Photo: AP/David Guttenfelder
When North Korea’s young leader took control of the country last year, no one was exactly sure what would happen. Would Kim Jong Un keep the hermit state on its seemingly doomed course?Certain events, such as a disastrous missile launch earlier this year, suggested he would. But now there are signs that Kim may be a more independent mind than many had thought, and more willing to take risks and make changes to the state his grandfather created.
This morning we’ve seen reports that he fired his army chief, perhaps because he thought that Ri Yong-ho was becoming “too powerful.” There are subtler signs too, though. A recent state performance featuring Disney characters and the theme from Rocky seemed to show a rare acknowledgment of Western cultural icons, while his new female companion (who may be a North Korean pop star) appears to show a rare glimpse into a more tender side of the Supreme leader.
Changing fashions may provide more clues. The New York Times notes that skirts in Pyongyang appear to be getting shorter, perhaps even with official approval:
Then, Mr. Kim himself was shown on state TV giving a thumbs up to a girl band featuring leggy string players performing for him and his generals, and the debate over deeper meaning began in earnest.
Der Spiegel reports that gelled hair seems to be making a comeback:
Visitors to the isolated country report that North Koreans — or at least those who live in the privileged capital city of Pyongyang — have been going out in public wearing more modern clothing. They have also seen students wearing fashionable outfits and young men who have gelled their hair in the style of South Korean actors and singers. At private markets, imported clothing has also become popular, such as the traditional bell-shaped “Hanbock” dress, which is worn with a slightly different cut and brighter colours in South Korea.
That Kim appears to be endorsing these little changes is big news (he’s even been shown visiting Pyongyang’s few Western-style fast food chains, even though the burgers are thought to be terrible), but there are also signs this may not be a top-down change — a huge rise in the availability of pirated DVDs and imported South Korean soap operas may be the real culprit.
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