With scores of western journalists in tow, the New York Philharmonic is now touring Pyongyang. Thus the crescendo of commentary about the “historic” and “unprecedented” nature of this event, the meaning of music, and the nuances of “cultural exchange” with totalitarian regimes — all implying some sort of great breakthrough in the long standoff with North Korea.
It’s a breakthrough all right, but it’s only Kim Jong Il and his cronies who should be applauding — as they open a new account in their fat ledger of extortionist schemes. In a photo that says it all, the AP has captured the Philharmonic’s Music Director, Lorin Maazel, at a Pyongyang banquet, surrounded by North Korean chefs who look as if they are about to serve up Maazel himself as the main course.
This is a regime which according to the U.S. government has been counterfeiting U.S. currency; has yet to make amends for kidnapping Japanese citizens; runs a Stalinist gulag in which its own people are starved, tortured and worked to death (these prison camps are not on the Philharmonic’s itinerary); was responsible for a famine that in the 1990s killed an estimated one to two million North Koreans; conducts periodic public executions of people caught trying to flee the country; has been selling missiles and missile technology to terrorist-sponsoring regimes in the Middle East; and has in recent times tested a ballistic missile designed to hit targets such as Los Angeles and a nuclear device designed, not least, to extort continuing payoffs from the free world.
Since promising last year to make a swift and full declaration of all its nuclear programs and give them up, Pyongyang has reneged on the terms of the deal, missed a series of deadlines, and while refusing to come clean about uranium enrichment has made a grand show of oh-so-slowly disabling the Yongbyon nuclear reactor — which Kim re-started in 2003 after promising nine years earlier, in exchange for billions worth of rewards, to shut down for good.
And what has the U.S. done? In recent years, America has rewarded Kim Jong Il, again and again. U.S. special envoy Chris Hill (who has taken to referring to North Korea’s regime as “we”) last year enlisted the U.S. Treasury and Federal Reserve to help transfer to Kim’s regime some $25 million in allegedly crime-tainted money frozen in Macau –thus easing the way for North Korea, despite sanctions, to continue its illicit business via the global financial system. North Korean negotiators have been welcomed in the U.S., hosted by Hill for a tippling sesson at the Waldorf in New York, and dignified as envoys of a regime which the Condi Rice State Department is evidently itching to remove from the list of state sponsors of terrorism — Kim’s terror-based rule, Japanese abductees and Middle East weapons projects notwithstanding.
And now the New York Philharmonic has arrived to serenade the tyrant on his home turf. If Maazel really wants to do something historic, it’s not Dvorak and Gershwin the Philharmonic should strike up for Kim & Cronies; it’s the theme song from the Sopranos.