By Samantha Chang, NYU Florence student
On September 20th La Pietra Dialogues hosted journalist and international correspondent for Vanity Fair Italy Imma Vitelli, who recounted her daring journey into the most isolated and authoritarian state on the planet: North Korea.
One of the most inaccessible places in the world, the government has very strict regulations on the admittance of foreigners. Very few reporters have been granted access to visit the country and witness conditions on the ground, especially with the recent increase in international tensions.
The North Korean government is trying to develop weapons of mass destruction that could reach Japan, South Korea, the United States and other potential targets. Since January of this year, the Kim regime has conducted ten missile tests with a total of 16 missiles, one of which they claim can carry a nuclear warhead. Only four of the missiles have failed.
It seems paradoxical that the North Korean government has invested so many resources in developing an expensive nuclear weapons program, when widespread food shortages in the country have been documented since the 1990s and international observers have reported that the people of North Korea are in danger of severe health complications due to malnutrition. According to the most recent statistics, one in four children is malnourished during their most critical period of development (pregnancy to 24 months). And yet, Vitelli reports that among the elites of the Kim regime, there was “champagne flowing in spite of sanctions and children singing the glory of the nuclear program.”
Vitelli, who was able to spend ten days inside this “lost galaxy”, as she describes it, came to Villa La Pietra to discuss what she encountered while investigating North Korea’s private universe. No stranger to danger zones, Vitelli has covered conflicts all over the world, in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, and Somalia, among others. Her book Tahrir provides insight into the Egyptian revolution of 2011. She is a native of Italy who has lived for many years in the Middle East and currently resides in Rome.