By Western consensus, South Korea is by far the most popular Korea. While the average Joe doesn't know too much about the country, they can find comfort in the fact that it isn't known for labor camps, famine, over-the-top executions and a weird pseudo-royal family, that has been running it for three generations.
Some people, however, very much disagree with the Western ranking of the Korea's. They claim, that North Korea is simply misunderstood and undermined by malevolent Western propaganda. Instead, they see it as a haven for those of the socialist persuasion. Being confused and bewildered by this perception, we arranged an interview with Anders Kristensen, the President of the 96 member strong Danish North Korean Friendship Association.
VICE: Hey Anders. Tell us about the Danish North Korean Friendship Association?
Anders: The association is almost 50 years old, and I've been a member pretty much the whole time. It sprung out of the left wing youth movement in 1968 as a reaction to the Vietnam war. The US were trying to dominate former colonies through imperialistic tactics. The focus on the war helped bring the left wing together, not just in Denmark, but all over Europe. We then started paying more attention to Korea. There were some big similarities. Both countries were divided between a socialist North and a capitalist South that was supported by the West.
Yeah, how did you start the organization?
We actually had some help from North Korea. After the war ended in 1953, North Korea was very closed off. The US had bombed the country heavily. But around 1967 or 1968, they felt ready to open up and show the world the new socialist North Korea. They sent some of their people out, ambassadors sort of, to talk to socialists, especially in Western Europe. That's how it started.
What kind of members do you have?
A lot of our members come from the three communist parties in Denmark. But there's also a lot from other places like the Social Democrats, the Conservatives and SF. We're not dominated by members of any particular political party.
Do you have any Korean members?
No, we actually don't. We've had a couple, but none right now. All of the adopted children came from South Korea. In North Korea, sending your kids away is seen as treason. They feed their own children instead of sending them away.
Are you in contact with anyone in North Korea?
Yes. We're in contact with their equivalent of our group. It's called Korea Denmark Friendship Association. They have about 300 members. I see them every time I visit North Korea, which is about once a year.
How many times have you been there?
I've been to North Korea about 30 times so far. The last time was in July. It was a great trip. I went because of the 20th anniversary of Kim Il-sung's death. I traveled alone, which was great. I had a lot of time to talk to our guides. I visited a village and spent the whole afternoon with a family. I've had some great trips to North Korea. One time, our guide from the Korea Denmark Friendship associationarranged it so we could sit right behind Kim Jung-un, when he held a speech.
I'd imagine you were excited about that. So, what are you guys working towards?
We want North Korea to succeed. But we also support the Korean populations demand for a reunification - something that both the North and South want. We want US troops to leave South Korea, so the reunification can be a Korean matter.
You don't say. How do you see the reunification taking place?
It's difficult to say. North Korea's founding father Kim Il-sung had an idea of a confederation, where North Korea would maintain their sovereignty, but be able to work closely with the South. Together they would represent Korea in the UN. That was a beautiful thought, the two systems working together.
Do you think a reunification becomes more unlikely as time goes by?
Maybe, it's hard to say. Perhaps the youth in South Korea are more focused on material goods than on reunification. I've never been to South Korea, but that's what I hear. Maybe the youth don't care much, but older Koreans all want a reunification.
Everyone would benefit. It's the same language, the same culture and the same people. The South is very influenced by Western culture. The North went another direction. They have a lot of natural resources, but no fertile land. That's why there's been a shortage of food in North Korea. If Korea is to have a future, the two need to cooperate.
How's the political situation in North Korea right now?
Kim Jung-un has just been away for 40 days, but that's not unprecedented. His father Kim Jong-il was away for six months in 2008 after he allegedly suffered a blood clot. When he came back, he looked weakened, but Kim Jong-un is looking fresh. He's a bit overweight. That can't be healthy at his young age. He's also limping a bit and could do with dropping a few kilos. But he doesn't look any weaker though.
Is the Kim family important for North Korea?
Yes. A lot of people have a hard time understanding the Kim family. It's a part of their culture. The Kim family is the reason the country has survived for this long.
The Western media spend a lot of time demonizing them, but the population support their leader. This isn't something I'm making up; many Western experts agree. If there was an election tomorrow, a majority would support him. I'm certain.
Speaking of Kim Jong-un being a bit tubby, he was allegedly treated for gout, a lifestyle disease brought on by too much fat food and alcohol. At the same time, people are starving to death every winter. Isn't that straying a bit away from the communist ideal?
Well, I guess you could say that. But, of course, the population doesn't want the leader to miss out on any material goods. I don't know if he eats or drinks too much. But he's obviously getting too much of something, otherwise he wouldn't be so heavy.
I'm sure there are different kinds of deprivation in North Korea, but I think the boycott instigated by the US and other Western countries is to blame. It makes it difficult for North Korea to get enough food for the population or to get advanced machinery, which could help increase production.
But these boycotts have been instigated because of North Korea's internal labor camps and their aggressive politics regarding South Korea?
It's awful, the way the West is demonizing North Korea. I don't believe it. People believe what the media is saying and it's hurting our cause, and it's hurting North Korea. It's psychological warfare coming out of the US and South Korea, aimed at undermining the North Korean state. Luckily it hasn't worked. North Korea has in fact started their own human rights council, which shows that all human rights are being complied with. They've also denied the existence of Camp 16. I don't know all the facts, but I might as well believe our friends in North Korea as the Americans.
So you don't believe there are labor camps in North Korea or that they don't respect human rights?
They have criminal law. So obviously there are prisons and some of them may be in the form of camps. But I don't believe, that there are camps for political dissidents. There's no evidence to support the existence of such camps. It's part of the propaganda against North Korea.
Have you ever been contacted by any intelligence services?
No, not directly at least. I think we've had members, who were undercover intelligence officers, but they never contacted me. I know PET have a file on me. I've seen it. I had to go to their office to have a look at it.
Alright, thanks a lot Anders.