"There Is No Internet–But We Have a Plan"

Time Magazine published this piece on North Korea.

“But any liberalization could lead to a loss of the absolute political control enjoyed by Kim. The dilemma is evident during a visit to the Kumsung Educational Institute. Boys recruited from around the country are learning English and computer skills beneath portraits of Kim and his father, state founder Kim Il Sung. In one class, students are studying Microsoft PowerPoint on Taiwanese computers, and 10-year-old Chun In Hyo shyly tells a visitor: “I will be a scientist.”

Down the hall, an older student poring over a Cambridge English text says he likes football star David Beckham. The students are well-behaved and bright, and their English is as good as anything you would find in Seoul or Tokyo. Vice Principal Bak Ryong Gil says the youngsters are learning to use the Internet. Really, we ask, can they access it? No, he explains, they can only look at select material downloaded at the country’s main computer-research center. “There is no Internet,” says Bak, “but we have a plan.” He says he can’t tell us more.

Indeed, censorship remains pervasive. After the school’s musicians put on a stirring performance, belting out rousing odes to school and country backed by electric guitars, Rhee Jin Hyuk, a spiky haired drummer, mentions that he owns an MP3 player. But he claims not to have heard of rap music, or even the Beatles. The only tunes he plays are North Korea’s version of pop, a chirpy, heavily synthesized sort of muzak that sounds like it was composed in the 1950s. “I want to be a musician in a military propaganda unit,”he tells us.

Choe, our minder, says his country is developing its own style of music. Closing his eyes and clasping his hands to his heart, he launches into a song about a girl who is popular with the boys because she is a model worker. “We call it juche music,” he says.