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Kicking it Pyongyang-stylie

The British ambassador to North Korea, Peter Hughes, came under heavy fire recently for posting what has to be the rosiest-ever depiction of life in one of the world’s most closed and authoritarian societies. Hughes, blogging for the Foreign Commonwealth Office, waxed lyrical about the recent ‘elections’:

‘There was a very festive atmosphere throughout the city. Many people were walking to or from the polling stations, or thronging the parks to have picnics or just stroll. Most of the ladies were dressed in the colourful traditional hanguk pokshik and the men in their best suits. Outside the central polling stations there were bands playing and people dancing and singing to entertain the queues of voters waiting patiently to select their representatives in the country’s unicameral legislature. The booths selling drinks and snacks were very popular with the crowds and everyone seemed to be having a good time. The list of successful candidates was published on Monday. There was a reported turn-out of over 99 per cent of the voters and all the candidates, including Kim Jong Il, were elected with 100 per cent approval.’

After much criticism, Hughes was forced to clarify that the 100 per cent approval was due to there only being one candidate fielded for every post and that the songs people were singing were political songs praising the nation and the leadership. Hughes, however, insisted his intention was to show the human face of Pyongyang. The fact of the matter is that Hughes wasn’t even able to blog from Pyongyang because ‘the technology to set one up is not available to us here’. Perhaps because the people are too busy singing and having picnics in the park to bother blogging about how happy they are...

New Internationalist issue 422 magazine cover This article is from the May 2009 issue of New Internationalist.
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