Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Rockin' in the Not-So-Free World

The New York Philharmonic Orchestra played in Pyongyang this evening. Amazingly, this did not cause free nations around the region to fall thanks to the "propaganda coup" the show provided Kim Jong-il.

But the show was broadcast live on North Korea's television and radio, and it was the first time an American orchestra had played in North Korea. The Philharmonic played Dvorak’s “New World” Symphony, Bernstein’s overture to “Candide,” some Wagner and Arirang.

Most telling about the logic behind the concert were conductor Loren Maazel's quotes about the Boston Symphony performance in the Soviet Union in 1956 and the New York Philharmonic's show there in 1959:
It showed Soviet citizens that they could have relations with foreign organizations and these organizations could come in the country freely. But what the Soviets didn’t realize was, this was a two-edged sword.

By allowing interactions between people from outside the country with people inside, eventually the people found themselves out of power.

Sure, he then played down the comparisons to North Korea today (must be a polite guest), but the parallels were clear.

Andrei Lankov expressed the same logic when I talked to him about the concert last year (as I wrote about here).

Anyhow, I am sure we will all wake up tomorrow and find North Korea to be the same as ever. But I hope the event will in some small way help change a few minds, if only a little bit.

(Note: I "borrowed" that pic from the New York Times website. Credit to Chang Lee, with thanks).

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