06 October 2005

Todd Smilovitz: It’s nice that North Korea is allowing a Buddhist temple to be restored, butLos Angeles Times reporter Barbara Demick plays right into Kim Jong Il’s hands in her story on it. As pointed out in Rogue Regime, the recent book on the hermit kingdom, such token gestures only mask the fact that “The Dear Leader” has no plans for fundamental change. And one only needs to see State of Mind, the new documentary focusing on North Korea, to understand that the death of Kim Jong Il’s father, and founder of the authoritarian country, hasn’t led to an ideological vacuum opening the way for such change. The Buddhist temple is not the first tourist attraction Kim Jong Il has approved. Nor will it be the last, as long as they bring in South Korean cash and the appearance of good will. Just don’t expect to see North Korean tourists cavorting with their South Korean brethren on the Mt. Kumgang temple grounds. The fact is that North Korea and its people are as hermetically sealed off from this “extraordinary” religious amusement park as they will continue to be from the rest of the world. Even if the temple is completed in 2007, it will still be 1984 north of the 38th parallel.