News

    North Korea's Elite Enjoy Life of Relative Privilege

    North Korea's claims it has tested a nuclear explosive device have brought the isolated country to the center of the world stage. A year ago, VOA correspondent Luis Ramirez was permitted to visit the Marxist state, which has suffered hunger and a decline economy for more than a decade. But he found that while millions of people in the countryside still struggle to recover from a devastating famine in the 1990's, the elite in the capital enjoy a life of relative privilege.

    In a pattern very much like that of ancient Korean societies, people in today's communist North Korean state are categorized by a three-tiered caste system.

    The top echelon is the class of core loyalists to the ruling dynasty begun by North Korea's late leader Kim Il Sung and extended by his son, current ruler Kim Jong Il.

    Most workers and peasants belong to the middle, or neutral, class. The hostile class, at the bottom rung of North Korean society, includes those who have in any way expressed dissatisfaction with the state, whose relatives may have escaped to South Korea, or whose ancestors were landowners. Experts on North Korea and refugees now abroad say members of this class and their families are often in prison camps, far from view.

    Only members of the loyal top class are allowed to live in the showcase capital city - mostly in towering, austere apartment blocks.

    It is difficult for foreign observers to see what their everyday lives are like. People are forbidden to invite foreigners to their homes. All international aid workers and diplomats interviewed in Pyongyang said they have never seen the inside of local residents' homes.

    A peek inside apartment windows from a speeding bus shows neatly painted rooms, each with twin portraits of the late so-called "Great Leader" Kim Il Sung, and Kim Jong Il, who is known as the "Dear Leader."

    That loyalty pays off in many ways. Aid workers report dire shortages of food and medicine in the North Korean countryside, but residents of the capital have privileged access to consumer goods such as packaged foods and washing machines.

    Only those who hold high positions in the regime have access to the few motor vehicles - including some luxury cars - seen in Pyongyang. Residents also have access to better medical care.

    At the clean and bustling 1,500-bed Pyongyang Maternity Hospital, administrators explain what a privilege it is for women to give birth here. Even residents of Pyongyang are only allowed to have their firstborn children in the facility.

    Dr. Kim Cheun Heui proudly displays her hospital's modern X-ray and scanning equipment to a small group of American journalists.

    "Last year, the great General Kim Jong Il sent us so many updated machines," explained Dr. Kim. "This is a state-of-the-art piece of equipment that can check the inside of the body. If you have a small tumor, it can find it easily."

    Dr. Kim shows reporters a hall where newborns and their mothers are kept in strangely hermetic conditions. Visitors can see the women only on closed-circuit television, and speak to them by telephone.

    Hospital administrators allow reporters to interview two young mothers in a carefully prepared scene. With their hair impeccably combed, their spotless blankets perfectly folded and their babies sleeping peacefully in their arms, they strike an angelic pose. A reporter asked 26-year-old Som Yun Mi what dreams she has for her daughter.

    "I want my daughter to be forever devoted to the great General Kim Jong Il's army, even though she is a woman," she said.

    Also on the hospital tour was a stop at the nursery, where a nurse proudly shows off a set of triplets. Multiple births are a special source of pride in North Korea, where the government encourages women of the loyal class to give birth to nine or more children - all presumed to be future soldiers in Kim Jong Il's million-man army.

    The scene is a stunning contrast to refugees' tales of the North Korea they know, where women of the hostile class are forced to have abortions at prison camps. This, they say, is part of Mr. Kim's drive for ethnic and ideological purity.

    Authorities in Pyongyang turned down requests by visiting reporters to visit hospitals in the countryside. Humanitarian officials say conditions there are much worse than at the showcase hospital in the capital.

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibiti
    X
    Hamada Elsaram
    February 05, 2016 4:30 PM
    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video Former Drug CEO Martin Shkreli Angers US Lawmakers

    A former U.S. pharmaceutical business executive has angered lawmakers by refusing to explain why he raised the price of a life-saving pill by 5,000 percent. Martin Shkreli was removed from a congressional hearing on Thursday after citing his Fifth Amendment right to stay silent. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Super Bowl TV Commercials are Super Business for Advertisers

    The Super Bowl, the championship clash between the two top teams in American Football, is the most-watched sporting event of the year, and advertisers are lining up and paying big bucks to get their commercials on the air. In fact, the TV commercials during the Super Bowl have become one of the most anticipated and popular features of the event. VOA's Brian Allen has a sneak peek of what you can expect to see when the big game goes to commercial break, and the real entertainment begins.
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.
    Video

    Video Microcephaly's Connection to Zika: Guilty Until Proven Innocent

    The Zika virus rarely causes problems for the people who get it, but it seems to be having a devastating impact on babies whose mothers are infected with Zika. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
    Video

    Video Solar Innovation Provides Cheap, Clean Energy to Kenya Residents

    In Kenya, a company called M-Kopa Solar is providing clean energy to more than 300,000 homes across East Africa by allowing customers to "pay-as-you-go" via their cell phones. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from Kangemi, customers pay a small deposit for a solar unit and then pay less than a dollar a day to get clean energy to light up their homes or businesses.
    Video

    Video Stunning Artworks Attract Record Crowds, Thanks to Social Media

    A new exhibit at the oldest art museum in America is shattering attendance records. Thousands of visitors are lining up to see nine giant works of art that have gotten a much-deserved shot of viral marketing. The 150-year-old Smithsonian American Art Museum has never had a response quite like this. VOA's Julie Taboh reports.
    Video

    Video Apprenticeships Put Americans on Path Back to Work

    Trying to get more people into the U.S. workforce, the Obama administration last year announced $175 million in grants towards apprenticeship programs. VOA White House correspondent Aru Pande went inside one training center outside of Washington that has gained national recognition for helping put people on the path to employment.
    Video

    Video New Material May Reduce Concussion Effects

    As the 2016 National Football League season reaches its summit at the Super Bowl this coming Sunday (2/7), scientists are trying to learn how to more effectively protect football players from dangerous and damaging concussions. Researchers at Cardiff and Cambridge Universities say their origami-based material may solve the problem. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Saudi Arabian Women's Sports Chip Away at Stereotypes

    Saudi Arabian female athletes say that sports are on the front line of busting traditions that quash women’s voices, both locally and internationally. In their hometown of Jeddah, a group of basketball players say that by connecting sports to health issues, they are encouraging women and girls to get out of their homes and participate in public life. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.
    Video

    Video A Year Later, Fortunes Mixed for Syrians Forging New Lives in Berlin

    In April of last year, VOA followed the progress of six young Syrian refugees -- four brothers and their two friends -- as they made their way from Libya to Italy by boat, and eventually to Germany. Reporter Henry Ridgwell caught up with the refugees again in Berlin, as they struggle to forge new lives amid the turmoil of Europe's refugee crisis.
    Video

    Video Zika Virus May be Hard to Stop

    With the Zika virus spreading rapidly, the World Health Organization Monday declared Zika a global health emergency. As Alberto Pimienta reports, for many governments and experts, the worst is yet to come.