Speaking to the UK delegate for the DPRK’s cultural-liaison wing.
North Korea has been subject to some fairly rank press in recent years. And in times of such deplorable slander from the “monopoly capitalist media of the West", we must seek to heal these wounds of persecution, these sores of injustice, and hereby mount a unified resistance.
Oh worthy warrior of Mt Paekdu
leading the stout hearted partisans of
the mighty KPRA to shatter the chains
of Japanese imperialism, shock brigade of
world fascism, to dispatch
the murderous Japs to their doom
Or so Dermot Hudson might think, the UK delegate for the DPRK’s cultural-liaison wing, the Korean Friendship Association (KFA). Hudson is also the poet of the subtle words you just read (but probably didn't). It’s pretty hard to imagine such dubious sermonising to come from a guy brought up in England, and you’d be forgiven for thinking these words are lifted directly from an early Kim Il-sung essay, or even a revered piece of Kim Jong-un cinema. But Hudson is truly impassioned by the unity of the people, the enrichment of the "Juché idea" and the resistance to "Jap" and US imperialist aggressors.
He is equally enamoured of the Eternal President Kim Il-sung; of Dear Leader, Respected Leader, Great Leader, Wise Leader, Unique Leader, Great Marshall, Amazing Politician, Saviour, Invincible and Ever-Triumphant General Kim Jong-il; and of Marshal, Dear Leader Kim Jong-un (he’s young, and the titles come with time).
In other words, this guy is up shit creek. Naturally, I decided to contact him. He told me about the times he saw Kim Jong-il, the famine, Western media and the country's attitude towards weed. I learned, among other things, that Kim Jong-il moved with a “very fast, dignified bearing", that North Korea is strictly not like Ethiopia in the 70s and that the Pyongyang metro only costs one pence!
Kim Il-sung (Photo via)
VICE: How did you acquire your position as UK spokesman for the KFA?
Dermot Hudson: I had been the chairman of Juche Idea Study Group of England and the vice president of the old Society for Friendship with Korea. I joined KFA in 2001, about six months after it was formed, and was appointed official delegate for the UK by the KFA International Organisation Committee.
Have you met either Kim Jong-il or Kim Jong-un?
I did not meet them in person, but saw them in the distance. I was within a couple hundred feet of Dear Respected Marshall Kim Jong-un, and I saw great comrade Kim Jong-il at a national meeting in April of 2002. He looked younger than he was and moved very fast, with a dignified bearing. I have seen Marshall Kim Jong-un in the distance about four or five times. In April of 2012, at a military parade, he waved at the crowd. He looked like a very happy person.
What kind of relationship do you have with the government of the DPRK? How do they perceive their place in the international community?
KFA works with the Korean Committee for Cultural Relations, which foster relationships with foreign countries. The DPRK sees itself as an independent and nonaligned member of the international community.
You have visited the DPRK on several occasions. What kind of policies did you see that Western countries should imitate?
Free housing, cheap food and low-cost public transport. It only costs one pence to use the Pyongyang metro, compared with a £2.20 minimum for the tube. Also, free nursery education and free higher education.
The most surprising of policies for many Westerners is the apparently liberal approach to weed. What's the legal status of pot in North Korea?
I actually think that this is not true. I have never seen anyone in the DPRK under the influence of drugs. Also, there is not room to grow drugs, as all available land is used for rice, maize, wheat, potatoes and fruit.
What's the attitude towards LGBT people in the DPRK?
The DPRK has not legalised gay marriage, but it doesn't have laws prohibiting homosexuality. In the past, DPRK publications have made critical remarks about homosexuality, but it's not seen as a big priority either way.
In the West we hear many differing perceptions of the Juche idea. The most popular is probably that it's a sinister tool to fuel and empower the unremitting nationalism. What are your views on this?
I would strongly dispute this. Juche means that man is the master and can decide everything. It means that the popular masses are the masters of the revolution and construction. Yes, Juche does mean independence, but why should this be seen as something negative? I always find it contradictory and strange that some big countries like to complain about the nationalism of small countries. I'm sure many Scottish people will agree with me. Juche embraces both national and international tasks. It has spread beyond the borders of the DPRK and is studied in many countries throughout the world. There are over 1,000 Juche Idea Study Groups in different countries.
We hear a lot about the DPRK in the West – strong elitism, famine, poverty and dubious executions of dissidents and defectors. How much of this is distorted to suit the intended Western perception?
Strong elitism does not exist in the DPRK. Everyone enjoys equality of opportunity. Officials are bound by law to do one day of manual labour per week – if you notice, Kim Jong-un and high officials all wear ordinary workers clothes. There have been food shortages in the past, but there's no famine; no one is starving. The situation is not like Ethiopia in the 1970s.
The only recent execution was that of Jang Sung-thaek, the counter-revolutionary traitor. He wasn't a dissident, but a very corrupt man who tried to carry out a military coup and restore capitalism. It was the demand of the people that he be executed. Some so-called defectors aren't really from the DPRK, but South Korean agents posing as "defectors".
Shin whatever [Shin Dong-hyuk, undeserving of a name, I imagine], the author of Escape from Camp 14, was found by a Russian expert on South Korea to speak with a South Korean accent. Those defectors who did really come from the DPRK are often people who committed serious crimes like murder, rape and theft, and have run away to the South to avoid punishment. Of course, some innocent people have been tricked or lured to South Korea with the promise of big money. So yes, a lot of these things are distorted and are false perceptions created by the monopoly capitalist media of the West.
Marcus Noland, the deputy director of the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington, DC has spent much of his time analysing the DPRK and has observed that, per capita, income today is "lower than it was 20 years ago and by some reckonings is only now attaining the level it achieved in the 1970s". Would you put this in line with the distorted media perception, or is North Korea really struggling to negotiate economic hurdles?
This is a rather silly statement from a very right-wing pro-austerity think tank in the US. The DPRK's peak year was 1993. During the 1990s, the DPRK went through the "arduous march", due to natural disasters and imperialist sanctions, so there were definitely problems. However, the DPRK recovered and reached peak production a few years ago. To say that income is lower than 20 years ago is ludicrous. How on earth could the DPRK carry out massive construction projects if its income was lower than 20 years ago?
There have been reports that Kim Jong-un is interested in experimenting with economic reform. How likely is it that North Korea will be forced to succumb to the creeping globalising nature of capitalism, particularly considering China's growing hostility towards the DPRK?
Marshall Kim Jong-un is determined that the DPRK will follow its own road and rejects copying other countries. Comrade Kim Jong-il said, "The imperialist reactionaries are now slandering our Republic, the motherland of Juche, claiming that it is ‘closed’ and ‘isolated’ and are making futile attempts to lead us to reform and openness." Our country has never closed its doors, and it maintains good relations with many countries, home to billions of people around the world, based on mutual respect.
As for reform, we reformed the outdated social system in a revolutionary fashion decades ago, and have been constantly creating the new and renovating what is old and backwards. In actual fact, the imperialists and reactionaries are hostile towards our country and are blockading it and trying to isolate it. The "reform" and "openness" they are advocating represent a move to destroy and put down our style of socialism. Such moves will only worsen their relations with us and are doomed to failure.
Are the North Korean people not confused by the contradictory nature of Kim Jong-un's hearty public welcome to the US when we visited with Dennis Rodman, considering the well-documented contempt for American imperialism?
No, because the DPRK's quarrel is with US imperialism and rulers of the US empire, not ordinary American people.
Does the continuation of the DPRK's nuclear programme conflict with the original principles of Kim Il-sung, who once said the DPRK "would never have nuclear weapons" and who also wrote, in his engaging essay For a Free and Peaceful World, that "the testing and production of nuclear weapons must be banned, the number of existing nuclear weapons must be reduced, and then nuclear weapons must be completely abolished"?
The situation has moved on a lot since 1991, when that particular speech of President Kim Il-sung's was made. The main factor that decided the issue of developing weapons was the fact that the US declared the DPRK to be a target of a US nuclear strike. Also, you had the aggression by the US against Afghanistan and Iraq, so the DPRK decided to use all means to deter US aggression. The DPRK is still committed to the denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula, but the US must make the first move and withdraw the 1,000 nuclear weapons that they have in South Korea. The DPRK would dismantle its nuclear weapons when the US and all other nuclear powers do the same.
Finally, it has been announced that families split by the Korean War will be given the opportunity of reunion. Reunification seems to be a salient feature of North Korean policy. How long do you think this will take to achieve?
A question that is both difficult and easy to answer. I guess that if the US pulled out of South Korea tomorrow, then reunification would come quickly. If the Korean people unite as one and fight the US, then reunification will not take long.