Politics and Ham Radio…..

Posted: October 22, 2014 in Uncategorized
The Intrepid-DX Group has just concluded our 2014 friendship tours of the DPRK and the Islamic Republic of Iran. These visits were very enjoyable and we were treated very well by our host countries. We make these visits in an effort to build relations and to create a human connection that may further improve some aspect of relations between our countries. These visits made by ourselves and others have been highly successful over the years in countries such as Eritrea, Myanmar, Iran, Yemen, South Sudan etc. These visits are self funded and we do not represent our Governments, only ourselves. We see ourselves as diplomats for the human race and for our hobby of amateur radio. We have every reason to believe that these visits help to improve relations and to erode the feelings from the past.
Pyongyang students wave to the Americans.
Upon our return, we are usually met with “good luck” messages and such from the many hams around the world who want to see us be successful. I was surprised to read a message in our DX Club newsletter by our former Club President. His letter proclaimed that he would be boycotting any operation from the DPRK for moral and ethical reasons. The author cites a long list of atrocities having occurred or are occurring in the DPRK. The author feels that a Dxpedition will be allowed only when the country “needs another Dennis Rodman farce”. The author believes that “no amount of normal activity, including a ham radio event on the part of North Korea will change, much less improve the lives of these oppressed people. It likely will, however, further delude those who buy into the current veneer of lies and, worse, further embed the family”.
The author adds that “a ham radio show would be a farce that will add to their game and falsely portray a country as open and free. Perception will be taken as reality”. The author further calls upon the ARRL to delete the DPRK from the DXCC entities list. The author closes his editorial by calling for a global ham boycott of the DPRK.
Four of the Intrepid-DX Group’s members have now made a total of nine visits to the DPRK over a span of two decades. We have some first hand knowledge and experience of the DPRK. One issue that I have become painfully aware of in my world-wide travels is the absolute bias in our Western media reporting. They paint a picture that is sometimes skewed or made to represent their agenda. This is not to say that bad things are not happening in the DPRK or other places. But in my view, things are not always as they are portrayed by NBC, CBS, ABC, NPR, CNN etc.
Paul N6PSE enjoys a conversation with an elementary English class.
In the grand scheme of life, ham radio is not very important. In fact, in many countries that we visit, the concept of a “hobby” is completely foreign. Many people around the world do not have the luxury of free time and the means to enjoy such trivial pursuits. So should hams expect an amateur radio event in any country to change or improve things?  My answer is no, not really.
Those that have not been to the DPRK would be surprised to learn of the extent of human interaction we have with citizens of the DPRK during our visits. Its not just the hotel and restaurant staff and of course our guides, drivers and “minders”. We are always allowed to make several school visits. The high school students in the DPRK take great delight in meeting those from the West and we engage in delightful and unscripted conversations with these bright and engaging students. This is taking place just down the hall from the “propaganda room” that each DPRK school seems to have where anti-American rhetoric is displayed and where young people are taught anti-American songs from a young age. It’s an interesting contrast after we visit the propaganda room and then engage in these conversations with these bright and well educated students. Clearly the anti-American propaganda is not working.
We are allowed to visit a Kindergarten class.
Our guides, drivers and minders take great enjoyment of borrowing our IPods during our visit. They love to listen to Western music and they enjoy viewing our family photos and seeing what life is like in our home countries. They know how we live and they can instantly make comparisons to how they live.
We are allowed to visit DPRK families in their homes and we have enjoyed home cooked meals with them. We talk about life in the DPRK and their hopes and dreams. We respectively avoid talking about politics but it is very evident that there is hope on both sides of the conversation for better times ahead. Americans are now allowed to travel into areas of the DPRK that were previously prohibited. Last year, we were among the first Westerners to walk into the DPRK across the Tumen River bridge from Yanji China. All previous visits had to originate in Pyongyang.
We visit a DPRK home and enjoy dinner with them.
Things are changing in the DPRK but in very small ways. Westerners can now buy SIM cards for their cell phones and make calls from within the DPRK. You can send email from within the DPRK. There is a gun shooting range in the DPRK that tourists often stop to fire DPRK weapons. The targets used to be of soldiers with USA painted on their helmets. USA has now been removed from the targets. As I said, changes are happening in very small gradual steps.
Our group played volleyball with locals in a small seaport village.
Radio in the DPRK is a very tightly controlled aspect of life. DPRK citizens may buy a crystal controlled radio from a Government store. Tuners or VFOs are now allowed on their radios and television. Citizens can only tune into the Government run radio stations. The concept of amateur radio where ordinary people communicate in a free and open fashion across borders is a very foreign concept in the DPRK. There is reason to believe that the DPRK has never allowed a fully approved and licensed amateur radio operation to take place at any time.
The DPRK is being bombarded with smuggled radios and DVDs in an effort to erode trust in the status quo and to create awareness of life outside of the DPRK. While these efforts may serve to erode our chances of an approved and licensed Dxpedition, there is likely a positive effect if DPRK citizens become more aware of the world around them and reject their current reality.
I firmly believe that any amateur radio activity in the DPRK should be non political. We are amateur enthusiasts and amateur diplomats. We come and go in peace and we try to show that those of us from the West are nice generous people that should not be feared.
Astute organizations such as the ARRL do a pretty good job of rising above and staying above the political fray. There will always be issues such as Kosovo, Crimea and elsewhere to ponder. A boycott of any DPRK ham radio event would serve to accomplish very little. A boycotter would miss a fun and much cherished contact by many. The decision makers in the DPRK would never know of the boycotter’s feelings and probably are not likely to care.
As amateur radio hobbyists, I believe we best serve our hobby when we leave the politics out of the equation, whether it be in Club Newsletters or our efforts to activate rare and much desired countries. Ham Radio should always rise above politics.
What do you think?
  1. Gene Spinelli says:

    Hi Paul,

    I think you know how I feel about the letter that was published in the club newsletter.

    Amateur radio is, and always has been, above politics. The letter writer was as far off base as one could get. His letter was a political rant that should never have been published in an amateur radio club publication.

    The Intrepid DXers have done a wonderful job of building bridges, especially with countries where we may not agree politically.

    If the letter writer wants to boycott a P5 operation that’s his choice.

    Keep up the good work Paul.

    Gene K5GS

    P.S. I didn’t see that letter as an “editorial” statement. Wasn’t it a letter written to the ARRL and I think CQ that was “reprinted” in the newsletter. I don’t think it was the editor’s position on P5. However it certainly did demonstrate poor judgement by its inclusion in the newsletter.

  2. Warren says:

    Well said, Paul. Especially your last paragraph.

  3. Ed Muns says:

    Ham radio is fairly unique in its potential to positively connect people across extremely diverse political, geographic, religious, cultural and other views. We should take every opportunity to exploit this unifying ambassadorial asset.

    In the contesting world this past week a raging debate occurred on this topic. CQ magazine announced that across all their sponsored contests, any submitted logs from the Crimea area of Ukraine that used Russian call signs would be rejected and all QSOs with these stations found in otther logs would be removed.

    CQ’s rationale was that Russia had illegally annexed the Crimea peninsula and assigned European Russian callsigns to all ham radio stations there. Seems reasonable enough on the surface, except that this policy makes Crimean hams pirates in the CQ contests. And, with respect to ham radio and these contests, the only impact is what country multiplier is used for these stations in the log checking. CQ’s contest policy will have zero effect on the political issues.

    While there were vocal opinions on both sides of this issue, the majority felt that this policy was orthogonal to the basic principles and essence of ham radio–that of bridging people via a neutral hobby, regardless of other factors. Accordingly, CQ management quickly revised their policy to allow Crimean hams continued participation in their contests. Crimean logs would be accepted as always. The country multiplier would be based on whatever the callsign prefix indicates according to the contest rules, which are based on the DXCC and WAE country lists.

    The revised policy now allows contesting to continue as independent of the Crimea sovereignty issues as possible. The policy is not a vote of support for Russia’s action, but rather a ham radio contest rule that allows Crimean hams to participate. Yes, it is difficult to separate these things, but the reward for working through the difficulty is keeping ham radio on the high road of connecting human beings regardless of surrounding issues.

    Ed W0YK

  4. Paula- KK4OK says:

    Very well put! I totally agree that our hobby should be kept outside the boundaries of politics and religion. We need to rise above that mindset and just enjoy the “magic” of radio and how our large world is made smaller through each QSO.

    Paula- KK4OK

    • n6pse says:

      John, so far, three hams, including yourself have told me that they would boycott a P5 Dxpedition. We are fortunate that we are free and we can easily make those kind of decisions.

  5. Robert WD8NVN says:

    Talking about politics, lets all hope HR-4969, with have enough sponsors to be voted on during the next session of the House of Representatives, in the U.S. Congress. What will be interesting, who are the opponents to the bill… My federal representative is taking a wait-and-see stance, until the proposal comes up for a vote…

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