Friday 9 December 2016

My bizarre three days spent in eerie, surreal North Korea

In 2001 Miriam Donohoe was the first Irish journalist to get a visa allowing her to visit the reclusive state. Here she recounts her experience and reckons not much has changed

Miriam Donohue

Published 11/04/2013 | 17:00

North Koreans dance in front of the Monument to the Foundation of the Workers’ Party in Pyongyang as they celebrate the 20th anniversary of late leader Kim Jong-il's election as chairman of North Korea's National Defence Commission
North Koreans dance in front of the Monument to the Foundation of the Workers’ Party in Pyongyang as they celebrate the 20th anniversary of late leader Kim Jong-il's election as chairman of North Korea's National Defence Commission

FROM the moment I set foot in Pyongyang, capital of North Korea, it was clear I had entered one of the most isolated countries in the world. Travelling under escort from the grim, almost deserted airport to the city centre, it was unsettling to see wide streets with no traffic, servile-looking people going about their daily lives in eerie silence, and shops with no customers. No happy, smiling, children's faces.

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The current crisis in North Korea has brought memories flooding back of the three surreal days I spent in this hermit state in May 2001. I was the first Irish journalist to secure a visa to this isolated, reclusive, country, as part of a group who were covering a visit there by a high- powered EU delegation.

I was curious and excited about the prospect of seeing at first hand what life was like in a country where people were reportedly controlled and brainwashed and given little opportunity to think for themselves.

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