Dear Leader misses the show

February 27, 2008

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By Jon Herskovitz

Being the leader of one of the world ’s most paranoid states can make a person, well,  paranoid. So when guests to the New York Philharmonic ’s concert in Pyongyang arrived to very little security, it was obvious that North Korean leader Kim Jong-il wouldn’t be attending.

Foreign aid workers based in Pyongyang said that when they have attended an event where  the Dear Leader, as he is called in state media, does appear, the North ’s massive security is  very evident. Guards check all people attending, make sure no one has cameras or gets anywhere near the world’s first communist dynastic ruler unless they have been  vetted well in advance.

audience2.JPGThe audience made up of Pyongyang ’s elite last night seemed to genuinely enjoy the show. And the New York Philharmonic members said afterwards they could feel the energy coming from the crowd.

clapping2.JPGMany of the North Koreans were tapping their feet along to the music. 

The event was broadcast live in South Korea  from a mobile broadcasting centre from Seoul to Pyongyang. According to one of the TV crew outside the concert hall during the event, the streets of Pyongyang were empty, as everyone was at home watching it on television. You see, living in Pyongyang is a privilege for North Koreans, and those who make it to the capital are affluent enough to own televisions.

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One hotel worker told me:  ”I watched the concert with my family last night. It was wonderful. ”

Jon Herskovitz is a Reuters correspondent based in Seoul.

Pictures by David Gray of Reuters 

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