Currency: North Korean won (₩) (KPW)
Listen to the national anthem
North Korea as an independent country is very short. In 1948 a Socialist government was formed in the north while a capitalist government was formed in the south. This was a powder keg just waiting to explode, as North Korea aligned itself with the Communist states of China and in some ways Russia. North Korea then became known as the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK). The southern half of the peninsula was aligned with the USA. On 25th June 1950, North Korean forces invaded the south. When America stepped in and invaded the north, China sent forces to repel the Americans as they closed in on the Chinese/North Korean border. On 27th July 1953, the fighting stopped and an armistice was signed, returning the border back to its original position. To this day there is still a state of war between North and South as no peace deal was ever signed. Today there is a de-militarized zone which acts as the border. This is also known as the 38th Parallel, a line of latitude, 38° north of the Equator.
The border is manned constantly with armed soldiers and countless watchtowers. The image above shows the only crossing where soldiers of the north and south stare at each other. The two buildings are buildings where representatives can meet and even inside there is a clear line that no one is allowed o cross.
The rest of the world term North Korea as the "hermit State", one that has decided to cut off all outside contact. Everything from TV, radio and even the Internet is controlled by the North Korean government and if you are caught listening to western radio or TV the consequences are dire. Many people have tried to escape the country but this proves very difficult and if caught the punishment could mean execution. Some people put themselves at tremendous risk smuggling in TV shows and films and even western music and smuggle out evidence of the brutality of life inside.
The policy of huge amounts of borrowing and investment has left the country in a dire situation. It is said that an ideal 'Juche', formed by the former leader Kim Il-Sung, who dictates the countries path, making all the decisions. 'Juche', translated literally means 'self reliant'. When viewed from a satellite at night, the south is brightly lit up but the north is in darkness all except Pyongyang.
Huge events are put on for the leader at huge cost, by the ruling bodies. Events like the Arirang Festival (below).
Known as the Mass Games, the Arirang Festival of gymnastics and art performed by young people. Training for the events start as young as 5 years old and based upon their skill level. In most cases this becomes a lifetime practice right up until the persons retire. The performers are taken from 8 schools and are represented by different colours.
Arirang is a Korean folk story about a yong couple torn apart by a nasty landlord. This parting of lovers is meant to represent the splitting of the Korean peninsula. The festival itself is in the Guinness Book of World Records as the biggest choreographed event in the world. 100,000 athletes perform the dances and another 40,000 at the edges creating a background making the whole stadium move as though it was a moving picture. Naturally, the biggest event needs to be held in a suitable stadium and what could be better than the 150,000 seat Rungrado 1st of May Stadium, said to be the largest stadium in the world. Only recently have foreigners been allowed to watch the festival. The festival generally runs between August and September and began in 2002. It does not take place every year. The whole spectacle is to glorify Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il.