Saturday, December 6, 2008

Freedom Balloons

North Korea's founder and "Great Leader" Kim Il-sung is the constitutional head of the nation - the Eternal President of the Republic - and is widely considered god-like by his citizens. This despite the fact that Kim Il-sung has been dead for 14 years. His son Kim Jong-il, the "Dear Leader", is the country's current leader and enjoys status similar to his father. Father and son have developed and presided over one of the world's most repressive regimes. Today North Korea seems a strange caricature of a country, a literary authoritarianism come to life. The journalist Christopher Hitchens, noting the rough correspondence of North Korea's founding and the publication of George Orwell's 1984, remarked that the Great Leader must have worked from a Korean translation.

In a new literary twist, there is increasing controversy in North Korea over freedom balloons. South Korean human rights activists have for sometime sent hydrogen balloons carrying radios, clothing and literature over the border (see photo). The North Korean government is now threatening to close down the border with the South unless the balloons stop. As The Economist notes, such a move would mostly hurt North Korean citizens, but that is hardly the first concern of its government.

It should be noted that North Korea has nuclear capability and the fifth largest standing army in the world. This is the world we live in.

(image credit: Reuters,