Finally back in the real world after a surreal little holiday. Seems as though the real world has unthoughtfully provided a lot of stuff for me to catch up on while I’ve been disconnected from the Matrix.
I won’t bother catching up on what’s been going on because the latest news is more interesting: riots have erupted in P’yôngyang during and after a World Cup qualifying football match between North Korea and Iran. Apparently the crowd of 60,000, almost all supporting North Korea naturally, became upset at refereeing decisions and started throwing missiles at the pitch. The violence continued after the match (2-0 to Iran) when crowds prevented the Iranian players from boarding their coach. (See BBC and Reuters reports)
It might be going a bit far to read too much into this incident, but it does raise a few thoughts in my mind. First, this show of rampant, violent nationalism gives credence to the idea that the ‘regime changers’ find impossible to believe: that many North Koreans are proud of their country. Dogstew had something on this topic recently, and although I don’t agree with everything they say, I think the central point is valid: it is possible for large numbers of ordinary people to support a totalitarian regime (particularly, I would add, when the country is, or is perceived to be, under constant military threat). Iraq should have been an instructive lesson for the Neo-cons and their followers (a Mr Blair comes to mind) who consistently believed the tales they were told by Iraqi defectors about how the US would be welcomed with open arms when it invaded and there would be no resistance. Former British cabinet minister Robin Cook made this point in a comment piece just last week (via DML). But the Neo-cons and regime-changers just don’t seem to get it: living under a horrible, repressive regime does not automatically mean that you will support US intervention, especially when you know what happened the last time.
Of course any ‘popular support’ that exists for a regime like that of Kim Jong-il must be highly unstable and contradictory. So while it doesn’t surprise me that many North Koreans would be highly nationalistic and anti-US - especially considering the history of conflict between the two countries - this does not necessarily guarantee that they will always support Kim Jong-il’s regime, or that they themselves do not have contradictory feelings. Nationalist sentiment could easily spill over into wider protests giving vent to underlying frustrations with the government at home (which no doubt do exist in North Korea).
This brings me to my second thought, which concerns the echoes of the anti-American protests in Beijing at the time of the bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade. At first it seemed that the Chinese authorities were quite happy to see spontaneous anti-American demonstrations on the streets, but they quickly became very worried and had to crack down on them, blocking off the entire embassy district of the city. Assuming that conspiracy theorists are wrong and this was not some massive government-orchestrated exercise in whipping up nationalist feelings, then I would have thought that the North Korean regime is rather worried by what happened in the stadium today.
UPDATE, 1st April:
For your information, here’s how the North Korean media reported the football match. It’s interesting to be honest that they go as far as to say that the spectators “vigorously protested”:
Football Match Held between DPRK and Iranian Teams
Pyongyang, March 31 (KCNA) — A football match between the DPRK and the Iranian teams belonging to the group B of the 2006 World Cup Asian regional qualifier took place in Pyongyang on Wednesday. The Iranian team won the game 2:0.
At the end of the match all the spectators were angered and vigorously protested the wrong refereeing by the Syrian referee and linesmen.