Winds of change hit the North

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Winds of change hit the North

Photos of Kim Han-sol, a grandson of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, that were uploaded to what appears to be his Facebook page, are the talk of the town in South Korea. The fashionable images of him are quite stunning. He is seen with his hair dyed yellow, wearing an earring and necklace, just like the members of South Korean boy bands do.

Aside from his chic image, it is surprising that he is communicating freely with the rest of the world through Facebook in English. There are no signs of the idiosyncratic seclusion and isolation that characterize his home country. Instead, you see the freewheeling life of a teenager, just like his peers in other parts of the world.

Han-sol has received a Western education in foreign countries while living with his father Kim Jong-nam, the first son of Kim Jong-il, overseas, including in Macau. Last week, it was reported that he has been accepted to an international high school in Bosnia. His surprising look most likely originated from his extensive experience with foreign friends and culture.

The Facebook page suspected to be his even has an online survey for his friends on “communism or democracy,” with a comment saying that he prefers democracy. Though that opinion may be related to the fate of his father, who fell behind in the competition for power in North Korea, it could also be the natural outcome of the free education he received in the West.

Han-sol’s unexpected look is good proof that the Hermit Kingdom cannot but change if external winds blow into the recalcitrant regime. But after the page was discovered in the South, access to the page was changed to “friends-only,” presumably due to pressure from Pyongyang.

But can the secluded regime maintain its closed systems forever? One’s beliefs are ultimately the product of one’s education and environment; no one is born as a “North Korean” but people are raised as such.

Many North Koreans now watch South Korean DVDs and an increasing number of them decide to escape from their impoverished country. Kim Jong-un, Han-sol’s uncle and the successor to Kim Jong-il, also received a Western education at an international school in Switzerland. We wonder what the late Kim Il Sung, the founding father of North Korea and the juche (self-reliance) ideology, would think of his great-grandson?

Beginning a process of change is difficult, but once the wind shifts, it is only a matter of time before the changes can be felt. And that may already have happened up North.
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