Fri, Feb 02, 2007 - Page 4 News List

North Korea cracks down on `exotic' southern arts

AFP , SEOUL

North Korea is cracking down on a flood of South Korean pop culture permeating the hardline communist state, intelligence sources said yesterday.

They confirmed a Yonhap news agency report that a campaign began this year against videotapes, CDs and other material smuggled into the reclusive nation.

"This year North Korean authorities waged what they call `psychological warfare' against `exotic lifestyles' by cracking down on South Korean pop culture," an unidentified South Korean official was quoted by Yonhap as saying.

Videotapes or CDs of South Korean films, music or TV soap operas enter the North via neighboring northeast China.

The South's culture has become so popular that a lead actress' line in the hit movie Sympathy for Lady Vengeance became a household phrase in the North, Yonhap quoted sources as saying.

It said some North Korean youths are glued to mega-hit TV dramas such as Fall Fairy Tale and Immortal Admiral Yi Sun-shin. The youths also sport South Korean hairstyles and other fashions.

North Koreans for decades had access only to state-run domestic media.

Very few private homes had telephones and calls were connected through operators, while radios were sold with tuning knobs fixed to official stations.

But new technology is breaking down barriers, observers say. Mobile phones with pre-paid cards have been smuggled in from China.

And as households in northeast China upgraded to DVD machines starting early this decade, smugglers bought discarded VCR players cheaply and smuggled them across the border into North Korea.

This made VCRs affordable to a large number of North Korean households, according to analyst Andrei Lankov in a recent article in the Korea Times.

"Young North Koreans enthusiastically imitate the fashions and parrot the idioms they see in South Korean movies. And this does not bode well for the regime's future," wrote Lankov, an associate professor at Seoul's Kookmin University.

The VCRs are also undermining North Korean propaganda claims that life in the South is far inferior, according to Lankov.

While viewers did not believe everything they saw in the films, some things could not be faked -- such as Seoul's affluent cityscape.

"It is gradually dawning on the North Koreans that the South is not exactly the land of hunger and destitution depicted in their propaganda," he added.

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