As you probably have noticed, I have been following the North Korean regime for quite a while. When Kim Jong-il died last year, and was to be replaced by his son – Kim Jong-un – I couldn’t help but notice the mainstream media’s reaction, as well as that of a lot of people. Namely, that they hope that the transition was for good, that Kim Jong-un is the new Deng Xiaoping, or in other words that North Korea will open up and become capitalist and free (or at least more capitalist and freer). This reaction is typical of the ignorance on the North Korean regime. A recent news article on the Huffington Post proves my point. Read defectors’ reactions, particularly:
None of the defectors Reuters spoke to believed the leadership would dare allow reforms that damage its grip. Some thought the Pyongyang elite had been scared by the disastrous 2009 experiment [the currency reform that was reportedly disastrous to the country’s “economy”].
North Korea is not referred to as the Hermit Kingdom by chance. It is arguably the most isolated country in the world. That isolation even includes not just the outside but also the inside: concentration camps for dissidents, and their families and relatives (another means of sustaining the regime), and ban on free movement within the country, among other limitations. In North Korea, in order to go to a neighboring city, a citizen (meaning an intellectual, a peasant or a worker – for the North Korean society is divided into three classes, each with their privileges, limitations, and so on) has to either be a very high-ranking official who happens to have been permitted by the leadership to travel at that particular occasion or to exclusively be granted permission by the authorities. This is most likely a tactic by the Stalinist regime to curb any possibility of a riot. The thugs at the top of the government- who completely deserve to be prosecuted and thrown in jail for the rest of their lives for their terrorist acts on their own people – are aware that as long as they control population movement, connections within the different cities and villages will be controlled (meaning very weak, if any), and as a result of that the possibility to topple down the government will be substantially minimized, virtually zero. I cannot imagine a regime of this nature to ever be comfortable with opening its people to the outside world in any way – foreign investment, travels and so on.
The North Korean government apparently does all it can to sustain its parasitic existence. Among the few foreign investments come from tourism. Tourists spend money and that rejuvenates the North Korean economy though by a very tiny portion. With the same mentality in mind – the government’s curbing any possibility of a riot in an effort to sustain its parasitic existence – all these foreigners criss-cross the country with minders. The minders’ job is not just to talk one and the same well known (but apparently false) catch phrases about their country – being the socialist paradise and all that thanks to Kim il-Sung, Kim Jong-il and King Jong-un – but to prevent foreign tourists from having any chance to communicate with local people as well. The latter are aware of that too, so as long as they are not aware of the minders’ approval, they would not stop and respond to a foreigner’s words, regardless of any knowledge of English. Were they permitted to communicate with foreignrs, they are completely aware that if they do not praise the leadership and the country, the minders will later make sure that all of their relatives and themselves are arrested and sent to a concentration camp for arguably 3 generations. I cannot imagine a regime of this nature to ever be comfortable with opening its people to the outside world in any way – foreign investment, travels and so on.
Another reason why I am skeptical of any possibility of North Korea’s opening up and changing itself to good without any military intervention, that is – without any war – is this year’s failed missile launch. If the North Korean Stalinist government was interested in any integration into the world economy or the improvement of its people’s lives, it would not launch this missile – which, again, as an observer of North Korea I had always been skeptical of the missile’s causing any damage to the outside world, as much as I always will be skeptical of any next missile launch from North Korea. There were countless warnings against launching the missile by the United States and other countries of the potential negative impact on North Korea’s foreign relations, yet the North Korean government ended up launching it. I cannot imagine a regime of this nature to ever be comfortable with opening its people to the outside world in any way – foreign investment, travels and so on.
Next on North Korea on this blog – more personal reflections on the regime’s mentality. I will see whether I can reflect on it as a social scientist or as a political analyst. It all depends on whether I find data.