Facts & Stats (http://asia.isp.msu.edu/wbwoa/facts_stats.htm) | History (http://asia.isp.msu.edu/wbwoa/history.htm) | Culture (http://asia.isp.msu.edu/wbwoa/culture.htm) | Geography (http://asia.isp.msu.edu/wbwoa/geography.htm) | Religion (http://asia.isp.msu.edu/wbwoa/religion.htm) | Current Events (http://globaledge.msu.edu/countries/korea-north/) | Links & Resources (http://results.about.com/north_korea/)
Until the Japanese surrender in 1945, Korea was a unified country. In 1945, the country was temporarily split at the 38th parallel because the USSR took the Japanese surrender north of that parallel and the US took the Japanese surrender south of that Parallel. Each country installed a leader sympathetic to its political system. Thus, the USSR helped Kim Il-sung, who had led the Korean resistance against the Japanese during the War, to come to power in North Korea. Kim was head of the Korean communist party and had close ties with the Russians. The US occupied South Korea until elections could be held in the war-ravaged country in 1948. These elections brought Syngman Rhee to power as the first President of the Republic of Korea; This government was legally recognized by the UN on December 12, 1948, as the government of Korea.
North Korea launched a surprise attack on the south on June 25, 1950 and quickly over-ran much of the country. The US counter-attacked and the three year Korean War began. The UN, with Us urging, branded North Korea as the aggressor and sent troops for 15 nations to aid South Korea; China then entered on behalf of the North. The war resulted in many casualties on both sides as well as the complete infrastructure destruction of both North and South Korea. The peace treaty, signed at Panmumjom, was a truce; no permanent treaty has been signed. The result of this war was the continuation of the division of Korea and the creation of two separate political and economic systems.
This history section will deal only with the History of the North since 1945; to view the history of Korea prior to that time, please go to the site on South Korea.
North Korea came under Soviet occupation after Japan's defeat in the Second World War. Kim Il-sung with the support of the Soviets took over the chairmanship of the Five Provinces Administrative Bureau and increased his power. Under the communist rule, land reforms were carried out that gave away free land to the Korean farmers, who in turn had to return back to the state a quarter of the produce.
Private businesses were shut down as the state took over the production and distribution of goods. Unions were formed and employees were obliged to join these unions. Due to the lack of skilled manpower after the departure of Japanese workers, most industrial facilities were virtually shut down.
Communist ideology was promoted by creating the Communist Youth League, which aimed to educate the younger generation in Socialism. Private schools were abolished and public schools and the Kim Il-sung University established in 1947.
All churches and most Buddhist temples were closed down. The freedom of religion was denied along with the freedom of speech and press. The Rodong Shinmun was made the sole newspaper and was published only in the Korean language, doing away with Chinese characters.
After the emergence of the two Korean states, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) came into being, with Kim Il-sung as the head of state. There were three ruling parties in the country: the Supreme People's Assembly (SPA), the Central People's Committee and its executive arm called State Administrative Council and the Korean Workers' Party (KWP).
There was no legislative assembly and all rules and regulations originated in the Party. The People's Army is another powerful arm of the state. The initial members of the army were communist soldiers who had returned from the Soviet Union or China. It started off with around 20, 000 members in 1948 and has grown to over 150, 000 with tanks, aircrafts and naval vessels provided by the Soviet Union.
In addition to the army, the KWP mobilized such organizations as the Communist Youth League and the Korean Democratic Women's League with an aim to strengthen the societal structure. These organizations were told that the "liberation of the southern half of the republic" and to be loyal to Kim Il-sung and the Party was their goal.
The North Korean government has come to be known as a belligerent state with its nuclear program and its concentration on military advancement. The state has been blamed for spending huge amounts of money on amassing weapons and military prowess, while its people have been dying of hunger and poverty. The famine that started in 1997 resulted in the deaths of millions of Koreans.
But there have been significant achievements of this regime, as described in a CIA study. These are social improvements in the position of women, providing care for children and war orphans; economic improvements in the form of free housing, health care, and preventive medicine. Infant mortality and life expectancy rates were comparable to the best in the world, until the last famine.
North Korea is the world's last remaining unreformed Stalinist state. Nominally ruled by the communist party, the Korean Workers' Party (KWP), whose institutions shadow and control those of the state at all levels. In recent years, the country has become more military-dominated. Kim Il-sung ruled North Korea from its foundation until his death in 1994. After a hiatus of three years, his son and heir, Kim Jong-il, was proclaimed KWP general secretary in 1997 and in 1998 was reconfirmed as chairman of the National Defense Commission (NDC), now the highest state position.
The collapse of the USSR in 1991 brought great hardship to North Korea. Since the country was isolated from most international activities, it was heavily dependant upon the Soviet Union for financial aid. As that aid was cut off in 1991, the North Korea has slowly declined. The famine which was revealed in 1997 stunned the world in its extent and led to humanitarian aid being extended by south Korea, the US and other countries. The North Korean leadership has slowly awakened to the realities of the Post-soviet era and has started to take part in some international events. In May 2000, Kim Jong-il visited Beijing to discuss issues of concern with China. This was followed in June, 2000 by the first inter-Korean summit which was held in Pyongyang; Kim Jong-il and South Korea's president, Kim Dae-jung signed a joint declaration which led to cultural and tourist exchanges. This was followed in October 2000 by the visit of Madeleine Albright to North Korea; she was the first US Secretary of State to visit North Korea. Kiim Jung-il continued his limited travels with trips to Shanghai and Russia in 2001 and 2002.
The events of 9/11 (2001) in the US, and the branding of North Korea as part of the "axis of evil" by President Bush, led to hardening of relations and the North Koreans response with building their nuclear capacity. This led to a series of meetings between concerned nations (China, South Korea, The US, Russia, and Japan, to try and convince North Korea that this "nuclear standoff" was not in the country's best interest. However, in April, 2003, North Korea became the first nation to withdraw form the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty. These negotiations are continuing.