The loudspeaker war at the border of the two Koreas has come to an end. The decibels are quieting, even though it’s more important for the weapons to do so. In fact, an escalation was plausible in one of the most controlled—if not the most dangerous—regions on the planet. After two days of negotiations in the demilitarized zone, Pyongyang and Seoul reached a truce. The North expressed its “regret” for the two injured enemy soldiers mutilated by a mine. The South wanted formal apologies but compromised, and in exchange offered the termination of voice messages broadcast over the public announcement system positioned on its territory capable of penetrating about a dozen kilometers into the People’s Democratic Republic of Korea. The strong voice was poised to diffuse a ridiculous image of Kim Jong-un, the dictator from Pyongyang. It wanted to undermine the morale of troops stationed in the border zone between two countries still technically at war after an armistice—but not peace—signed in 1953. The practice was resumed after eleven years, but both sides had used it as a propaganda weapon for a long time, one of the many examples of total contrast, coherent with policies of antagonistic obstructions. This time, communication technologies played a central role. The announcements highlighted Kim’s inexperience leading a country, while those who managed to escape the regime in Pyongyang and reach South Korea (via China) did not spare their ex-brothers in the North descriptions of the Republic of Korea that now hosted and protected them: wellbeing, democracy, and human rights. A more persuasive voice compared the North’s restrictions to the availability of goods and luxuries in the South.
In this grotesque situation, Kim declared a “semi-war,” deploying more weapons and troops to the border. When he succeeded in silencing the loudspeakers, he spoke of a memorable victory because he threatened to use his “nuclear deterrent in self-defense.” There are many valid explanations in the absence of precise information regarding what’s happening in Pyongyang. Maybe the young dictator’s personal motivations shouldn’t be underestimated, as he was annoyed by criticisms like those in the movie, The Interview, which spurred a cyber attack on Sony’s distribution. In any case, it’s more likely that Kim and his entourage have undertaken a hazardous but visible course. On one hand, repression, propaganda, and displays of weapons and omnipotence continue. On the other, the regime is timidly opening up. A series of socio-political reforms took place, and the country is now living in a flourishing period. Famine seems to have been averted, while an unprecedented liberty was conceded to farmers: the ability to sell part of their crops. Tiny market elements were approved in urban centers, while even the wall of information has cracked. 3 million cell phones exist in North Korea that are capable of receiving soap operas transmitted from Seoul. It would have been an unimaginable liberty only a few years ago. However, they clash with the political system’s rigidity, still dependent on hard lines and Kim’s personality cult. It is therefore likely that Kim waned to confirm his strong man position, capable of provoking crises and resolving them with shows of force. No one knows what his program’s approach will be, including Beijing and even probably himself. In this uncertain framework, his control remains intact even with the bizarre act of silencing the megaphones using the threat of atomic bombs.