Over at Foreign Policy, Isaac Stone Fish points to a massive mural painted by North Korean artists in Damascus as a symbol of the long-standing alliance between North Korea and Syria.
Interesting note about North Korean “soft power”:
North Korea, which over the centuries has been overrun by larger nations like Japan and the United States, views friendly nations able to overwhelm it — countries like China, Russia, and even Pakistan — with added suspicion. Syria is more of an equal: Both countries have roughly 20 to 25 million people, and pre-civil war Syria ran a police state nearly as effective as North Korea’s. Ominously, the Japanese daily Sankei Shimbun reported that Turkey recently intercepted gas masks en route to Syria from North Korea, according to the Wall Street Journal.
The bilateral ties extend beyond geopolitics into the realm of culture: what could be called, only semi-facetiously, North Korean soft power. North Korea has exported doctors, construction workers, and artists to Syria and at least half a dozen other countries. It has a surprisingly decent graphic design industry, and fosters a talented group of artists who have created works of social realism for those countries — often massive paintings showing rosy-cheeked babies, steel mills, and citizens enlivened by their leaders’ smile.
As the article suggests, Syria isn’t the only country with some nice North Korean murals. In fact, Egypt has almost the same exact memorial for the 1973 war.
This painting of Saladin entering Jerusalem (photo by freddyd) is from the Damascus monument:
Cute comment from Martin Kramer: “The Crusaders are abject in their submission, in this unusual combination of North Korean socialist realism and good old Orientalism.”
Saddam Hussein apparently had a North Korean mural, too, but it was destroyed after the American invasion in 2003.
It should be noted that the North Koreans aren’t the only Koreans who enjoy that sort of art. South Korea’s military dictators had a preference for monumental works of socialist realism, seen even in anti-communist memorials like the Incheon Landing Memorial.