Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A Peek into Secretive N. Korea

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A Peek into Secretive N. Korea

Article excerpt

AS a North Korean patriot, the young man works his library job seven days a week in service to the late strongman Kim Il Sung.

"I devote myself to my country. I devote myself to the 'Great Leader,' " he says, referring to the president who died last July.

But on the fringes of this seemingly exclusive devotion, frowned-on foreign influences are creeping in. "I have seen American films during my education," he admits. "I know Michael Jackson is very popular in your country, but I don't like his music."

After decades in isolation, North Korea walks a tightrope by tentatively seeking economic and other ties with the outside but without jarring its regimented way of life.

In a new gesture of openness this month, the Communist leaders cracked their door further ajar and allowed thousands of foreign tourists in for a sports festival, the largest such influx since 1989. With the economy reportedly near collapse, Pyongyang is trying to advance rescue plans made by former President Kim and lure tourists with their dollars, investors with their capital, and businessmen with their technology.

"There are very favorable and positive conditions in which to invest in our country," says Kim Mun Song, a government official.

"The door is open to any country. We're providing conditions ... to invest," says Mr. Kim off the External Economic and Promotion Committee.

"North Korea is 15 years behind China. But the potential is there because there are more resources and infrastructure that are 10 years newer than China's," says a visiting economist.

At the same time, as many tourists discovered, the rigidly Marxist country remains a closely choreographed nation determined to open up on its own terms.

As visitors were shepherded around this impressive city of towering monuments, shaded roads, and secluded parks, residents marched through their gray, daily routine in business suits required during the festival. Hotel guests were awakened early by brigades of street sweepers whisking down this model city built from the ashes of the Korean War and already the cleanest, most empty, and most soulless hub in urban Asia.

Thousands of goose-stepping North Korean gymnasts performed at a mass rally in one of Pyongyang's several stadiums, chanting the praises of Kim Jong Il, the son and successor of the "Great Leader." In the background, a placard section heralded the North's fertile fields and booming factories, myths central to the older Kim's continuing influence.

"During his life, the Great Leader put main stress on the automation of our country," says Li Un Chut, an engineer studying at the national library known as the Grand People's Study House. "Now, under the guidance of our party, this automation is rapidly developed."

In contrast, Western analysts depict the highly secretive North as a bleak society with little food, frequent power shortages, decayed industry, and little to show for its continuing socialist commitment. …

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