Brian Myers on Why the Philharmonic Performance Was a Sham
Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Professor Brian Myers picks apart the analogy comparing the recent New York Philharmonic performance in Pyongyang to orchestral performances in communist states of past. Myers notes that North Korea is no longer a Marxist-Leninist state, but is instead a country based on a
crude, race-based nationalism. According to Pyongyang’s domestic propaganda, North Koreans are the world’s most pure-blooded and virtuous people, and the mongrel Americans an inherently evil race that can never be trusted.
Myers, an astute observer of North Korean culture, literature, and propaganda holds out little hope for any kind of reconciliation between North Korea and the U.S., noting that Kim Jong Il bases his legitimacy on confrontation with the U.S.:
The implications are obvious. Were Kim to normalize relations with America, his all-purpose scapegoat, the North Korean people would expect the prompt unification of the peninsula — under his rule, of course — and a quantum leap in their standard of living, neither of which has a chance of actually happening. The regime would never survive the public disillusionment that would ensue, and Kim knows it. Having long ago abandoned any pretence of Marxism-Leninism, he has nothing left to justify his rule but confrontational anti-Americanism.
Myers, unlike the Philharmonic’s Maazal and other proponents of cultural exchange believe this event will be later transformed into more propaganda to bolster the “General’s” power:
And two or three years from now, the regime will almost certainly publish a new installment of Immortal Leadership, a series of novels celebrating the main triumphs of the Dear Leader’s rule. The story will be simple: Kim tests nuke, Washington protests, Kim hangs tough, Washington sends musicians to entertain him. And isn’t that a fairly accurate version of events?
The Chosun Ilbo has a slightly different take on the matter, noting that the concert was only a “half-success” for Kim. According to the Chosun’s view, there is something to be said about the fact that Kim did not attend the concert.
Ryu Dong Ryeol, a researcher at the Police Science Institute, basically agrees with Myer’s view that the concert will be used for regime propaganda, but notes
“North Korea will most likely advertise that thanks to Kim Jong-il’s kindness, the leading orchestra from the ‘imperialist country’ performed music, including ‘Arirang,’ and paid respects to Kim in Pyongyang.” The performance probably aided, at least partially, in tamping down North Korean people’s discontent with economic difficulties and food shortages by boosting their cultural pride, Ryu added (via Chosun Ilbo).
But, notes Kim Yong Hyun, a professor of North Korean Studies at Dongguk University:
” Kim lost a rare opportunity to give the world the impression that he is a soft-hearted music lover. (via Chosun Ilbo)”
Finally, Baek Seung Joo, the chief of the Defense Issues Task Force at the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses contends:
“North Korea, which is anxious for improved ties with the U.S., may have been disappointed with the lukewarm attitude of the U.S. government toward the New York Philharmonic’s performance in Pyongyang (via Chosun Ilbo).”