Tourism in North Korea: are we actually part of the propaganda?

Imagine for a minute that you are North Korean. Have lived in North Korea all your life, never travelled, and never would imagine leaving the country. You were a pioneer at school, you learned the history of your country and studied the exploits of your great leaders.

And today, on your way to work, you see the following scene: a bus stops on the street, a bunch of foreign tourists get out of it, they are all smiling and obviously very impressed.

They have travelled from really far to see your country. They look absolutely amazed. They take plenty of photos, so they plan to share their wonderment back home with their friends and families!

Wouldn’t that reinforce your faith in the regime?

But what you don’t know, little North Korea citizen as you are, is that the wonderment actually comes from how odd your country is. Giant statues of the great leaders? People bowing in front of them? You actually use your free time to chant propaganda songs or wipe the floor under the propaganda statues?

North Korea - 229 - Kims
School kids wiping the floor under the propaganda statues

This is just absolutely incredible for us. We will show the photos, oh yes, but that’s because the world needs to know how unbelievably weird things are in North Korea.

You also probably don’t know that we are not allowed to take photos everywhere in North Korea; so whenever we’re being told the magic words by our guide: “You can take photos here”, we go wild.

There’s something else that they did not tell you: before entering your country, we received a briefing. They told us how to behave.

North Korea - 135 - Pioneers school.JPG
Taking photos from the side of the leader’s statue is off limit, and from the back would be totally disrespectful. We knew this from the briefing so we all behaved accordingly.


We don’t admire your regime; we’re just curious and polite, and trying not to get kicked out of your country before the end of our holiday.

North Korea - 072 - me in library.JPG
There is a bookshop in Pyongyang that sells propaganda translated into many languages. Many of us bought books: out of curiosity and as surrealistic souvenirs rather than to spread the ideology of Kimilsungism-Kimjongilism in the rest of the world!

As all visitors to North Korea, I went to the Kumsuman Memorial; I did see the bodies of Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il; and I did bow, following the rules: in lines of 4, bowing in a sync’d way, first facing the leaders, then at their right, (then walking behind them but not bowing), then at their left.

I did not do this because I admire them or have respect for what they did. I did it because it was a unique chance to get under the skin of you, a North Korean citizen, and to get an insight of what it can be like to live in a totalitarian regime.

North Korea - 251 - party dance.JPG
I joined the locals for a dance on the Party Foundation’s day. For me, a lifetime experience: getting a human connection with a citizen from a totalitarian regime; but what was it like for them, and how did they interpret my smile?

But you, little North Korea citizen, do you know all that? Or are you simply proud that I flew so many miles and broke the bank to come and witness your country’s and its leaders’ glory?

North Korea - 086 - me at the Party monument.JPG
Let’s face it: I am really happy and proud standing in front of the North Korean Party’s monument, but we all know that’s more about the life experience than out of passion for the regime!

5 thoughts on “Tourism in North Korea: are we actually part of the propaganda?

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