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However, even though North Korea’s ruling elites may remain well fed, no one seriously disputes that ordinary North Koreans aren’t as fortunate. As a 2010 report by Amnesty International cites, over 9 million North Koreans suffer from “severe” food shortages.
To substantiate those claims, reports have surfaced that the North Korean government actually halved the administrative size of the capital city of Pyongyang, apparently because it had become too difficult to support the city’s entire population with its allotment of special rations.
The widespread lack of food has also led to some very disturbing conclusions, the most gruesome of which came in a recently leaked North Korean police manual that confirmed cases of cannibalism. In one particular instance, a North Korean guard killed his roommate with an axe when he was sleeping, ate part of the corpse and then sold the rest at the market where he described it as lamb meat.
In fact, the situation has become so severe that it has even led to small pockets of public anger, no small feat in this tightly controlled country. Various reports of public resistance springing up in North Korea have arisen over the past year, with some protests turning violent. The outbreak was serious enough for the North Korean government to actually form a special riot control force in 2010 to quell public demonstrations.
These isolated events have led some to speculate that North Korea may soon experience an uprising similar to what has transpired in various Middle East countries, given the similar conditions between the two situations: corrupt leadership, overwhelming poverty, and brutal repression.
However, despite these similarities, it isn’t likely that the North Korean people — having been subjected to a half century Orwellian nightmare of starvation, gulags, and endless brainwashing — will be rioting anytime soon.
For starters, North Koreans may actually be too weak from hunger to sustain a long-term protest movement. Moreover, they have no means of communication by which to share their anger and organize. As a former North Korean diplomat has said, North Korea’s lack of the Internet and other social networking infrastructure make a public uprising “quite slim.”
Yet, even if they could organize, North Korean protesters would face a regime that is armed to the teeth and more than willing to use those artillery, bombs and fighter jets on them, just like Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi and Syria’s Bashir Assad have done on their own people. However, as hard as it is to believe, the North Korean regime would probably be even more ruthless.
One example of its barbarity came in recent satellite research that has shown North Korea’s prison camp system to be expanding. Already estimated to hold 200,000 people, these slave camps subject their inhabitants to starvation, torture, and rape while they perform hard labor.
Of course, it goes without saying that the North Korean government sees itself in a different light. The regime’s positive self-portrait was nowhere more evident than when it recently released its “Happiness Index,” a survey it conducted to determine where the happiest people live.
Even though the survey results found China to be the happiest place on earth, North Korea finished a strong second. For those North Koreans who perhaps thought they were living a nightmare existence, it should comfort them to know their government thinks they have it pretty good.
Frank Crimi is a writer living in San Diego, California. You can read more of Frank’s work at his blog, www.politicallyunbalanced.com.
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