Witnessing Transformation

[imText1]The North Korean authorities remain engaged in a fight to keep control of the country in the face of the spread of markets which have opened up new routes to progress away from the direct influence of the state, says Marcus Noland of the Peterson Institute in a new interview with The Daily NK.

Noland was speaking to The Daily NK over the weekend about his and Stephan Haggard’s newly-released book, “Witness to Transformation: Refugee Insights into North Korea”.

“Emerging as a semi-autonomous zone of social communication, and potentially, political organizing, offering an alternative pathway to wealth, status, and potentially political power, independent of the regime,” the market is one of the biggest lingering outcomes of the 1990s famine, Noland believes.

“Our research suggests that those involved in market activities are 50% more likely to be arrested; have distinctly negative views of the regime; and perhaps most importantly, are more likely to communicate these dissenting views to others,” he explains in the interview, adding that, naturally, this is also bringing people who make their living from the market into direct conflict with the state.

Positions in the state and security apparatus are now valued primarily because they allow the holder to extract money from the citizens in the form of bribes, for example, while a whole additional tranche of the penal system has grown out of the authorities’ attempts to control the economic activities of the people. This is not just a method of punishment, however; it is also an effective tool through which officials are able to economically “predate” on the people.

Thus, with so many aspects of economic activity having been illegalized, law enforcement officials having extraordinary discretion over arrest and imprisonment, and conditions inside these detention facilities being horrific, “people will be willing to pay to insure that neither they nor their families become ensnared in the system,” Noland points out.

[imText2]Elsewhere, Noland says in the interview that his research also reveals that many North Korean people are no longer fearful of consuming outside information, notably by radio. People may have avoided such information in the 1990s, he asserts, but that is no longer true. The reach of that information is also more widespread than before, he explains; a rural and urban phenomenon experienced by middle-aged and young people alike.

Based on this, “We can contribute to an environment in which people have a better understanding of their situation and the costs that the regime’s behavior places on them,” Noland therefore adds, explaining, “In the simplest terms this means bringing information to North Korea.”

You can find the new blog, “North Korea: Witness to Transformation”, by Noland and Haggard on the Peterson Institute website at http://www.piie.com/blogs/nk/