Yesterday's Washington Post takes a stroll through Kim Jong Il's Pyongyang Potemkin Village and finds happy peasants, dazzled visitors, and "public support" (hat-tip MediaCrity).In "North Korea Sends a 'Message to the World'-- Secretive State Welcomes Visitors for Month-Long Celebration of Patriotism, Talent," Post reporters JooHee Cho and (from Tokyo) Anthony Faiola write: "North Korea has creaked open its doors for Arirang, a festival that celebrates national pride and, this year, commemorates the 60th anniversary of the Stalinist state's ruling Workers' Party. Performers, who numbered almost as many as the spectators, won furious applause for their coordinated displays of rhythmic gymnastics, flying acrobatics, traditional dancing and military taekwondo routines -- all synchronized to a massive video and laser light show....North Korea has rolled out the red carpet this month in exceptional style. Tour operators, diplomats and analysts describe the gathering of foreigners as the largest since Kim inherited the leadership on the death of his father and North Korea's founder, Kim Il Sung, in 1994."U.S. notables like Democratic NM Gov. Bill Richardson (and liberal former newscaster Dan Rather) were along for the guided (and we do mean guided) tour. The Post labels the propaganda effort as a show of "public support," ignoring that such support isn't exactly optional in a totalitarian state: "...analysts have said it amounts to a demonstration of public support for Kim, 63, in which hundreds of thousands of North Koreans are attending the festival -- many walking for days to reach the stadium. The festival is being so well attended, North Korean officials said, that its original run of two weeks was extended to the entire month of October. Meanwhile, modest economic reforms made in North Korea since 2002 appear to have somewhat eased the country's bitter poverty and once-rampant starvation. That at least seemed true within the relatively affluent capital of Pyongyang, where people look to be well fed, many buildings have been newly refurbished and street vendors are surprisingly outgoing and eager to make sales to foreign visitors."The Post feels "real change" in the air: "During a 40-hour, strictly monitored visit by a reporter accompanying a South Korean tour group, there were odd scenes mixed with a feeling of real change. At the run-down and mostly empty airport, a dozen young North Korean women stood in front of outdoor stalls, calling to tourists with a capitalist verve not unlike that of street vendors in other Asian cities."The Post briefly removes the blinders to peek behind the North Korean iron curtain: "Visitors were not permitted to speak with anyone other than designated North Korean shop clerks and guides."But then comes this clammy line, which reads not unlike a mimeograph from a 60s edition of the Socialist Worker: "The performance at the May Day stadium dazzled the visitors with its flawless choreography and dogged loyalty to Kim and his father. The crowd roared as massive images of the elder Kim, known as the Great Leader, and the younger Kim, known as the Dear Leader, were unfurled. 'No one can defeat us!' sang a battalion of marching soldiers. At the same time, people dressed as flying angels soared from tethers above the stadium, singing, 'Oh, we are so happy!' The crowd joined in the patriotic songs and slogans, which rapidly changed tempo and theme."
The Post Falls for Kim Jong Il's Potemkin Village in Pyongyang
Clay Waters was director of Times Watch, a former project of the Media Research Center.