Life under Kim Jong-un has not changed for the better

North Korean insights from a New York Times article:

In the 10 months since Kim Jong-un took the reins of his desperately poor nation following the death of his autocratic father, … its capital has acquired more of the trappings of a functioning society, say diplomats, aid groups and academics who have visited in recent months.

But in rare interviews this month with four North Koreans in a border city … they said that at least so far, they have not felt any improvements in their lives since the installment last December of their youthful leader — a sentiment activists and analysts say they have also heard. In fact, the North Koreans said, their lives have gotten harder.

Food prices have spiked, the result of drought and North Korea’s defiant launching of a rocket in April that shut down new offers of food aid from the United States. The price of rice has doubled since early summer, and chronic shortages of fuel, electricity and raw materials continue to idle most factories, leaving millions unemployed.

In two days of interviews with North Koreans, a thinly concealed disgust over inequality that has risen in recent years — and a realization that the national credo of juche, or self-reliance, was a carefully constructed lie — was striking. Mrs. Kim, a pig farmer, when asked if she thought there were those who still believed in North Korea’s single-party system, she shook her head and said “zero.”

She and the others suggested that the information vacuum had been eased by the spread of cellphones (though sanctioned phones cannot call outside the country) and by South Korean soap operas that are smuggled across the border and secretly viewed despite the threat of prison. A 58-year-old retired truck driver from Sunchon, a city north of the capital, said he and his family locked their doors and covered their windows when watching the DVDs that offered glimpses of well-stocked supermarkets and glittering shopping malls.

“I wish we could have such a clean, shiny life,” he said, adding that few people he knows still believe the government propaganda that paints South Korea as far more impoverished than the North.

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