Scores of pro-North Korea “friendship” organizations and government delegations arrived in the North Korean capital in the past few days, with some group visits subsidized by DPRK authorities in order to facilitate participation in Sunday’s 70th anniversary of the country’s founding.
The lobby of Pyongyang’s Yanggakdo Hotel was by Friday evening filled with delegates from friendship organizations arriving from across the world, including Turkey, the Philippines, Canada, and Nigeria.
They are joined by several official government delegations, including from Syria, Iran, Lebanon, Guyana, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and South Africa.
The South African chief delegate, Minister of Transport and SA Communist Party general-secretary Bongingkosi Emmanuel Nzimando arrived in the DPRK on Friday.
He declined to be interviewed by NK News upon his arrival at the Yanggakdo Hotel, but did say he would be willing to give comment over the next few days.
An Iranian delegate, too, on Saturday said he and his colleagues would not be speaking to media during their time in-country.
An NK News count of official state media reporting on visiting delegations suggests at least 60 separate groups had arrived as of Saturday, most of which appear to include between five to ten delegates, according to those groups seen in Pyongyang’s Yangakkdo hotel.
Also in town is French-Russian actor Gerald Depardieu, who was seen arriving at the Yangakdo Hotel on Friday evening but refused to speak to media.
A French companion of the actor warned an NK News reporter that they would “have a bad time” if requests for comment continued.
More keen to talk to NK News, however, was Samuel Montero Picardal, visiting the DPRK in his capacity as a member of the Philippines-Korea solidarity and friendship society.
A self-described “human rights activist,” Picardal said he was active in his home country in opposition to the Presidency of Rodrigo Duterte – notorious for its use of extrajudicial killings.
He denied that a parallel could be drawn between Duterte’s administration and North Korea’s record on human rights.
“It’s very organized here,” he insisted. “The government is great, they provide all for the people.”
And while many organizations arrived in Pyongyang on Friday, one delegation of overseas Koreans arrived as early as Wednesday.
Ko Jik-man, from Sydney, told NK News on Thursday morning that he had come with the Association of Koreans Living in Australia.
“The great thing is the great hospitality from the people from the bottom of their heart. We feel it,” he said. “The second thing is every facility is for the people, for the general people.”
The visit was a pointedly personal one, he added: while he had never visited North Korea, his father was born in Nampo.
“It’s a very special occassion for me to think about my father, he always missed North Korea and especially his hometown in Nampo and Pyongyang and the great river, the Taedong river – he used to sing over there!” he said.
He was also accompanied on his trip by a pastor, though he said that he was “not religious.”
“I believe in Juche” instead, he said.
But while it was clear that most were pleased to be in Pyongyang and supportive of North Korean government policy, what was less clear was whether the DPRK was funding the visits.
One delegate, visiting the North on behalf of the People’s Progressive Party in Nigeria, said some help had been provided.
“We were able to get some form of assistance certainly,” Dr. Damian Ogbonna, who came alone, told NK News.
“But other members of the party would have been able to come if they had had better assistance.”
Another, from Turkey, said the North Koreans had covered costs of some of the delegates accompanying him.
Adnan Akfret, of the Korea-Turkey Friendship Association, said his companions from the Turkish Youth Union had had everything but their international travel costs covered.
Others chose to pay their own way, with Picharda from the Philippines saying his delegation had paid $2,300 in total for their visit.
Malcolm Guy, general secretary of the International League of People’s Struggle (ILPS), also told NK News that his delegation “didn’t receive any financial assistance from the DPRK.”
“We understand the situation in the DPRK right now. It’s very difficult financially because of the blockade and sanctions,” Guy, a 70 year old Canadian, said.
Many friendship delegations had come to the country to correct what they saw as misconceptions about the country.
He said he had been invited by local counterparts and hoped his visit would correct what he described as “lies” spread about the country, though found it difficult to be specific on what precisely they were referring to.
“I’ve been trying to understand what the biggest lie about North Korea is,” he said. “I can’t put my finger on it.”
But, he said, he believed much of the criticism of North Korea was rooted in “a kind of racist element.”
“Cause it’s not a threat, North Korea is not a threat to world peace,” Guy, who told NK News he would be spending his 70th birthday in the country, said.
Changing perceptions was a common goal.
“We want to become an eye opener to the whole world, becoming living witnesses to invalidate the misconceptions by the U.S. imperialists, we want to invalidate their lies,” Pichardo said.
Others were there to celebrate what they saw as long-standing ties between their homeland and North Korea.
Ogbonna, for example, said his home country of Nigeria had enjoyed a “deep history” with the DPRK.
“DPRK was very helpful to Nigeria… especially immediately after our independence,” he said, adding that “quite a number” of North Koreans continued to work in his country.
“We have medical doctors, people in Agriculture, construction workers,” he said. “Quite a number of them. If we have our way, we’d have more coming in – as they bring kind of unique skills that Nigeria needs as we work towards industrializing the country.”
But Ogbonna, though he praised the North’s commitment to “true independence,” did not believe that a DPRK-style form of government would be suitable for Nigeria.
“What works for one nation may not work for another,” he said. “Nigeria, we are a multiparty democracy. What is important is that whoever the leaders are, they should have the people foremost [in their minds].”
Others were less diplomatic when pressed on whether they believed their trip offered legitimacy to North Korea’s political system.
“I don’t care what people think about that,” said Guy.
“I think everyone should come to the DPRK, they can come on holiday, they can come and see it. Maybe then the lies about the DPRK will not exist.”
Featured image: NK News
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