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The Happiest People on Earth

North Korea: its citizens and official narrative

Every year, a mere few thousand international tourists are allowed a glimpse inside North Korea, the world’s most isolated country. RTD visits the land of the “Great Marshall”, Kim Jong-un, as the nation celebrates the birthdays of his two predecessors, supreme leaders, Kim Jong-il and Kim Il-sung.

Festivities in honour of the late leaders are very important here because every North Korean child knows that the country owes its independence, self-professed prosperity and military might to the Kim dynasty’s wisdom and selfless rule. “Truths” like that are taught from a very early age, along with patriotic songs and how to march. 

The personality cult is ingrained in every citizen from kindergarten where children live for six days a week while their parents set work records for the glory of their motherland and of course, for the “Great Marshal” himself. Readiness to give their lives in defence of the country against enemies, South Korea and the US being prime suspects, is also cultivated and encouraged from childhood.

Related: 10 Days in North Korea. Inside the most isolated country in the world

Locals take pride in their socialist regime’s achievements, such as free medicine and the absence of homeless children on the streets. RTD spoke to several orphans; each one testified that the “Great Marshals” have cared for them like good parents. Statues of the three successive Kim dynasty leaders, dominate town squares throughout the country and grateful citizens bow and lay flowers before them. 

It is considered a very special honour to meet the “Great Marshal” in person, or even to see him up close. People cherish the memory of such good fortune for the rest of their lives. Any house or educational facility visited by the Marshal puts up a memorial plaque to celebrate and remember the great day.

North Koreans seem on the whole to be unanimous in appreciating their country, its leaders and their way of life. Access to the Internet or any foreign media that might offer an alternative view is banned here and penalties for bypassing that ban are severe. North Korea’s authorities take pains to control what the people are allowed to see and read.

An RTD film crew, along with around 200 international journalists, is invited to attend the late supreme leaders’ birthday celebrations. The occasion is marked with a military parade, the country’s biggest display of fire power for several years. Some of the latest weaponry was on show for the very first time, both locals and foreign visitors are impressed, but for very different reasons.