrong

all university students associations afiliated to NZUSA, except UCSA.

All Univesity associations compulsory except AUSA

1:34 PM  
Blogger Sonic said...

Have your heard that all Doctors have to join an orginisation, all dentists, lawyers, nurses.

It's a damn outrage!

I am quite happy to allow students to opt out of joining the SU, but then they lose all benefits of being a member, no representation, no access to facilities, no joining sports clubs etc etc etc.

1:50 PM  
Blogger Trevor Loudon said...

Students shouldn't have to join associations and nor should the other groups you mention. Free association and incentives produces excellence and high standards. Compulsion produces mediocrity and destroys good will.
Why in God's name would anyone see a vrtue in arguing for compulsion, when all the best in life is achieved thru freedom.

2:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sonic - what "facilities" are you talking about?

5:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would love to go to North Korea some day - although hopefully I won't get the chance to see it in it's current state. As much as I would like to tour around a Stalinist state, I would much rather go there once the people of that country have felt what freedom feels like.

9:43 PM  
Blogger Just my opinion said...

Sonic, brilliant. You have labelled some of the benefits of membership. But if students CHOOSE to not take advantage of these then they have that choice.
If membership was so advantageous then hardly anybody would opt out.

It is very rich that you compare professional organisations with a student union. Both are completely different. Nor can you realistically call a student union "professional".

Trev, the ironic thing is that membership to NZUSA is voluntary.

10:29 PM  
Blogger Oliver said...

AUSA is a voluntary organisation, Trev, thus it's entirely their own choice where to spend the money within the context of your radical libertarian ideology.

Presumably if we were talking about neo-liberal Chile under Pinochet, you would be glowingly supporting the students, right?

2:13 AM  
Blogger Sonic said...

As I said they can opt out if they like, I've no problem if some right-wing loony (no offence) has a desire to cut himself off from the rest of the student body.

10:33 AM  
Blogger Trevor Loudon said...

No offence taken

10:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Soinc - the problem is they can't "opt out if they like" under the current law which locks in compulsory membership.

The conscientious objection clauses don't work.

So would you support voluntary membership?

12:45 PM  
Blogger Oliver said...

Scott, I agree with you that Kim Jong-Il is a far worse leader than Augusto Pinochet. I would have rather lived under Pinochet then than under Kim Jong-Il now.

However, if you read my original post, I was noting the irony that libertarians and neo-liberals often defend these guys just because they follow a radical free market economic philosophy, yet simultaneously rail against just as authoritarian regimes that have left wing economic policies.

Thousands were murdered by Pinochet and tens of thousands were imprisoned and tortured for opposition against the regime. A first hand family source, who was doing business for a NZ company in Chile during the late 80s, tell me there were photos of Pinochet in businesses involuntarily...

8:23 PM  
Blogger Libertyscott said...


I don't doubt it, and I think one of the big mistakes of many on the left and right has been willful blindness to the atrocities committed by socialist and anti-socialist regimes. Chiang Kai Shek was no angel for example, but compared to Mao he wasn't as bad.

I will defend Chile's free market reforms, but liberal economic policies are worth little without personal freedom. China being a similar example.

10:17 PM  
Blogger MikeE said...

FYI: AUSA didn't cover any costs for this (good old VSU) but apparently the University did cover the costs (incl airfares, acomodation etc).

Confirmed by AUSA pres, and friend of VSU Dan B.


10:35 AM  
Blogger Trevor Loudon said...

However, Rimoni is AUSA Int'l Affairs officer. He states on the AUSA website that part of his job (paid I presume)involves "organising a delegation to North Korea". Indirect student subsidy, I would say.

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