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Marco Werman: Reaction inside North Korea is much harder to gauge. The government in Pyongyang keeps a very tight reign on information. So far the images being broadcast by North Korean state media feature people in the capital wailing and crying as they mourn the loss of their dear leader. The students at the Pyongyang No. 1 Secondary School were united in their sorrow. Professor Hazel Smith is an expert on North Korea at Cranfield University in England. She lived in North Korea for two years. Smith says those wailing students are not your average North Koreans.
Hazel Smith: Pyongyang No. 1 Secondary School is where the elite go to school and where they will have been filmed by the North Korean TV to show all this grief in order to put on a show for the world. So the main question is what about the rest of the people? Most people think that Kim Jong Il doesn’t provide them with a descent life, enough food to eat, that they’ve suffered a calamitous degradation of their lives economically over the past 20 years. And so certainly there is little legitimacy of this government among the population as a whole.
Werman: Well, then let me as this question, if the state has less control now why were there not people happy and maybe expressing the happiness that Kim Jong Il is gone?
Smith: Well, this is still an authoritarian country and it’s still incredibly difficult in that they would be punished if they criticized the leadership, that’s one thing. And the other thing, it’s about minus 14 degrees celsius…
Werman: Yeah, that’s 7 Fahrenheit, it’s really freezing.
Smith: People literally can’t move from door to door without freezing. I lived there through two very cold winters and it’s no joke. Without fuel you simply have, you can’t move outside because if you breath you freeze. So there is no scope for people getting on the streets and demonstrating one way or the other. In fact, the coldest people are going to be those that have to take part in these orchestrated funeral ceremonies that will take place over the next few weeks.
Werman: Now, Hazel, we’ve seen people take to the streets and put everything on the line in the Arab world through the Arab Spring to push their heads of state out of power. Now, Kim Jong Il has died, he’s gone. Do you personally hold out any hope as somebody that’s live in North Korea, somebody that visits there, that Kim’s death could lead to greater freedoms for North Koreans?
Smith: What we see in North Korea is that the country is run domestically by a military commission and it has been run by this commission since the late 1990s, and Kim Jong Il was leader of this commission. That means there’s going to be no change in the central authority or the central approach towards increasing political freedom for people in the country. At the same time the people as I said earlier, the vast majority of the population of the 24 million population simply do not have enough food and fuel to survive. All the revolutions made in history and those in the Middle East are not made by starving people. Revolutions are made by people who have enough to eat and want more freedom, usually educated, usually lower middle class, although there is an educated middle class in North Korea, these people are the ones that don’t have food in the back garden who live in big apartment blocks (it’s a 70% urbanized country) who are literally as I said earlier, trying to scrape enough food to eat and to physically get the family through the winter.
Werman: What have the multiple generations of Kims done to North Koreans in terms of obedience? Do North Koreans follow these leaders because they have to now or has time meant that they actually want to follow them?
Smith: There was strong ideological control for the media and through education through the whole of the period of Kim Il Sung and it was backed up by very strict penal controls. There were purges in the ’50s, people were executed as happened in the Soviet Union. When you come to the last 20 years the state hasn’t been able to maintain those controls and North Koreans, as any other people in the world, they’re just the same as you and me, they want a good job, they want their children to have a good education…you know, they want to have a good laugh and be able to go out and enjoy themselves like everybody else. They are not a brainwashed people who just do what they’re told. There is not sense of cause because they’re not idiots. That Kim Jong Il has delivered anything for them when their families are living in poverty and where they get lots of information about the outside world today through South Korean media, through DVDs, when you see the kids, when I saw the kids in Pyongyang in May when I was last there, you can see them copying the styles of the South Korean male pop stars. Young men you know, coiffed up hair and jackets pushed back toward the elbows. You can see it’s very apparently a way it wasn’t 8-9 years ago when I used to live there. There’s a lot of influence from the outside world there.
Werman: Hazel Smith, a professor at Cranfield University in England, thank you very much.
Smith: Thank you.
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