Life in North Korea: A glimpse inside an isolated nation
The standard publicity shots are well known: Images of the smiling North Korean leader Kim Jong Un saluting orderly formations of soldiers or touring sterile new factories. But the real story behind one of the nation’s most isolated nations is difficult to parse.
Interactions between North Korea and the United States have long been strained over the country’s continued pursuit of developing nuclear weapons. Missile testing by the country regularly draws international criticism, even as North Korea’s state media highlights the nation’s right and might. Late this past year, tensions escalated as the connection became clear between the Sony hacking scandal and North Korea, which was deeply critical of the studio’s film The Interview, a comedy with a plot line revolving around the fictional assassination of Kim.
In mid-December, the FBI tied the hack, which exposed embarrassing emails between top studio executives, to North Korea. “I think it says something interesting about North Korea that they decided to have the state mount an all-out assault on a movie studio because of a satirical movie starring Seth Rogen and James [Franco],” President Barack Obama said during a press conference in December. “I love Seth, and I love James, but the notion it was a threat to them gives you some idea of the kind of threat we’re dealing with.” Shortly after the beginning of 2015, the U.S. imposed further sanctions on North Korea in retaliation for the breach.
North Korea, however, officially denied responsibility and demanded a joint investigation. “The U.S. should bear in mind that it will face serious consequences in case it rejects our proposal for joint investigation and presses for what it called countermeasure while finding fault with the [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea],” a spokesman for North Korea’s foreign ministry told state media KCNA in December.
While tense exchanges between the country and the international community regularly capture headlines, North Korea also has a continuing humanitarian crisis and has received international aide since the 1990s. In 1995, widespread starvation and famine threatened the country, which lacks stable infrastructure and sustainable agriculture. While conditions have improved, “the population continues to suffer from prolonged malnutrition and poor living conditions,” according to the CIA.
North Korea regularly releases propaganda material showing lavish choreographed performances and has allowed media to travel in the country — but only under close government scrutiny and control. The country released the final two Americans imprisoned there, Matthew Todd Miller and Kenneth Bae, in November of last year.