[Outlook]Ripples in a pond

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[Outlook]Ripples in a pond


Even a hole burrowed by an ant can cause a dike to collapse. This is why the propaganda leaflets that some South Korean groups are sending into North Korea are causing debate between the ruling and opposition parties and fights between leftists and rightists. In the era of the Internet, it’s old-fashioned to have to use balloons to get the flyers into the North and inform its citizens about the evils of the Kim Jong-il regime and the affluent lives of people in the South. But as North Koreans are off the Internet grid, dropping balloons seems like the most realistic way.

In the late 1970s, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, then the Shah of Iran, wanted to undertake a White Revolution to Westernize his country using oil money, and to take power in the Middle East. In 1953, the U.S. CIA had overthrown Mohammed Mosaddegh’s nationalist administration and brought Pahlavi to the throne. Islamic fundamentalist leaders, like Ayatollah Khomeini, went into exile in Europe and fought against Pahlavi’s White Revolution from there.

At the time, Khomeini used small tape recorders. He secretly sent countless recorders into the country with taped speeches inciting the people to drive out Pahlavi. Khomeini supporters received the tapes enthusiastically. In 1978, Pahlavi fled, and a year later Khomeini returned and declared Iran an Islamic republic. It is this Iran that is today giving the United States a hard time.

Can propaganda leaflets condemning North Korea now shake up Kim Jong-il’s regime and improve human rights in the reclusive country? No, they can’t.

Iran shares borders with seven countries, and people and goods can secretly move in and out over rugged mountains on the borderline. In Iran, Shiite Muslims’ support for Khomeini, the central figure in the anti-government movement, was absolute. Pahlavi’s notorious secret police were helpless in the face of overwhelming public sentiment against him.

Meanwhile, it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that North Korea is 100 percent isolated. The borders between North Korea and South Korea, China and Russia are entirely sealed. There can’t be organized groups that could respond to the leaflets from the South. The flyers may make it in, but there is no organized movement against the regime.

For propaganda purposes, leaflets are much less powerful than tape recorders. If we say Khomeini’s recorders shook the ocean, the leaflets condemning North Korea’s regime may make ripples on a small pond at best.

Nonetheless, families of North Korean defectors keep floating the leaflets across the DMZ, probably more for psychological satisfaction than actual effect. They maintain that the June 15 declaration and the Oct. 4 agreement cherished by the former administrations of Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun help prolong the Kim Jong-il regime, and thus increase the agony of North Koreans instead of improving their lives. They believe that a couple of leaflets that North Korean residents may or may not pick up and read can serve as an ant’s hole that could cause Kim Jong-il’s dike to collapse.

Let’s weigh the pros and cons of the flyers. If they cause the North Korean authorities to end dialogue with South Korea, tourism in Mount Kumgang and Kaesong and cut down the Kaesong Industrial Complex, their psychological effects should be compared with the weak yet continuous influence that 37,000 North Korean workers in Kaesong and Mount Kumgang bring to North Korean society. They can whisper to their neighbors and friends about experiences that they get from their contact with South Koreans. The effect of the flyers should be compared with the opportunities we lose from the lack of dialogue between the South and the North amid the now dire inter-Korean relations.

The North Korea issue is at a crossroads between being resolved and getting worse. U.S. President-elect Barack Obama has an open-minded stance towards North Korea. Determined about denuclearization, he has revealed a will to resolve the nuclear problem through direct dialogue. It is an opportune time to make real progress when it comes to Pyongyang.

If leaflets cause inter-Korean relations to freeze and hinder the Obama administration’s dialogue with the North, and if an opportunity to improve the lives of North Koreans disappears, we lose much more than we gain from dropping the flyers.

If making things better for North Koreans is what the leaflet-droppers wish to do, they should pursue positive changes in North Korean society through cooperation and improvement in U.S.?North Korea relations, instead of simply sending flyers into the air.

While the government must step up and explain the gains and losses we experience from the flyers, a former president is instigating the people to protest against the incumbent administration’s North Korea policy.

Right- and left-wing forces are battling on behalf of ruling and opposition parties, the South and the North, over the flyer issue. This is certainly not a normal scene in a country that has a government and a National Assembly.

*The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Kim Young-hie


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