Diaries from North Korea

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My first visit to North Korea was in 2005, when the regime was still ruled by Kim Jong Il.
The country had not yet admitted to possessing nuclear weapons, but I found it strange that Western media showed such disinterest towards this isolationist state: why were they ignoring a country that still ran concentration camps?

In the summer of 2006 the DPRK announced that North Korea had built its first atomic bomb and suddenly Western media became aware of the fact that this country could possibly pose a global threat.
In my documentary, made in three stages between 2012 and 2015, I examine North Korea under the new leader Kim Jong Un. Even if his leadership appears no different to that of his predecessor -- continued purges, executions and the strict control of every citizen -- at an economic level, small but significant changes are visible. With increasing trade, the government is being forced to build bridges and to allow its merchants a possibility of economic development. This, in one of the poorest countries in the world.

Modern supermarkets, gambling halls, skyscrapers sprouting like mushrooms, lively streets with countless taxis, Mickey Mouse on TV... these are all signs of an economy that, albeit hesitantly, is moving towards a capitalist system: the capital Pyongyang is going through an historically unique period of growth. In an attempt to rid itself of the old soviet-style greyness, the city is changing from the bottom up to give itself a new image, quite as though Pyongyang had understood that it too has arrived in the 21st century.

This silent revolution, due in part to the female population which has discovered Western products, also promotes cultural exchange. One example of this development is the concert last summer by the rock group ''Laibach'', which marked a truly historic event, considering that Western music is banned in North Korea. Possession of foreign CDs and DVDs is also strictly punished by the regime which sees them as a corrupting poison for North Korean society.

Between the "Juche" ideology and National Socialism: there are concentration camps for actual and suspected regime opponents; convinced of the superiority of the Korean race, citizens are forbidden to have friendly relations with foreigners. I have encountered this reality, but over time I was also able to build small but significant friendships in North Korea. Through these I discovered true humanity in people living under this monstrous Stalinist system.

Dreams revolve not only around freedom, but also around a hope of reunification with their southern brother. This is not a forbidden subject in Pyongyang. During an interview with a student, she made it abundantly clear that every Korean was obliged to strive for reunion.

This dream, though, constantly clashes with reality, as I realized when visiting the Panmunjom border in March 2013: on the one side we saw South Korean military exercises, on the other continuous provocations by North Korea. Which is why, after all, this is considered the most dangerous border in the world.