Mother Nature and Dictators

North Korea (DPRK) is abandoning restrictions on private markets for food as the country suffers through a severe famine. This is seen as a huge concession of defeat from the government, a tacit acknowledgment of the failures of communism. Its interesting that this came about due to a natural disaster and not because of the pressure that the international system has been placing on DPRK for ages now. And its not just North Korea that has had to change economic policies after the burden put on by extraordinary circumstances; take for example the current oil spill or the economic aftermath of Hurricane Katrina (though, I guess that responses to natural disasters is much more crucial for democratic regimes than for dictatorships with the whole being able to vote out leaders thing).


I guess the question right now is whether internal concessions will turn into external ones. DPRK has been so closed off that understanding what goes on inside the country is speculative and spotty as best. An example to illustrate the sporadic interaction of North Korean citizens with the international community is seen clearly by the current World Cup, where North Korea is fielding a team for the first time in 44 years. And even though the players has been allowed to leave their homeland, they are still isolated. Without people in the DPRK knowing what they’re missing, it might be hard to fuel change. Let’s hope that it doesn’t take another famine for more reform to occur.

2 thoughts on “Mother Nature and Dictators

  1. Hmmm, me thinks that domestic pressure, as opposed to international pressure, better explains regime change, or at least regime policy change, almost always. Contrary to popular belief, the USSR didn’t collapse at the behest of Ronald Reagan–“Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall”–but because of the failures of the centralized market.

    • I have been four times and will be going again. This is one of the most fascinating plcaes in the world. Going over time gives you some perspective on the society and the longer you stay in-country the more you will get a sense of the society and the more you will see. I go for photography and this is a photographer’s paradise a society unspoiled by the outside. I do suggest that people visit rural Asia first to gain a good perspective. Getting out of Pyongyang is the best way to go as I find the real North Korea lies in the fields and villages. Go during harvest and watch the least mechanized harvest in the world. The minders vary in how strict they are about photography. Some just warned you not to lean out the windows, some restricted photography everywhere. You do have to build a measure of trust. It is not for everyone but if you want a good trip (a bit pricey) I recommend it.

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