It’s still too early to judge whether the rotund young man with an odd haircut will turn out to be a reformer in this quasi-religious state, writes Andreas Lorenz. But there are tiny signals indicating that this could be the case.
Recent small changes in the daily lives of North Koreans are the result of the increasing amount of information trickling into the country on DVDs, CDs, videos and USB sticks about life abroad — and particularly about life in South Korea, the enemy neighboring state.
Although privately owned radios are forbidden and the officially distributed ones aren’t equipped to pick up foreign stations, the state does allow North Koreans to own DVD players and even produces them at a factory in Pyongyang. “Besides that, we buy DVD players from smugglers; as long as you register the player it is not illegal, because the … authorities allow the watching of translated Russian and Chinese discs,” a North Korean refugee told the website Daily NK.
Since the North Korean population can no longer be kept completely insulated from outside information, the country’s leaders have changed their propaganda tactics.
“Until 2000, the people believed that South Korea was a very poor country,” a refugee reportedly told Andrei Lankov, an expert on North Korea at Kookmin University, in Seoul. “But then the people saw South Korean films. Now only elementary school students believe that South Korea is poor.”
When asked whether all this new information could destabilize the regime in Pyongyang or even spark a revolution, Lankov is skeptical. “The spread of knowledge about the outside world will make the North Koreans more distrustful of their government. But that doesn’t mean immediate action against the government.”
On the other hand, he adds: “In 5 to 10 years, the majority of the North Korean population will have learned that they live in a very poor and unusually repressive state.”