Cracks are showing in North, American scholar says

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Cracks are showing in North, American scholar says

The iron-fist control in North Korea will almost certainly keep any aspect of the Arab Spring from flowering in the communist state, but a pre-eminent American scholar believes the isolated country is witnessing a widening crack between the regime and the public.

Stephan Haggard, a professor at the University of California, San Diego, said at a seminar held by the East Asia Foundation in Seoul yesterday that discontent with the authoritarian regime and the way the country is managed is widespread, in particular among those involved in businesses.

Haggard presented survey findings from “Witness to Transformation: Refugee Insights into North Korea,” a 2011 book he co-wrote with another North Korea scholar, Marcus Noland.

The surveys were conducted on North Korean refugees in China and South Korea, which he said, despite a possible misrepresentation issue as a result of the sampling, could represent the perception of the general public in the North just as surveys on Soviet refugees in the past proved to be.

The surveys, he said, showed that less than 5 percent of the respondents during the grave famine in the North in the 1990s picked working hard at assigned jobs as the easiest way to make money in the North. The figure dropped to less than 1 percent after the monetary reform a few years ago.

Those selecting joining the army as the best way to get ahead in North Korea significantly dropped from around 10 percent during the famine to less than 2 percent during post-reform.

As for the question asking whether corruption in leadership increased over time, 89.4 percent totally agreed or agreed. More than 84 percent agreed that society had become more unequal but 23.8 percent of the respondents also said they became “better off.”

The fear of getting caught in activities the regime defines as illegal, such as accessing foreign media, has weakened over time with more people responding they watched or listened to foreign news or entertainment programs including videos and DVDs. “People started to view the regime differently over time,” Haggard said.

Haggard said “marketization” in particular began to impact the country, with the regime taking wary notice of those involved in market activity who they suspect are more likely to have been arrested and more likely to communicate views to peers.

He said the regime began to criminalize economic activity with changes in the criminal code in 2004 and those involved in market activity faced a 50 percent higher arrest rate than before. “The [North] is being forced to respond what’s happening to the economy,” he said.


By Moon Gwang-lip [joe@joongang.co.kr]

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