04 August 2004

Lankov on a Human-Rights Monitoring Paradox

Andrei Lankov's latest column in the poorly edited Korea Times discusses a fundamental paradox of human-rights monitoring: The most repressive societies yield the least reliable evidence, while the most open societies yield the best evidence. This favors apologists for the most repressive regimes, and undermines apologists for more open regimes.
Attempts to study repressive systems in non-democratic societies unavoidably hit a paradox: the more effective and stringent the controls over the population, the less the outside world knows about ongoing horrors. In the late 1960s, when the terror of Mao's regime reached its apex, information about the horrors perpetrated was seldom reported by the Western press. Under Mao's successors, when the regime softened, the Western press took up reporting the "abuse of human rights in China." A few decades earlier, something similar had been happening in the USSR after Khruchshev's [sic] reforms.

In both cases, the current ideological fashions among Western intellectuals played a major role: the self-appointed "progressive thinkers" of the 1960s loved Mao almost as much as their predecessors loved Stalin in the 1930s. Solzhenitsyn was not the first to tell the world about Stalin's terror -- there had been earlier reports. However, leftist thinkers who reigned supreme in academic and intellectual circles ignored those reports. Solzhenitsyn's exposures in the 1960s were taken seriously only because by his time the Soviets had gone out of fashion. However, former fans of Stalin switched their adoration to Mao.

The same has often been the case in Korea where the left is increasingly powerful in academia and the media. The leftist intellectuals tend to dismiss reports of North Korean terror. However, in recent decades it has become quite difficult to ignore the growing number of testimonies coming from the North.
via The Marmot

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