North Korean executions fail to stem pop culture invasion
Seoul - North Korea is losing a battle to stem a flood of South Korean pop culture despite public executions of smugglers, a state research group said Thursday.
The report by the Korea Institute for National Unification was the second account in two days of crackdowns and executions in the hardline communist state.
South Korean aid agency Good Friends said Wednesday the campaign was ordered by the ruling Workers Party on June 4. "The prevalence of illegal VCDs is making our people ideologically decadent and corrupt," it quoted the order as saying.
The first and only inter-Korean summit in 2000 saw a major expansion in cross-border contacts. According to the Korea Institute for National Unification, it also led to a rise in executions.
"Since 2000, the number of people executed publicly for spreading South Korean propaganda materials or selling videotapes has increased in North Korea," it said.
The reclusive country had also stepped up a crackdown on the illegal use of mobile phones in an attempt to stem outside influences, the institute said.
But such efforts have largely failed. "Despite a tightened crackdown, (the trend of) watching (South Korean) video has been spreading," it said.
The institute said its report was based on investigations by rights groups and interviews with former North Korean prisoners who escaped or defected after their release.
Defectors say South Korean pop songs and movies are popular in the isolated country, despite a steady campaign to weed out what state media termed "decadent foreign culture and ideals."
Videotapes or CDs of South Korean films, music or TV soap operas enter mainly via neighbouring northeast China.
Good Friends said the ruling party's order prompted door-to-door searches by all law enforcement authorities, with officials warning that smugglers of South Korean VCDs would be executed publicly.
Top security officials visited the northeastern border city of Hoeryoeng on June 1 to supervise work on erecting barbed-wire fences and barriers along the border with China, it said.
North Koreans for decades had access only to state-run domestic media which extolled the virtues of "Great Leader" Kim Il-Sung and his son and successor Kim Jong-Il, known as the "Dear Leader."
Very few private homes had telephones and calls were connected through operators, while radios were sold with tuning knobs fixed to official stations.
But new technology is breaking down barriers, observers say. Mobile phones with pre-paid cards have been smuggled in from China.
And as households in northeast China upgraded to DVD machines starting early this decade, smugglers bought discarded VCR players cheaply and smuggled them across the border into North Korea.
This made VCRs affordable to a large number of North Korean households, according to analyst Andrei Lankov in an article this year.
"Young North Koreans enthusiastically imitate the fashions and parrot the idioms they see in South Korean movies. And this does not bode well for the regime's future," wrote Lankov, an associate professor at Seoul's Kookmin University.
The VCRs are also undermining North Korean propaganda claims that life in the South is far inferior, according to Lankov.
While viewers did not believe everything they saw in the films, some things could not be faked -- such as Seoul's affluent cityscape.
A survey of North Korean refugees in China by the US Committee for Human Rights in North Korea showed 82 per cent did not believe the official line that that the South's economy is in worse shape than the North's.
Agence France Presse
NKorea ups public executions against cell phone users: think tank
2007-06-14 12:11:00 -
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) - North Korea has increased its public executions against cell phone users and those who circulate outside information in the communist country, a South Korean government think tank said Thursday.
The phenomenon of executions of those who «circulate South Korean leaflets and sell videos and use cell phones are on the rise,» the South's government-affiliated Korea Institute for National Unification think tank said in a white paper on the North's human rights conditions. No exact figures were given.
North Koreans are officially banned from communicating with the outside world but some of them listen to foreign news and use cell phones through Chinese communication networks, according to North Korean defectors in South Korea. The use of cell phones in North Korea is banned though some are smuggled into the North by Chinese who have links with South Koreans.
The North has been struggling to prevent outside information from seeping into the country and believes the influx of information could possibly lead to the overthrow of the reclusive regime.
«The North carries out public executions regularly to maintain social order by creating an atmosphere of fear,» said the institute.
Despite the unspecified increase in executions of certain people, North Korea has reduced the frequency of public executions from every month to each quarter due to harsh international criticism, the institute said.
The communist country insists it does not violate human rights, but it has long been accused of imposing the death penalty for political reasons, holding thousands in prison camps, torturing border-crossers and severely restricting freedom of expression and religion.
The institute also said the North has kept intact a system of family guilt by association for political prisoners in an attempt to keep in check any challenges and resistance to North Korean leader Kim Jong Il.
Kim, who wields absolute power in the communist state, tolerates no dissent and demands unquestioning allegiance from its people.
*Influence of popular culture may change things in North Korea more than any political pressure. In the end, artist may play a pivotal role in bring about a real change in the North.