Color Me Unimpressed
Posted by Michael Cohen
As many of you are aware the New York Philharmonic performed yesterday in Pyongyang, North Korea. A beautifully written piece in the FT provides some fascinating detail to the event. It sure seems like it was a nice moment - but as for breaking down barriers between countries, well I'm sorry but I just don't see it.
I understand the argument that these types of cultural exchanges are good ways to open up closed societies, a la Ping Pong diplomacy with China in the 1970s. But, North Korea is the single most repressive regime in the world. How is this effort going to "open things up?" Forgive me for sounding so cynical but it seems like this diplomatic initiative will do more to provide international credibility to a terrible regime (probably the worst in the world) then do anything to open up North Korea to outsiders. I would imagine the goal of this whole exercise was to show North Korea's "openness" at a time when negotiations are ongoing regarding the country's nuclear program. As for providing the North Korean people with a taste of the outside world . . . well that sure seems a bit naive.
In a less repressive society, or if North Korea had eschewed foreign visitors in the past, I might see the benefits, but lest we forget North Korea hosted Madeleine Albright in 2000 and there was even some talk about President Clinton visiting the country. It seems to me that if a more diplomatically attuned administration was elected in the United States the potential for a face-to-face meeting between say President Obama and Kim Jong Il would be possible - the current visit by the Philharmonic notwithstanding.
Isn't this whole thing being blown a bit out of proportion. Take for example the comments of Philharmonic director, Lorin Maazel and the 1959 visit by the orchestra to the Soviet Union:
It showed Soviet citizens that they could have relations with foreign organizations and these organizations could come in the country freely," he said. "But what the Soviets didn't realize was, this was a two-edged sword."
"By allowing interactions between people from outside the country with people inside, eventually the people found themselves out of power."
Sure, 32 years later! Look, I don't mean to sound like a curmudgeon and I invite any and all DA bloggers and commentators to tell me why I'm wrong, but I really don't see how this event does anything to impact the terrible existence of the North Korean people. It seems instead to me as if the Philharmonic (well meaning as they certainly are) was played for a patsy.