A NEW FUTURE
Jamshed Avari | 27 December 2011
A NEW FUTURE
One man managed to isolate an entire nation and brainwash its population into believing he was a god. Will the rest of the world learn any lessons from his life and death?
JAMSHED AVARI, deputy editor
The death of kim jong il raises some interesting questions concerning the future of north korea. The common citizens of the famously insular nation are plagued by food shortages and have almost no communication at all with the outside world. Although computers are fairly common in schools and offices, the internet itself is famously absent. Reporters without borders called north korea the “world’s worst internet black hole” as recently as 2006, and internet access itself is illegal, according to wikipedia. Similarly, mobile phones are tightly regulated, and it isn’t possible to make or receive international calls. A few hotels and establishments in pyongyang reportedly do have satellite internet connections, and a few privileged officials have secret private connections too. The country does seem to allow citizens to access information through some sort of intranet, which includes educational resources and even chatrooms. Seperately, the government runs a number of propaganda sites, which till quite recently were hosted outside the country, and there are even official twitter and youtube accounts for outsiders to admire.
Now, in the stories that have predictably been making the rounds of media outlets following his death, it emerges that the “divine glorious leader” was quite fond of surfing the internet himself—which is not all that surprising, considering his other indulgences included fine food and drink especially imported from all over the world. Maybe being tech savvy himself, he realized how dangerous it would be to allow citizens to learn the truth about their country and leader. More importantly, he couldn’t risk letting them see how differently the rest of the world lives. China is often in the news for its totalitarian censorship of the internet and harsh punishment for anyone trying to circumvent the nationwide blockage, but chinese citizens are at least allowed some exposure to international news and media. In comparison, north korea is still pretty much in the dark ages, and it’s unlikely that people outside of the privileged families in pyongyang even know how free information exchange could affect their lives.
We take our technology for granted, and often moan about how weak or expensive it is compared to other parts of the world. We've rarely, if ever, measured ourselves against those countries dramatically less fortunate than us. North korea needs all the change it can get, but let it also serve as a warning to us—this is what will happen when megalomaniacal individuals have such complete control over a nation and are scared of losing it. This is what could happen if extreme ideology is followed when deciding national level policies regarding censorship vs the freedom of expression, and the rights of individuals vs those of corporations.
So what happens now? How much of this policy was one man’s doing, and will his son, the “great successor”, take after him? With an expensive swiss education and hopefully a broad world view, the younger kim might have very different ideas of how to run his nation. Imagine the possibilities of a country full of people, some of whom might have had no exposure at all to international media in their lives, emerging onto the internet. While the primary focus of a new regime should of course be the human rights situation, technology can only help the people and agencies who will need to jumpstart an entire country's economy and bring it onto the international map.