North Korea, otherwise known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) is a unique nation for all the wrong reasons. It is easily the most backward, isolated country on the planet.
Because of this isolation, information about the nature of the country, and the regime in power, is scarce and often not widely known.
But North Korea is a small, belligerent nation with the capability to cause real harm to the country’s around it, even the United States. These are 10 things you should know about the rogue state of North Korea.
1. Without oil, they’ve turned to wood-powered cars.
One of the ways in which North Korea is unique is that it gives us a look at what a future without oil might look like under the worst possible scenario.
The reclusive nation, whose only trading partner is China, functions almost entirely without gasoline and petroleum products, which has forced them to improvise.
Vehicles have been retrofitted to run on what they refer to as “wood gas,” carbon monoxide and hydrogen gas that’s produced from wood or coal.
Of course, using wood as fuel for cars is an ecological disaster that ruins air quality in cities and dumps immense amounts of carbon pollution into the atmosphere.
Wood gas engines were invented in 1839 and were used through WWII, when near the end of the war, Germany turned to powering more than 500,000 vehicles with the gas.
2. The country’s widespread poverty is even visible from space.
North Korea’s economy is strictly centrally planned. Some reforms have occurred since 2015 but for the most part, it is still an incredibly rigid, command economy.
There is very little data about the country’s economy, but it’s likely that North Korea has the weakest economy on Earth.
The average GDP per capita in North Korea is $1,800, making it 197th in the world. The GDP is 18 times higher in South Korea and 28 times higher in the United States.
Half of the nation’s 24 million citizens live in extreme poverty, according to the KUNI report, and a third of children have stunted growth due to malnutrition.
North Korea’s life expectancy is only 69 years old and has been in decline since 1980. Most homes are heated with fire places where citizens burn whatever they can find for heat to survive the bitingly cold North Korean winters.
Electricity is unreliable, as should be obvious from the image above. Most homes receive just a few hours of electricity a day, if any at all.
3. North Korea has no laws regarding Marijuana.
I hesitate to say that marijuana is legal in North Korea, but it’s also not criminalized in any way.
Cannabis appears to be sold pretty freely in the nation with one 29-year-old freelance writer from England recounting a story of how he purchased an entire bag of weed from an indoor market in a rural town in North Korea and smoked it in restaurants, bars, and in parks.
According to an anonymous source, Kim Jong Un’s regime doesn’t see marijuana as a drug and therefore doesn’t see any reason to interfere with it.
It’s possible, though unconfirmed, that marijuana consumption is encouraged as an alternative to tobacco, a luxury most North Koreans cannot afford.
4. North Korea operates concentration camps.
People are well aware of the concentration camps from World War II, where Germany imprisoned and murdered millions of “undesirable” people, and even the United States used to intern Japanese-American citizens during the war in the Pacific. While many of us may think that concentration camps are a horrid relic of an age passed, they’re alive and well in North Korea.
It is believed that up to 200,000 North Koreans reside in prison camps, arrested because of supposed political crimes. If one person commits a political crime, their entire family is interned.
If they escape, often their entire families are killed. 40% of the prisoners interned at these concentration camps die of malnutrition. Many are sentenced to “hard labor” for a seemingly reasonable length of time but are then promptly worked to death.
5. Children must attend school, but at a cost.
Children in North Korea are mandated to attend school, similar to in the United States. But unlike in the U.S., North Korea’s school children are required to bring their own desks and chairs and are required to give up money to pay for heat. Some parents keep their kids out of school by bribing teachers to not report them.
6. It’s the year 105 in North Korea.
In North Korea, their calendars are not based on what the rest of the world uses. Instead of it being 2017, it is the year 105 inside their borders. Why? Their calendar is based on the date of their dear revolutionary leader Kim Il-Sung’s birth: April 15, 1912.
7. North Korea holds elections.
While North Korea does hold elections, they aren’t exactly free elections. Each election gives you once choice, and I’ll give you 1 chance to guess who the choice is. When the votes are tallied, 100% of the votes cast are cast for their dear leader.
8. North Korea will punish you for three generations.
If you are born in North Korea and your grandfather committed a crime, you’re on the hook for that crime too. When someone commits a crime, their whole family is held responsible for it.
Grandparents, parents, and children can wind up in prison work camps because of the infractions of one individual. They call this their “3 generations of punishment rule.”
9. Kim Il-Sung is their only true leader.
While Kim Il-Sung, their first leader since the communist revolution, is long dead, he is still considered the leader of the country.
It’s why his son, and now grandson, were able to so easily take the reins of leadership when the former dies. While the heirs have the reins, Kim Il-Sung will forever have the heart of the DPRK.
10. The newest leader, Kim Jong Un, is an eccentric, brutal dictator.
When he assumed power after the death of his father, Kim Jong Il, it was hoped that Kim, much younger than previous leaders as well as educated in Europe, would bring about reforms. This has not proven to be case. Kim is just as bent on preserving his power as his father and grandfather were.
The list of eccentricities is long. Among them, he’s the only “general” in the world with no military experience, he got plastic surgery to look more like his grandfather, he has issued the execution of people via mortar rounds, is obsessed with Michael Jordan, had his uncle “obliterated” for supposed crimes against the state, and even executed his ex-girlfriend.
For North Korea, it’s hard to see a way out of the vile, kleptocratic dictatorship they’re forced to live under. Kim Jong Un is leader for life, and there’s no sign that he will instigate reforms. For the millions of starving, impoverished people in the DPRK, we can only pray.