North Korea sent 22 athletes to the 2018 Olympics and hundreds of cheerleaders to support them. Suki Kim, a writer who spent months undercover in North Korea, explains what’s really going on behind this “army of beauties.” Following is a transcript of the video.
Suki Kim: “The Army of Beauties,” that’s a phrase the Western media concocted because I’d never heard that in South Korea. In South Korea, they’re just called cheerleaders or beautiful cheerleaders. So this business of beauty, or cheerleaders, or army.
First of all, they are not an army and they are not cheerleaders. They’re actually college students who’ve been rounded up by the government to be sent overseas to look pretty. So these young women are just citizens who – they have been chosen because the regime put some selection criteria which has to do with young age, looking pretty, whatever they consider, from a good family, having loyalty to the party, and of a certain height, about 5-foot-3 at least.
It’s almost like a beauty contest, except it’s not a beauty contest because you’ve been forced to take this position. And you don’t have an option as a North Korean citizen. So when we’re seeing these young women cheering, they’re not like cheerleaders that you see. They didn’t come there on their own will. They have been ordered by their regime. So they will go back to their lives and it’s as if these past few days never happened for them because they’re not allowed to discuss any of it back home.
But you know, this is not that unusual. In North Korea, citizens are rounded up for a different purpose. If you go to North Korean restaurants, there are about over a hundred of them. A lot of them in China, Cambodia, Malaysia, these restaurants are served by North Korean women.
They’re not waitresses; they’re just young women who also have been selected to serve there and sing and pour drinks for foreign men and raise cash. Somehow, this has been turned into one of North Korea’s greatest propaganda successes despite the fact that this is the second time South Korea has hosted the Olympics. The first time was back in ’88, which was marred by North Korea’s terrorist attack against South Korea by bombing an aeroplane which killed over 100 civilians. This time, it just looks to be almost hijacked by North Korea, and the moment having been used for legitmising North Korea.
And what we’re seeing in the media is all about all the positive aspects of North Korea, which is astounding. North Korea is one of the biggest gulags in the world, and they conducted a sixth nuclear test last September. That’s merely five months ago. So the turnaround of North Korea in the world’s eye has just changed overnight it seems.
It’s really an odd phenomenon. There’s an amnesia in the world about actually what’s really going on with North Korea. That country has really nothing to do with either cheerleaders or Olympics, which actually is about the world coming together.
North Korea’s the one place the world is not allowed to enter. And its citizens cannot actually come out of their country to see their world.
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