The NY Times tells us that more cracks are developing in the North Korean totalitarian state. The proximate causes? Cell phones and videotapes.
The construction of cellular relay stations last fall along the Chinese side of the border has allowed some North Koreans in border towns to use prepaid Chinese cellphones to call relatives and reporters in South Korea, defectors from North Korea say. And after DVD players swept northern China two years ago, entrepreneurs collected castoff videocassette recorders and peddled them in North Korea. Now tapes of South Korean soap operas are so popular that state television in Pyongyang, North Korea's capital, is campaigning against South Korean hairstyles, clothing and slang, visitors and defectors have said.
"In the 1960's in the Soviet Union, it was cool to wear blue jeans and listen to rock and roll," said Andrei Lankov, a Russian exchange student in the North at Kim Il Sung University in 1985, who now teaches about North Korea at Kookmin University here in the South. "Today, it is cool for North Koreans to look and behave South Korean, as they do in the television serials. That does not bode well for the long-term survival of the regime."
...While Chinese cellphones only work a few miles inside North Korea, the videocassette phenomenon has reportedly spread throughout the nation, reaching into every area where there is electricity.
"They are within the reach of the average family," said Dr. Lankov, who regularly interviews recent defectors. "They watch, almost exclusively, smuggled and copied South Korean movies and drama. Only a few weeks after airing here, they will go throughout North Korea."
More than showing middle-class family lifestyles, which can be staged in a studio, the soap operas also provide images of a modern Seoul - the forest of high-rise buildings, the huge traffic jams, the late-model cars.
With such images showing a stark contrast with primitive conditions in North Korea, Mr. Kim ordered the formation of a special prosecutor's office last November to arrest people who deal in South Korean goods, largely videotapes, or who use South Korean expressions or slang, analysts in South Korea say.
..."They are gradually learning about South Korean prosperity," Dr. Lankov said. "This is a death sentence to the regime. North Korea's claim to legitimacy is based on its ability to deliver the worker's paradise now. What if everyone sees that it is not delivering?"
The Ranting Prof: "A population tolerates starvation more easily when it's actually convinced it's one of the richest countries on the planet."
Free Korea: "North Korea is losing--indeed, has probably lost--what Mao termed "the political struggle."
And I deserve a big "I told you so" from Ed, who pretty much told me so in comments to this not-lacking-in-ambition post.