WHERE would you rather be: London or Pyongyang? It should be an easy one to answer. There is certainly a better choice of artisanal boulangeries in our capital, and the dairy-free iced mochaccinos of the DPRK don’t quite hit the spot in the way a freshly brewed offering from a Yankee mega-corporation does. Then again, it probably wouldn’t set you back over a fiver.
It is unlikely too that Pyongyang has suffered the same plague of craft beer bars as London. Seemingly every street now has its own temple dedicated to the connoisseurs of Russian Imperial Stouts, Berliner Weisse and Belgian Krieks.
(Truth be told, I love beer – I just detest the colonisation of what was a proper bloke’s drink by whinging woke worthies.)
Pyongyang is not without its own minor craft beer revolution, though. Whilst staying at the Yanggakdo International Hotel a few years ago – handily located on an island in the river and whose perimeter is constantly patrolled by police (for our own safety, natch) – I was able to sample the latest batch of booze made in the hotel’s newly installed micro-brewery. It was thick, hazy, orange-coloured and with a peculiar taste of Heinz baked beans. I’m sure the bearded beanie-wearers of Shoreditch would love it.
In time, the coffee bars and craft breweries of the DPRK will no doubt catch up to the enviable standards reached in modern Britain. Yet it’s not merely in these areas where we surpass our friends of the Hermit Kingdom, with the UK now outperforming in areas which North Korea was formerly a world beater.
The streets of Pyongyang are littered with the kind of propaganda that has ceased in our eyes to be menacing, having become somehow nostalgic and fashionable – a bit like communism in general. Burly soldiers of the Korean People’s Army bayoneting a fair-haired American GI, that kind of thing.
How quaint. We in the West are immune to such overt propaganda, of course. This is if one can forget last year’s weekly, automaton-like clapping for Our NHS, or ignore the windows full of Thank You, NHS posters as people die of untreated, undetected cancer or slowly lose their minds through government-imposed social isolation. Among the most cringeworthy public displays of adulation I saw last year stated ‘Now we know what the H in NHS stands for: Heroes’. At least we now know what it doesn’t stand for: health.
One may also look to public occasions to get a better handle on what kinds of propaganda the population of the Hermit Kingdom are subjected to. Fireworks, perhaps. Pyongyang’s recent New Year firework display was disappointing in its lack of ambition. Whilst the camera focused on the flag a lot, the fireworks were, well, just fireworks.
Despite usually grabbing the chance to bludgeon their population with propaganda at each turn, the Kim clan missed a trick here. They were outdone by the megolomaniac presiding over London’s City Hall. His New Year fireworks were like a vision from 1984: the ideology of the ruling class beamed into the sky, with the helpless population staring upwards, degraded and powerless (at least they would do, if they weren’t all locked up indoors):
· The clenched fist of the Marxist BLM – an organisation that seeks to destroy Western civilisation and which endlessly stokes racial division and hatred;
· The endless fawning over Our NHS – an institution for which we are all to be willing sacrifices. Questioning this narrative may lead to your arrest;
· The childlike depictions extolling environmentalism. No heating, no cars, no electricity for us; yachts and private jets for those delivering us into neo-feudalism;
· The empty, brain-rotting incantation to ‘Love Together’. Surely this ranks among the most hollow imperatives conceivable. Naturally, they do not mean love in a Christian sense. No, ‘love’ here means ‘Accept the consequences of our terrible decisions. Do not resist.’
All of this was forced down the throat of the viewer in a display of public humiliation – for which we have the pleasure of paying. Were there any doubt surrounding the mayor’s intentions, his subsequent goading of opponents on Twitter made his aims clear.
Of course, there was no one around to show their displeasure at Khan’s insulting display. Locked in their homes, the obedient subjects of the United Kingdom have found themselves in a state less free than the citizens of North Korea on New Year’s Eve, a country where the populace was granted the unimaginable liberty of simply going outside to watch some fireworks.
So where would you rather be? Naturally, let’s not overstate things. At least in the UK we are not executed by anti-aircraft gun for finding the Prime Minister a bore. Not yet, anyway. And I doubt the North Korean intranet would tolerate the kind of samizdat hosted on these pages. Nor is it likely you could find a good tapas bar in downtown Pyongyang.
Nevertheless, the times they are a-changin’. With the ushering in of the new year, who would want to be stuck in the capital city of a country with endless sledgehammering propaganda, compulsory house arrest, a controlled economy, the mandatory worship of state institutions and national media outlets which, like zombies, parrot the government’s official line?
Hang on. Is this London or Pyongyang I’m describing? Sometimes it’s hard to tell. With the likes of Khan in charge and the ceaseless pummelling of the population with their damaging and divisive ideologies, the lines are becoming increasingly blurred.