You’re reading this now, which means that South Korean politics probably interest you to at least some degree. But imagine how much they interest North Koreans:
A U.S.-funded radio broadcaster said Monday it will transmit speeches and debates of leading South Korean presidential candidates to North Korea beginning this week.
The move, coming two weeks before the Dec. 19 election, could present an opportunity for North Koreans to learn about democratic elections, Open Radio for North Korea said in a statement.
The radio broadcaster plans to air a recent taped speech of pro-government liberal candidate Chung Dong-young Monday through Thursday, followed by that of front-runner Lee Myung-bak of the main opposition Grand National Party. * * *
The radio programs “can make North Koreans have interest on the South’s election … and North Koreans can learn how a policy decision is made in a democratic society,” the broadcaster said. [AP]
You don’t have to imagine their curiosity. A reader, who recently returned from a visit to Pyongyang, recently e-mailed to say that his “guides” asked him about the elections and the candidates. It seems unlikely the guides were put up to asking about such sensitive matters, which suggests that even among the regime’s most privileged and trusted instruments, there’s much unhealthy curiosity about the idea of choosing one’s own government.
The Washington Post adds more confirmation that information from, and about, the outside world is pouring into North Korea, no matter how hard North Korean and Chinese governments try to stop it.
Watching South Korean soap operas and Hollywood movies inside North Korea, defectors say, is scary, exhilarating and depressing.
“We closed the drapes and turned the volume down low whenever we watched the James Bond videos,” said a North Korean woman, who two years ago fled her fishing town in a boat with her husband and son. “Those movies were how I started to learn what is going on in the world, how people learned the government of Kim Jong Il is not really for their own good,” she said.
The woman, 40, who now lives in a Seoul suburb and did not want her name published because her parents are still in the North, said Chinese consumer electronics began to trickle into her coastal region in the mid-1990s, when massive crop failures and widespread famine forced the government to tolerate private trading.
By 2002, when Kim officially approved limited market reforms, she said, she and her neighbors could sell fish for cash. She used that cash to buy, among other manufactured goods from China, a color television and a videotape player. Soon, she said, she and her neighbors were asking local merchants to smuggle in specific video titles from China. [Washington Post, Blaine Harden]
Harden’s piece reports that there’s much geographic variation in the availability of information, as we’d expect. Some areas of the interior still haven’t been reached, certain areas along the Chinese are saturated with foreign videos, and those near the DMZ can receive broadcasts from the South. I quibble only with Harden’s report that less outside information is available in North Hamgyeong Province, which is next to China and produces about 80% of North Korean defectors. (South Hamgyeong, with a larger population, is probably much more isolated.)
Either way, the influx of information is accelerating, and soon, even North Koreans in the country’s most isolated places will have the alternative of learning to hate America from the Film Actors’ Guild instead of KCNA. If you need a reason for optimism, consider: not even the combined forces of North Korea’s Thought Police, bed-wetting South Korean politicians, Beijing commisars, and shifty American diplomats can preserve Kim Jong Il’s misrule. Globalism — the overpowering market demand for unauthorized thought — will eventually dethrone Kim Jong Il.