The most repressive and secretive nation on earth may be changing. Kim Jong-un has been making subtle alterations at how he is viewed since assuming power last year. He is presenting himself as a more approachable and populist leader than his father.
The latest developments include the use of unauthorized Disney characters at a Pyongyang theater. This is the first time that Disney characters have appeared in North Korea. That American culture is slipping its way into North Korean society is enormously significant. After all, America is the cause of all evil, according to the North Koreans. Mickey Mouse and company appear to be an exception.
Also significant is a woman who accompanied Kim to the theater. Some think it might be his girlfriend or wife. The girlfriend assumption is dubious. The wives of Kim’s father and grandfather were rarely presented in public. A girlfriend for the new leader would be a break from tradition that is probably unacceptable. She could be Kim’s wife, which would play into Kim’s new policy of quasi-openness. However, the South Korean media suggested that it is Kim’s sister, Kim Yeo Jung, who is in her 20′s and attended school with Kim in Switzerland.
Could this be start of change in North Korea? Perhaps. Change in North Korea is like watching a glacier move. There will not be any dramatic changes because Kim and the power structure that keeps him in power are not going to surrender an ounce of their comfort so that the masses can live better. The collapse of communism in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe is still fresh in the minds of these authoritarian hacks. Significant changes to society could cause the regime to tumble quickly. A little Mickey Mouse and a happier Supreme Leader is a safe contrast to the grim-faced Kim Jong-il, though.