Monday, 19 December 2011

The Kim is Dead, Long Live the Kim!

How North Koreans saw him.

Yes its true, I was a bit sceptical myself given that this wasn't the first time I've seen "Kim Jong Il Deceased" or "North Korean Leader Passes away" since his stroke in 2008, and his calender of public apperances got a bit scarce. But this time it was confirmed by the North Korean Government and News Agency though not by its English language website which at time of writting has a standard Congratulations to the new President of Tunisia as its latest story, but to be fair it will take awhile for a translation and to see if there any further developments. The Dear Leader of the Korean People has passed away aged 69, ending his 17 year reign that began in 1994 inauspiciously with a very severe famine that killed an estimated 2 million and like the famine that swept through Ethiopia in the 89's came to dominate the International communities view of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea(1) a constantly starving police state with a large military and demigod leader.

From an academic point of view I'm fascinated by North Korea, and I wonder what those in the future will make of the hermit state. It was like the Deutsche Demokratische Republik (DDR) more commonly known as East Germany was carved up out of the Cold War that was starting to get into gear by the late 1940's. And as such was officially a Socialist state ruled by the Marxist-Leninist(2) Korean Workers Party. Somehow it seems to have turned into a Quasi- Monarchy and Quasi-Theocratic state -if the rumours about the two Kim's divinity are believed by his people- fully embracing Nationalism; its guiding principle literally translates as self reliance. There is a bit of a contradiction there.

Now of course just because a new head of government or state happens to be the Child of the previous leader doesn't necessarily mean the system is a Monarchy, it could be a coincidence and they happen to be the most if not qualified then acceptable candidate available. For example in England after Oliver Cromwell died the alliance between the parliament and army held power settled on replacing the first Republican leader with.......his son Richard. However given that Kim Il Sung began grooming his son Jong Il for leadership to replace him before his death, and that Jong Il was preparing to do the same with his third son Kim Jong Un

"All party members, military men and the public should faithfully follow the leadership of comrade Kim Jong-un and protect and further strengthen the unified front of the party, military and the public," the news agency said.

its hard to claim that this is one of those wacky coincidences. Oh and if your wondering why the third child is being chosen over the other two, something quite unusual and taboo in the world of hereditary succession it might have something to do with the eldest Kim Jong Nam being caught illegally entering Japan in 2001, supposedly because he wanted to visit Tokyo Disneyland though according to some spent most of his time Korean nightclubs and Japanese brothels

"In 2001, Kim Jong-nam and his entourage, bedecked in diamond-encrusted Rolex watches and toting Louis Vuitton bags, were detained at Narita airport, reportedly en route to Tokyo Disneyland. Kim had attempted to enter the country on a forged Dominican Republic passport, using the Chinese name Pang Xiong - Fat Bear. Subsequent investigations revealed that this was not his first foray into Japan. Apparently he entered the country at least three times in late 2000. Indeed, a hostess at the exclusive gentlemen's club Soapland in Tokyo's Yoshiwara district remembered Kim's US$350-per-hour visits. She also recalls a dragon tattoo on Kim's back - tattoos are a taboo in Confucian society as they are seen to be a desecration of the body. Still today in South Korea, men with tattoos usually are thought to be members of criminal gangs."

Ignoring the scummy nature of what he did, the fact he was willing to even consider illegally entering an "enemy" nation even if he did just want to meet Mickey Mouse should disqualify him for failing the required intelligence test.

How Most of the World Saw Him

Anyway how do I personally feel about this? conflicted. I'm not sorry he is gone I am not nor never have been a supporter of North Korea. Though I wasn't thrilled with the constant possibility that the good ole Texan Sheriff of the US of A (I mean George W. Bush) stepping in and forcing the issue of transition. And I personally think the world has been too quick and willing to swallow any story about the nation that fits our preconceptions of it being an insane and constantly brutal regime that just seems to do things purely for evils sake. For example how many people know that like in China there is more then one Political Party legally operating in the North? there are three, the well known KWP the Social Democratic Party and the Chondoists a native Korean religion group, though it should also be pointed out that all those parties operate in support of the KWP and are not in opposition to it. Which is probably where my Academic interests in the nation lie, I've read several books on it including the comic by French Cartoonist Guy Delisle Pyongyang about his stay in the capital as he oversaw the outsourcing of French animation jobs first in China and now into Korea. Yes North Korea has been slowly implementing "Market Socialism"(3) for sometime now in an effort to recover from the loss of its traditional trading partners the USSR and Eastern Bloc.

Its well worth a read though Guy is a bit smug and at one point might have gotten someone in very serious trouble to soothe his own ego.

My personal favourite though has to be North Korea on the Brink by Glyn Ford the former Labour MEP. He has spent literally years interacting with both Korea's, speaks Korean well enough to know the difference between North and South dialects, and as a committed Peace Activist strongly dedicated to exposing Jingoist smears and fabrications whilst not making apologies for its quite shady and abhorrent practices. Put simply he explains the Regime not Justifies it. Doing the opposite is a trap many people fall into when trying to explain a nasty group or regime.

For example in the preamble:

"I decided to write this book because the only books I read on North Korea painted it either entirely black or totally white. It was either Socialist Utopia or part of the Axis of Evil...... Actually it is a poor beleagueered country run by an unpleaseant regime that has served its people ill. However the alternatives proffered by its enemies would serve the Koreans worse".

And theres the crux of it. This current situation is unprecedented in North Korea's short history, they have an unprepared leader at a time where both the regimes ideological and national framework and on very shaky ground. Its moved away from traditional Communist Social proclamations, it now officially supports the ideas of "Juche" (roughly translates as self reliance) and Songun (military first, essentially giving priority to the Korean People's Army in economic and social affairs) but those where Kim Jong Il's ideas and who knows what the conclusions of them will be? At least Kim Il Sung had time to prepare hid son for the job, will the Generals and Party leadership be willing to take orders from a novice because of his family name? and if not what will be the consequences? civil war? more purges? invasion of the South or from the South?

Again time will have to tell but lets hope whatever the result the peace will be maintained and a more positive regime comes out of the Kim legacy.

1: Given that Republic comes from the Latin Res Publica (The People) that essentially means the name is Peoples Power People the People of Korea, though since Korean isn't derived from Latin or Greek its possible thats only the case with the clumsy English translation.
2: Thats the fancy term for Soviet like Communist Party.
3: Thats where Communist Party run nations start opening up to Capitalist economics, but officially at least still maintain the support for socialism and Communism. The term was coined by Vietnam but pioneered by Deng Xioping's China.

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