News / Asia

Norwegian Swoons North Korea With a-Ha Diplomacy

North Koreans attend a rally to support a statement by a spokesman for the Supreme Command of the Korean People’s Army vowing to cancel the 1953 cease-fire that ended the Korean War as well as boasting of the North’s ownership of “lighter and smaller nukes” and its ability to execute “surgical strikes.” March 7, 2013.
North Koreans attend a rally to support a statement by a spokesman for the Supreme Command of the Korean People’s Army vowing to cancel the 1953 cease-fire that ended the Korean War as well as boasting of the North’s ownership of “lighter and smaller nukes” and its ability to execute “surgical strikes.” March 7, 2013.
Sarah Williams
At a time of escalating tensions on the Korean peninsula, one of Pyongyang’s old friends was back in North Korea last month trying to spread his own brand of cultural diplomacy between East and West.

Norwegian director Morten Traavik, accompanied by a crew from his country’s TV2 television channel, was in North Korea in March to record students at Pyongyang’s Kum Song Music School. 

Norwegian Director Morten Traavik in Pyongyang during a mass rally in Kim Il Sung Square on March 7, 2013.Norwegian Director Morten Traavik in Pyongyang during a mass rally in Kim Il Sung Square on March 7, 2013.
x
Norwegian Director Morten Traavik in Pyongyang during a mass rally in Kim Il Sung Square on March 7, 2013.
Norwegian Director Morten Traavik in Pyongyang during a mass rally in Kim Il Sung Square on March 7, 2013.
“We definitely felt that we were in the middle of something geopolitically significant,” said Traavik. The Norwegians saw a mass rally in Pyongyang’s Kim Il Sung Square and viewed public transport and ambulances covered in camouflage nets.

The trip was the seventh made by Traavik, who has worked to develop cultural ties between the two countries.  His 2012 video of the Kum Song Music School’s accordion students playing “Take On Me” - originally a song recorded in 1985 by the Norwegian pop group A-ha - was a viral hit on YouTube.

During this recent visit, Traavik wanted to expand the school’s recording of A-ha’s “Hunting High and Low” album, including the Norwegian group’s other international hit, “The Sun Always Shines on TV.”

North Korean students at Pyongyang's Kum song Music School perform for Norwegian television cameras. March 12, 2013North Korean students at Pyongyang's Kum song Music School perform for Norwegian television cameras. March 12, 2013
x
North Korean students at Pyongyang's Kum song Music School perform for Norwegian television cameras. March 12, 2013
North Korean students at Pyongyang's Kum song Music School perform for Norwegian television cameras. March 12, 2013
“We’ll be releasing the whole cover album later this year,” Traavik said.  “As an artist, I like to follow a good idea through to the end, and to see how much farther you can take it.  It seemed logical to do the whole album as well.”

Mounting tensions and escalating rhetoric between North Korea and the United Nations following Pyongyang’s third nuclear test caused other international delegations to cancel their visits. But Traavik said his North Korean hosts were glad the Norwegians stuck to their plans.

“On one level, you could say [the tension] was definitely noticeable,” Traavik noticed. “But on another level, daily life went on as usual. People went bowling on Women’s Day, which is a holiday in North Korea. They went about their daily chores, and did not seem too upset about their situation.”

The Pyongyang rally was held in North Korea on March 7,  to protest joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises which followed the nuclear test. Traavik estimates almost 500,000 people took part.

“It is impressive, and to some people, slightly frightening to see so big a crowd with such mass choreography,” he said. “Everything has been drilled and synchronized to the almost tenth of a second.”

Unlike previous visits, the Norwegians were permitted to use their cell phones. “In North Korean terms, that’s a huge leap forward for North Korea’s connectability and relations to the outside world,” Traavik said. 

The television team was able to tweet and instagram photos to Norway, as well as upload video by satellite.  North Korea subsequently decided not to allow foreigners to keep their smart phones while visiting the country.

The Norwegians also ventured to Panmunjom on the Demilitarized Zone, along the border with South Korea.  They arrived the day after North Korea scrapped the 1953 Korean Armistice that ended the Korean War.

“I could notice that compared to previous trips that the border guards on the North Korean side were a tad more jumpy than they had been before,” Traavik said. “I regard a lot of the political maneuvers on both sides in the Korean conflict as little more than posturing, than a ritual which is necessary for the most conservative forces on both sides to maintain their positions,” he said.

Traavik said he believes an actual confrontation is unlikely.

You May Like

Obama: Alaskans Feel Signs of Climate Change

They're seeing bigger storm surges as sea ice melts, more wildfires, erosion of glaciers, shorelines More

Katrina Brought Enduring Changes to New Orleans

The city’s recovery is the result of the people and culture the city is famous for, as well as newcomers and start-up industries More

Magical Photo Slides Show Native Americans in Late 1800s

Walter McClintock spent 20 years photographing the Blackfoot Indians and their vanishing culture at the dawn of the modern age More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalatesi
X
August 27, 2015 2:08 AM
Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Is China's Economic Data Accurate?

Some investors say China's wild stock market gyrations have been made worse by worries about the reliability of that nation's economic data. And some critics say the reports can mislead investors by painting an unrealistically-strong picture of the economy. A key China scholar says Beijing is not fudging ((manipulating)) the numbers, but that the economy is evolving quickly from smoke-stack industries to services, and the ways of tracking new economic activity are falling behind the change. V
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Shipping Containers Provide Experimental Housing

Housing prices around the San Francisco Bay area are out of reach for many people, so some young entrepreneurs, artists and tech industry workers are creating their own houses using converted shipping containers. But as VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Oakland, the effort requires ingenuity and dealing with restrictive local laws.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video Technique May Eliminate Drill-and-Fill Dental Care

Many people dread visiting dentists because they're afraid of drills. Now, however, a technology developed by a British firm promises to eliminate the need for mechanical cleaning of dental cavities by speeding a natural process of tooth repair. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.
Video

Video French Experiment in Integrating Roma Under Threat

Plans to destroy France’s oldest slum have sparked an outcry on the part of its Roma residents. As Lisa Bryant reports from the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, rights groups argue the community is a fledgling experiment on integrating Roma who are often outcasts in many parts of Europe.
Video

Video Kenyans Turn to Agriculture for Business

Each year Kenyan universities continue to churn out graduates for the job market despite the already existing high rate of unemployment among youth in the country. Some of these young men and women have realized that agriculture can be as rewarding as any other business or job, and they are resorting to agribusiness in large numbers as a way of tackling unemployment. Rael Ombuor reports for VOA.
Video

Video First Women Graduate Elite Army Ranger School

Two women are making history for the U.S. Army by proving they are among the toughest of the tough. VOA's Carla Babb reports from Fort Benning, Georgia as 94 men and those two women rise as graduates of the difficult Ranger school.

VOA Blogs