(CNN) – North Korea It doubles its cultural war, warning citizens to stay away from everything related to South Korea, even its fashion, music, hairstyles and sayings.
Over the past decade, South Korea has become a powerful cultural power, finding products ranging from cosmetics to gay-pop to gay-drama and has found an enthusiastic fan base around the world. But one place the North is trying to prevent South Korean influence from infiltrating its borders is its neighbor in the north.
For decades, North Korea has been completely isolated from the rest of the world and has strict control over entry or exit information. Foreign goods, including films and books, are prohibited, with only a few government-approved exceptions; Victims of foreign detention often face harsher punishments, say those with disabilities.
However, as North Korea’s relationship with China has expanded in recent decades, sanctions have eased somewhat. Temporary start-ups allowed some elements of South Korea, including parts of its pop culture, to enter into particular nationalities – especially in recent years as relations between the two countries have dissolved.
However, the situation in North Korea is now rapidly deteriorating, and harsh rules have returned to their place, reminiscent of a previously isolated history.
Earlier this month, South Korean legislator Ha Tae-kyung said that after attending a conference of the country’s spy agency, the North Korean regime had enforced strict rules on how young people dress. For example, South Korean women often use the word “oppa” for their romantic partners; It is now banned in the north. Instead, Ha said, North Korean women should refer to their boyfriends as “male companions.”
Campaign videos in the country condemn behaviors that show “foreign influence”, i.e. public scenes of affection. Ha quoted South Korea’s National Intelligence Service as saying that those who violated the rules were “the oath of allegiance to the revolution.”
Last Sunday, the regime criticized foreign lifestyles in an article in the state-run Rodang Chinmun, urging young people to be “loyal to their country’s business.”
“The struggle in the field of ideology and culture is a war without gunfire,” reads North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Without naming South Korea in particular, he said the loss of the cultural war would have “many times more severe consequences than the battlefield.”
Clothing, hairstyles and language are “reflections of the state of mind and spirit,” he added. “While young people should sing and dance, they should be able to sing and dance to melodies and rhythms that are appropriate to the needs of the time and the national feeling of our people, and to develop our cultural style.”
These restrictions may seem foreign, but the slogans, such as Harmless on the Surface, refer to a more complex struggle for power and control, experts say. North Korea’s tolerance for foreign influence continues to change, along with its economic well-being and international diplomacy.
Why hair and music are important in North Korea
North Korea’s relations with South Korea have been weakening since the end of the Korean War in 1953 with a warship. No peace agreement was signed, meaning the war was not formally concluded.
Andrei Langov, director of the Korea Risk Group, a research firm and professor at Kukmin University in Seoul, said North Korea was once one of the most professionally developed areas in East Asia. But after decades of isolation, its people now live in complete poverty.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1990s, North Korea’s economy took a turn for the worse, ending the flow of aid to the country and turning China into the country’s largest trading partner.
In contrast, South Korea is the fourth largest economy in Asia, with per capita GDP parallel to European countries such as France and Italy. Its delicate power exploded as cultural exports such as music, food and beauty products became popular around the world.
That is why North Korea is very careful in allowing any foreign influence, such as South Korean rhetoric, because it means “acknowledging that the alternative model of society has worked and the North Korean model has not.”
North Koreans who adhere to South Korean customs – fashion, hairstyles, vocabulary – represent two things, Langow added: access to banned items and “a sign of admiration and sympathy for South Korea.”
The power of this soft power is based on the enormous inequality between nations. People are starving in North Korea, where supply shortages mean that the prices of some goods are rising. Despite his accusations of continuous hurricanes and flooding, Kim acknowledged the “tense food situation”.
North Korean leaders need not fear a mass uprising from disgruntled civilians, Langow noted: the regime is “brutal” enough to punish “anyone who dares to open its mouth.”
But increasing knowledge of the outside world, no matter how bad things may be in North Korea, could destroy the legitimacy of the regime and its entire ideological framework, including how the cry for Western products in Soviet Russia in the 1980s and its eventual downfall.
“If young North Koreans watch South Korean dramas and see how the lives of Koreans outside their country are, it’s definitely a threat because they see pictures of Seoul, how well they live, the freedom they live,” Jean Lee said. Wilson is a US-based senior colleague and former Pyongyang bureau chief of the Associated Press.
Youngov is the biggest target of repression because they are “most vulnerable to new influences,” Langov said. “Older people don’t want change … but new ideas are spreading across the younger generation.”
Politics and pop culture
Negotiations between the North and the South have stalled several times over the years, and North Korea’s approach to foreign pop culture seems to have calmed down and hardened accordingly.
After Kim came to power in 2011, he initially wanted a more liberal approach, allowing, according to Langov, to allow some Western music. North Korean female band.
Lee, who lived in the capital Pyongyang in those early years, said foreign influences emerged as the rules were relaxed. North Koreans simply bluntly call South Korean slang “a tricky way to indicate that they are watching South Korean dramas.” Tourist sites began to accept English identities. Elite North Koreans were mainly allowed to travel more to China.
But Kim soon took a more conservative approach and began to break down USB sticks and other technologies that could be used to transmit information, Langow noted.
Tensions escalated in 2016 and 2017 with a series of North Korean missile launches. But relations began to falter after the inauguration of South Korean President Moon Jae-in: In late 2018, Moon and Kim pledged to formally end the Korean War and work for full nuclear disarmament.
That same month, Kim and his wife attended a rare concert of South Korean singers and artists in Pyongyang, the first time in more than a decade that South Korean musicians have traveled to North Korea.
A similar shift is taking place in the South, where North Korean products and culture are becoming “fashionable” in diplomatic times, when tensions escalate. “The political environment is what influences pop culture,” he added.
But negotiations fell apart after 2019 Summit between Kim and US President Donald Trump, Failed, and communication finally broke down. In early 2020, the country closed its borders completely due to Govt-19, cutting off almost all trade with its main economic livelihood, China.
The state of North Korea’s economy largely dictates its controls. And in a situation of increasing despair, the regime is in no danger.
In December, North Korea passed a new law to prevent the spread of unauthorized content by government auditors; This February, Kim suggested that there could be tougher restrictions on social content; The following month, a North Korean propaganda website accused K-pop labels of “slave exploitation.”
Lee said it is not certain what has triggered Kim’s recent repression of foreign influence over the past two or three years, but it may be related to border closures and serious economic hardship.
“Goods and people don’t cross the border, so they can’t get the goods they want or for long,” he said. “So what we know from this government that has been passed is that they are telling their people to stop coveting those things. [lo están] It expresses itself in a way that is related to the identity of North Korea: our heritage, our language, who we are, and we are not so greedy about foreign affairs. “
But he said things could change quickly depending on the diplomatic situation between South Korea.
“The party is constantly changing the rules on what is acceptable when it comes to foreign content, and people need to pay attention,” he said. Now the news is: “There may have been a time when it was okay to like these things, to love these foreign things, but it’s not okay anymore.”
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