Medal-winning North Korean athletes at the London Olympics are delivering boilerplate acceptance speeches praising the country’s “Dear Leader” Kim Jong Un, prompting the international media to increasingly snub them in the absence of sensational stories.
So far, North Korea has won two gold medals in men's weightlifting, one in women's weightlifting, and one in women's judo. It also won a bronze in women's weightlifting.
The reclusive nation may be on track to best its previous record of four gold and five bronze medals in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.
With 56 athletes competing in 11 sports, the North Korean Olympic team hopes to win additional medals in table tennis, diving, judo, wrestling, boxing, and archery.
But despite the solid showing, foreign reporters are less likely to interview medal winners from North Korea because none of them are willing to express their own feelings when asked about their Olympic experience.
RFA interviewed a reporter from China’s official Xinhua news agency named Xin Jianqiang who said he would be unsurprised if the North Koreans won additional medals in this year’s Olympics, but said he would be floored if the athletes did not mention Kim Jong Un in their acceptance speeches.
“Although their voices are different, the North Korean gold medalists’ acceptance speeches sound like they are coming from the same person,” he said, chuckling.
The acceptance speeches by An Gum Ae, a judoka who won North Korea’s first gold medal, Om Yun Chol, a North Korean weightlifter who won gold setting a world record, and Kim Un Guk, another North Korean weightlifting world record setter, were almost identical.
“[I’m] really happy that I was able to give our leader, Kim Jong Un, joy with my gold medal,” said An when collecting her gold.
“Thanks to our Dear Leader’s love and support, I was able to win the gold medal,” said Om Yun Chol when receiving his hardware.
Kim Un Guk provided, perhaps, a tad more insight on how he was able to enter the record books.
“Our supreme Dear Leader, Kim Jong Un, encouraged us, the athletes, and is waiting for the results of the games,” he said.
“That’s the secret of setting the world record.”
Rim Jong Sim, who took gold in weightlifting on Aug. 1, simply expressed her happiness in pleasing Kim, but several foreign reporters at the ceremony burst into laughter before they even heard the translation, once they recognized the “Dear Leader’s” name in her speech.
Journalists have stopped interviewing the North Koreans, according to one British reporter from Reuters news agency who said that no matter what questions the athletes were asked, the answers were “always the same.”
Rajiv Narayan, a North Korea researcher for the London-based human rights organization Amnesty International, said the boilerplate speeches have disappointed an international community that had hoped for a sign of change from North Korea after the young Kim took power nearly eight months ago.
Kim Jong Un, who assumed the mantle of power in North Korea following the death of his father, Kim Jong Il, in December last year, is believed to have studied abroad in high school, and experts had hoped his Western education would lead to reformist policy.
But Narayan said that it appears little has changed since the former Kim was running the show.
“He studied in Switzerland and abroad … so we expected to see some changes. But it is still very much the same,” he said.
Narayan said that North Korea has a rare opportunity to show how life is different under the new leader while winning accolades on the world’s biggest stage.
“But since the gold medalists can’t even speak freely about their own feelings and all they do is repeat political rhetoric, North Korea is just isolating itself even more from the rest of the world.”
Reported by Kim Jin-guk for RFA’s Korean service. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.