Fletcher in the News

Can N. Korea Experts See a Lot in a Hemline? Prof. Sung-Yoon Lee Weighs In

The New York Times

North Korea Experts Can See a Lot in a Hemline

Keeping track of women’s hemlines is, admittedly, an unusual way to judge the mind-set of a country’s leader.

But that is just what veteran North Korea watchers have resorted to in trying to peer into one of the world’s most isolated countries and divine what its new young leader, Kim Jong-un, is thinking.

In a political system that tightly choreographs its messages, could short skirts — along with the appearance of Mickey Mouse and a film clip of Sylvester Stallone as Rocky Balboa at the same concert — indicate some rethinking of the North’s attitudes toward the West? Or was the fashion statement decidedly less weighty: perhaps another short-lived attempt to divert the attention of an unhappy populace?

Koh Yu-hwan, a North Korea expert at Dongguk University in Seoul, counts himself in the hopeful camp.

On the other side are analysts like [Sung-Yoon Lee], a North Korea specialist at the Fletcher School of Tufts University in Boston, who says any belief in real change based on Mr. Kim’s education in Switzerland as a teenager is wishful thinking.

“If exposure to European cosmopolitanism were a cure for totalitarianism, one wonders how Pol Pot, who spent four years in Paris in his mid-20s, missed out on the transformative experience,” he said, referring to the murderous former dictator of Cambodia.

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