Why do dictators ban their people from traveling?

  • I grew up in a country where we were not allowed to leave/travel to an other country even when we were able to do so – we had the resources and dual nationality.

    After two decades I still can't figure out why dictators, like Kim Jong-un for example, ban people from leaving their home countries?

    Could it be that a dictator is usually interested in looting the country he rules, and having a smaller population means more natural resources for him and fewer protesters?

    Isn't this a post -WW2 "habit"? Except jews, Germans were free (?) to travel during the Nazi regime? And if you look back further, all European countries (and probably most countries in the world) where dictatorships with a king as a dictator, but you where still able to travel mostly free (in Europe your religion might limit your opportunities to travel but that was mostly the destination country posing limits, not your own king preventing you from going abroad).

    @d-b yes, but this is not so much a post-WW2 phenomenon as it is a post-democratic revolutions phenomenon; the more democratic nations there exist on this planet, the more dangerous it is for a dictator to allow their citizens to leave. See IllusiveBrian's and my answer below for an expansion on this.

    I don't understand your logic. You question why were people banned from leaving country, and then you bring the hypothesis that the dictator wants *smaller* population? That doesn't make sense to me at all. Emmigration makes the population smaller.

    @Tomas : It's highly likely it was said ironically. And it actually answers the question. Dictators don't want to cast an image of people fleeing to other countries, as this would be against the propaganda of their country being the best on the planet.

    @d-b German jews were free to leave Germany and were very strongly encouraged to do so, but other countries didn't always want them. According to Stefan Zweig, travel restrictions is a post-WW1 "habit". Before WW1, there were no borders or passports checks at all, as only rich people could afford travelling it was by itself enough of a restriction.

    "After two decades I still can't figure out why dictators, like Kim Jong-un for example, ban people from leaving their home countries?" Really, you cannot think of a single reason? What about: they might like what they see elsewhere and get new ideas. And that's just a starter. I think this question really is not very well researched.

    @Trilarion I have been born during a war and at age of 8 I discovered that in other parts of the world people enjoy peace so don't expect me to be as smart as you are.

    @Ulkoma Sorry, if I came across as condescending. That really wasn't the intention. I don't think smartness plays a big role here but I think that a bit more research (for example googling) could improve the question significantly.

    Out of curiosity, in which country you grew up?

    @BЈовић I don't like to reveal that, sorry.

    @Bregalad That was a double edged sword. Yes they were free to leave but beighbouring countries asked the German authorities to stamp a J (or similar) in their passport so the jews could be rejected from entering said countries - a request the German authorities was more than happy to fulfill.

    In Kim Jong Un's case it seems obvious that he wants to prevent them from having any sources of information about other countries besides his regime. And furthermore, if they knew what South Korea is really like, as opposed to what he tells them it's like, a substantial proportion --- maybe 90 percent or 99 percent? --- would go south.

    @Tomas it could be that the dictator wants smaller population, but selectively smaller population. How often do you get to pick who stays and who goes, (even in a Democracy)?

    They tend to not come back.

    Many democracies have also restricted people from leaving. In most of the Eastern European countries that didn't let people leave, those policies actually were put into place before communists took over. This was because they were new, nationalist states that wanted to prevent people of the ethnic majority from leaving. For an in depth look at this, see Tara Zahra's The Great Migration. https://www.foreignaffairs.com/reviews/capsule-review/2016-02-10/great-departure-mass-migration-eastern-europe-and-making-free

    "Communists care about their people and capitalists care about money. That is why capitalists lock up their money and communists lock up their people"

    Propaganda. A good way to cling to power is to convince people that various flavors of foreigners should be feared and reviled. Letting people visit those foreign lands and see that the people there are basically the same as them is not helpful. Interesting sidenote, it works even without dictators or travel bans. If a large cohort of the population is insular to the point where they seldom or never travel abroad, a sufficiently unscrupulous opportunist (see: Donald Trump) can manipulate and exploit their fears and prejudices in precisely the same way.

    @d-b: it's barely a new phenomenon, serfs weren't allowed to leave either. dictators probably see their people as property not citizens.

  • People are resources, dictators (and oppressive regimes in general) don't want them to defect to other countries because they want them working for their regime. Some of them are going to be people that the regime has put their resources into, like scientists and doctors, but even laborers are valuable for actually gathering and assembling the resources the regime needs. Additionally, the regime especially does not want people with access to sensitive information to defect to their enemies. That isn't just spies and soldiers, there are plenty of "regular" government positions that require access to something the regime would not want falling into enemy hands, like economic data that could be used for propaganda. Obviously this is true of any country, and even in democracies with strong human rights records, people with access to classified information are usually required to submit to strict scrutiny of their international travel. Given that they aren't concerned with human rights, dictatorships can take the easier option of restricting travel to any citizens.

    However, defection is really a piece of a bigger issue - oppressive regimes maintain their rule in part by controlling information. Here's an interesting article that talks about how dictatorships keep power. Jerrold Post, director of the political psychology program at George Washington University, is referenced:

    Post said that in both Iraq and North Korea, dictators tightly controlled the flow of information. That control was upended in the past two years during the "Arab spring" revolts that swept away despots in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and some of the Gulf states, revolts that were encouraged in large part by information spread by cell phones and social media.

    North Korea is probably the most extreme example of information control (according to Reporters without Borders, they are dead last in Press Freedom in the world), but this can be seen in other oppressive regimes - for example, China attempts to limit access to "wrong" information via its Great Firewall. This is thrown out the window if citizens go somewhere with free media and realize they are being lied to. Traveling can be the cause of their dissension, rather than a symptom.

    Known dissidents may also be restricted from traveling so that they can not coordinate with foreign countries or anti-dictatorship organizations, and to prevent them from smuggling contraband or evidence of the regime's misinformation back into the country. Regimes can control the information originating in their country, but once someone is outside their borders the regime cannot control who they speak with.

    WRT information control, note that not all dictators restrict travel and/or information. It seems that mostly happens when the dictator's country is markedly worse off, materially, than the outside world, because of the dictator's adherence to some economic theory. IIRC, fairly prosperous countries ruled by dictators - Spain, Chile, Singapore, &c - didn't have nearly as many restrictions.

    @jamesqf that's interesting. Did those countries still restrict travel?

    @Nacht atleast spain, did restrict the issue of passports to anyone (that had not been killed) with bonds with democratic or republican ideals, be it a familiar bond ( brother was part of party X) or a friendship bond. The spanish intelligence services & the police force kept a tight grip onto the society, specially those with a republican past, untill well entered the late 60's and early 70's, where the old age of the dictator (died on 1975), the rise of international tourism and the spring 68 french revolts had forced the regime to cede some power.

    `People are resources` Only adults, in age for work, able to work and willing to work are. Many people cost more money than they produce.

    @Bregalad Anyone able to work can work willingly or work in the gulag. Children are also a future investment. I would be interested in how different communist dictatorships handled adults that couldn't work or would be old enough to retire in a capitalist country.

    @Bregalad Young minds are easier to brainwash mold into greatness, so they can worship their dictator wonderful supreme leader.

    Most of the first paragraph *"People are resources ... this is true of any country"* seems unnecessary.

    I grew up in one of those countries (Cuba), and there is an additional reason: arrogance. People leaving the country are in a way defying the authority of "the leader", they are expressing their disagreement with the regime, and they (the regime) take it very personally. Dictators many times seem to really believe they are loved by their victims...

    @yms very good point, dictators are lunatic in general, at least the one we had. He believed we all loved him.

    Please note it's "Report**ers** without Borders" not "Reports without Borders" in your second to last paragraph.

    @IllusiveBrian how, for example, Soviets, treated their WW2 veterans, makes a chilling read. They were forcibly relocated from major cities. Invalids, unless they were able to "overcome" their disability, didn't exist. See,eg, introduction pages of http://www.dsq-sds.org/article/view/936/1111

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Content dated before 7/24/2021 11:53 AM