November 15, 2004

KIM POSSIBLE (via Jeff Guinn):

Joyful Dancing: The people of North Korea are not as submissive as they appear to be. Unnoticed by the outside world, strong opposition to the regime of dictator Kim Jong Il is beginning to appear. (ANDREAS LORENZ, October 30, 2004 , Der Spiegel)

On April 22, two trains loaded with chemicals exploded in the city of Ryongchon. Although 169 people died or were horribly disfigured, including a large number of children from a nearby school, no functionaries appeared in the city to comfort the injured and the relatives of the victims. President Kim Jong Il did not even condescend to issuing a telegram offering his condolences.

The state-owned news agency barely managed to devote a few lines to the catastrophe. Instead, the military in the capital celebrated the 72nd anniversary of the founding of the army and "Dear Leader" Kim with "joyful dancing" (the government's term).

No pity and no compassion for the suffering victims. The regime showed its true face - once again. A few hours prior to the tragedy, Kim's special train passed through the Ryongchon train station, returning from a trip to China. Is it possible that this was not an accident, but instead an attempt by opponents of the regime to blow up the dictator and his entourage? Until now, the world has been under the impression that the North Koreans, shielded from information about the outside world, weakened by hunger and subject to the tyranny of a foolproof monitoring system, are incapable of rebelling. After all, didn't they succumb to collective hysteria in 1994 when, after living through decades of his cult of personality, they were suddenly faced with the death of Kim's father, the founder of the state, "Great Leader" Kim Il Sung? But the 22.5 million people of this country are not as submissive as they appear to be. In the bitter years of the mid-1990s, when the regime allowed up to three million people to die from malnutrition and weakness, demonstrations repeatedly flared up against the country's bizarre ruler who, with his blow-dried hair and eccentric uniforms, is partial to preaching to his exhausted citizens in so-called spontaneous lectures. Slogans against the dictator ("Down with Kim Jong Il") appeared on railroad cars, overpasses and factory walls. Flyers condemning the dynasty's unbelievable ostentation were even posted outside the Kumsusan Mausoleum in Pyongyang, where the elder Kim's embalmed body lies in state. In a new, soon-to-be-published book about North Korea, Jasper Becker, 48, a British author and journalist living in Beijing, writes that factories, military units, and even entire towns revolted against the leadership in Pyongyang. In conversations with North Korean refugees, members of the South Korean intelligence service and scientists, Becker offers a deep, virtually unprecedented look into the secretive country. For example, Becker obtained details about the biggest labor demonstrations in North Korea's history, which took place in 1998 in the industrial city of Songrim. The protests began on a cold February morning after the public execution of eight men, all managers at the Hwanghae Iron and Steel Works. Their crime? In an effort to provide food for the workers and their families, they sold parts of the factory to Chinese businessmen.

Even though many of Songrim's inhabitants were starving at the time, the attempt to circumvent the defunct public supply system to obtain food was considered sabotage and treason. The deal with wealthy comrades from the other side of the border was quickly exposed when Chinese grain freighters were seen openly unloading cargo designated for Songrim at the port of Nampo. When the bodies of the eight functionaries, including two Central Committee members, fell into the dust, a woman in the crowd yelled: "They did not try to enrich themselves, but to help the workers. Shooting them is brutal." The courageous woman was one of the town's most respected citizens. As a nurse working in an elite hospital in Pyongyang, she had even taken care of the country's leaders. But that didn't protect her. Three soldiers grabbed the woman and shot her on the spot. The crowd, deeply fearful and horrified, quickly dispersed. A few hours later, however, the factory's employees stopped working. The peaceful protest was short-lived. The next morning, tanks broke through the factory gates and mowed down the demonstrators. According to eyewitness reports, hundreds lost their lives. Several days later, dozens of suspected agitators were shot, and countless so-called counter-revolutionaries and their families were taken away to labor camps. This was apparently not an isolated incident. Resentment against Kim is deeply entrenched in the population. Even a few of Kim's 450 hand-picked bodyguards, referred to as the "2-16 Unit," in honor of the dictator's birthday, apparently attempted to shoot their boss in the mid-1990s. Generals pushing for economic reforms planned a coup in 1992.

Their leaders included the vice-commander of an army unit in Hamhung and deputy general staff commander An Jong Ho. Both were exposed and executed; their cohorts managed to escape to Russia. In the bleak northern industrial city of Chongjin, several officers attempted to take control of the port and rocket bases in 1995, as well as to convince other military units to join them and march on Pyongyang. Other members of the military plotted to fire a shell at Kim's platform during a military parade in the capital. A military resistance group calling itself "The Supreme Council of National Salvation" threw flyers from trains and trucks, reading: "We appeal to the soldiers of the People's Army and to the people to join us in our fight." The omnipresent state security service exposed the plots. Kim himself has now constructed a protective wall around himself. He constantly moves from one residence to another, and his houses in Pyongyang are connected by a system of tunnels. An elite unit of 100,000 soldiers dedicated to Kim exists solely to protect him against conspiracies.

The president should torque up the pressure on Kim exactly as high as it was on Saddam and Arafat and start similarly speaking of his regime in the past tense.

Posted by Orrin Judd at November 15, 2004 7:49 PM

Any after-action plan in NK better include tens of thousands of psychiatric interviews and lots and lots of medication.

Posted by: ratbert at November 15, 2004 11:15 PM

The utter lack of success of German reunification does not bode well for a future Korean one.

Posted by: Bart at November 16, 2004 5:24 AM

75% of east Germany's problems would have been solved by a market exchange of the Ostmark for the Deutschmark instead of 1:1 ration which was used. But you are right that N Korean unification is a disaster which is why the South does not want it now, only eventually.

Presumably, what is needed post-Kim is a common foreign policy controlled by Seoul, transfer of military units from the 38th parallel to the Yalu, a small, controlled immigration from North to South, and investment in N Korea to take advantage of it's cheap labor. A 10 year timeline should be enough to relax most of the immigration limits, and then unification can happen.

Posted by: Chris Durnell at November 16, 2004 10:55 AM

President Kim Jong Il did not even condescend to issuing a telegram offering his condolences.

Expected. Why should a God condescend to mere mortals?

The state-owned news agency barely managed to devote a few lines to the catastrophe. Instead, the military in the capital celebrated the 72nd anniversary of the founding of the army and "Dear Leader" Kim with "joyful dancing" (the government's term).

Worship The God! Worship! Worship! Worship!

Posted by: Ken at November 16, 2004 12:46 PM

Addendum to the above:

Ever noticed that all these Perfect People's Progressive Utopias always end up as an insect-hive under a God-King?

Posted by: Ken at November 16, 2004 6:11 PM