VICE sheds light on N. Korean labor camps inside Russia in new video

Jamie Weinstein Senior Writer
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If you haven’t viewed the VICE documentary guides to various third world basket cases, you are really missing out.

They often give an inside look at places few reporters dare to go. Their latest release chronicles North Korean labor camps in the Siberia region of Russia.

The Daily Caller recently interviewed VICE’s Shane Smith about his most recent adventure:

You’ve traveled to many “exotic” places, but you call North Korea the “most fucked up place on Earth.” Given the stiff competition from places like Saudi Arabia, Somalia, and Zimbabwe, that’s a serious statement.

There is no competition what-so-ever. North Korea has been in a lunatic time warp since the 1950’s. They are the only real Socialist-Cult-of-Personality-Absolute-Dictatorship left in the Stalinist or Maoist mold left on Earth. They are still at war with the U.S. and Japan to the point where they have threatened to nuke both of them and have repeatedly boasted that they could be in Seoul in and hour and a half (don’t even get me started about their underground invasion tunnels) and thereby start WWIII.

On top of all that, the country is run day to day by Kim Il Sung — “The Eternal President” — who has been dead since [1994] and his son Kim Jung Il, who is the largest private importer of Hennessy in the world and is madly in love with Elizabeth Taylor, Broadway musicals and 80’s slasher movies. The country is starving and has no power, yet every year they throw the Arirang Games, or “Mass Gymnastics,” where 150,000 people act out a simultaneous pantomime about the history of Korea, in the largest stadium on Earth to … no one. They won’t let anyone into DPRK, so there is no audience. Nice. Not to mention that every room, every subway car, every factory, every billboard, every TV ad is just pictures of Kim Jung Il and Kim Il Sung. They are literally everywhere — even the FLOWERS are named after them (kimjungillia). It is pure, unadulterated madness. No other country even comes close. Next question!

In this Vice Guide you are traveling not to North Korea, but into the Siberian region of Russia where the North Koreans have outsourced North Korean workers to the Russian state. Call me crazy, but it appears that the Russian government is essentially participating in a modern day slavery racket, no?

Correct. The Russians are making money. The North Korean state is making money. The companies using the slave labor are making money. Everyone is making money save the people actually doing the work. Long live the revolution!!

Tell me about these prison camps? What are the North Koreans doing there?

They are forced to live and work in the middle of nowhere, under horrific conditions for 10 year periods, for little or no money, under threat that if they run away their whole families will be put into similar work camps in the Homeland.

And the camps are made to resemble life in North Korea, right?

Some of the workers actually think they are still in concentration camps in DPRK even though they are thousands of miles away. Why? Because all they see are trees and villages that look EXACTLY the same as they do in DPRK. They have the same propaganda, the same newspapers, they have the same types of buildings, everything. It’s quite eerie actually.

Were you able to determine whether the North Korean slave laborers have tried to escape their Russian and North Korean tormentors for freedom?

Yes, many do escape. In fact the South Koreans sent a consul to help facilitate their defections. He was assassinated. There have also been missionaries who have tried to help but were assassinated as well. We asked that question of the North Koreans when we were in Tynda. Their answer was quite chilling. You can watch it on vice.com.

Part of what makes your videos so great is the adventure you have to go on in order to get to these bizarre and remote places. What was the journey like to get to the camps?

It was very long and very, very drunky. Days upon days spent in dining cars on old Trans-Siberian trains. The heat gauge in our train had been turned on full and then broken off sometime circa 1973 so that the compartments were beyond stifling. The only place to hang out was the dining car, where everyone was getting blind drunk. There were fights and mini-riots every few hours which was a bit rich but at least it killed the time between towns which in Siberia which was interminable.

I found it an interesting commentary on Russian society that Russia has a police force whose sole role is to monitor drunk people on trains and remove them when they have become too drunk. What is the standard for too drunk in Russia and tell me about your experience with the Russian alcohol police?

Too drunk is when you become murdery. Everything was alright until bottles were smashed and used as makeshift knives, or other real makeshift knives appeared and were brandished. There is a lot of the old ultraviolence going on in the Far Eastern Region of Russia so it has to get pretty bad for them to chuck you off the train. Our experience with them was great! We had a group of young hooligans fucking with us for about 10 hours until they got so drunk that they forgot that we were friends and wanted to kill us. The drunk police were amazing. They took the thugs off and then bought us more vodka (some bottles had been broken) and then took us to the North Korean administrative camps when we finally got to Tynda and forced the North Koreans to talk to us.

What did you takeaway from the adventure?

That the world is fucked. Slaves in 2012?? It’s madness. Where are all the adults? How did it get so far out of control?

Why don’t you think these slave labor camps have been covered better by the media? I follow North Korea more than the average bear and I had never heard of these Russian camps.

a) The Russians don’t want people to know about it. b) The North Koreans don’t want anyone to know about it. c) It’s really hard to get to. d) When you actually do get there it’s really hard to get anyone to talk to you and e) If you do manage to get by all of that the local FSB or militia will just take your tapes as they tried to take ours.

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