For the Kims, the Weakest Link is Family

26 10 2010

In his recent op-ed entitled ‘For the Kims, the Weakest Link is Family’, published in Asia Times On-line (22 Oct. 2010) sociologist Aidan Foster-Carter discusses the dynastic succession in North Korea. He writes: “I dare to hope for a happy ending. Kim Il-sung’s sociological nous has kept the state he created alive longer than many (me included) had expected. But can it go on for ever?

That I doubt. A full answer would loose more hares than there’s room for here. In the 21st century, refusing market reforms is a recipe for self-destruction. Abroad, North Korea’s old game of militant mendicancy, despite some success from the Sino-Soviet dispute right up to the six-party talks, is past its sell-by date; other powers are fed up and won’t play any more.

But just to stick to the processes already mentioned, these too are far from foolproof. The weakest link is familism. Past history, in Korea or anywhere – think of the Borgias in Italy – suggests that monarchies or other forms of family rule can be riddled by strife. Some crown princes just aren’t up to the job. People plot, and before you know it the knives are out.

Specifically, promoting a third son over his elder siblings is asking for trouble. What does number one son think? On October 12 he told us. Interviewed in Beijing by Japan’s Asahi TV, Kim Jong-nam broke ranks, saying: ”Personally, I am against third-generation dynastic succession”. Adding that he didn’t care, and would help little brother ”while I stay abroad”, doesn’t make this any less of a bombshell. Kim Jong-nam has gone off-message, big time.”

The “Late Night Live” program of ABC Radio National invited Leonid Petrov to discuss this topic with Dr Foster-Carter.

Listen to the MP3 file of the discussion

The allocated 15 minutes did not permit the participants to use all the arguments they had prepared. The  following the is the summary of Leonid Petrov’s response:

“I’m supportive of Aidan’s analysis in general, but would like to defend my own hypothesis that Kim Jong-un is the  best candidate for continuing this ‘communist monarchy’ without  inflicting any change in politics or the economy of North Korea.

My argument is based on two assumptions. First, as long as the Cold War structures continue to dominate regional politics in Northeast Asia, North Korea will be safe by playing China, Russia and the US against each other. The former Cold War enemies badly need North Korea either as a buffer state or as a regional balancer. So, nobody (including politicians in Seoul and Pyongyang) would welcome the sudden and uncontrolled unification of Korea.

Second, the dynastic regime in North Korea with its power and legitimacy built on endless lies about the situation abroad and especially in South Korea simply cannot sustain any openness or even minor liberalisation. Instead, endless mobilisation campaigns and anti-imperialist propaganda are the well tested tools for the regime to keep the citizens under total control. There is no room for economic liberalisation or political reform in the ideology of self-reliance (Juch’e) and priority of security (Seon’gun) politics.

Since the last thing which the Kim family (who treats the DPRK like its own hereditary property) wishes to encounter is any kind of change or reform, they do everything possible to restrict access to the power for outsiders. Anticipating the imminent end of Kim Jong-il’s era, the clan has nominated the youngest person in the family because they wish the new Great Leader: 1) to be totally dependent on the older members of  the family, who would continue running the country business; 2) to have very little or no support base outside of the family, even among such groups as Army or the Party; and 3) to remain alive and maintain the system intact as long as possible, perhaps for another 30 or 40 years.

Kim Jong-un, by all means, is the candidate who best meets these criteria. Surprisingly, even the groups who could potentially rival and oppose his appointment, demonstrate solidarity and support. Why? See the above two assumptions on which the very system of Korea’s division is based: the continuation of the Cold War in the region and the reluctance of elite groups to lose their privileged status.

Aidan Foster-Carter asks how long can this system survive. As someone who grew up in the Soviet Union during the Cold War and then later witnessed the collapse of the Iron Curtain, I would say that totalitarian societies of this type are extremely resilient and will not falter until liberalisation is imposed from above (as was done first by Khruschev  and then again by Gorbachev). Thus, the Kim clan is on the right track by avoiding reforms (of the Soviet or Chinese form) and by grooming a young and inexperienced leader from inside the family.

Unless the external situation changed dramatically (i.e. if China stopped fearing the US, or Russia and Japan sign a peace treaty, or conservatives in Seoul lose the next election), we shouldn’t hold our breath. There is no reason to expect any change! Kim Jong-un is not yet ready for the job but, looking at the rigidity of fossilised Cold War structures and the return of Palaeo-conservatism in regional politics in South Korea and Japan, he has plenty of time to develop his leadership skills and charisma. In this way, Kim Jong-un can easily outshine his father, and become as successful as his grandfather in playing one great power off against another.”

“Europe – North Korea. Between Humanitarianism and Business?”

23 10 2010

“Europe – North Korea. Between Humanitarianism and Business?” has recently been published by LIT in Germany. In honor of the launching of the book, a workshop will take place at Seoul National University on Wednesday, October 27, 2010.

The book contains 327 pages and has four parts: Part I: Human Rights, Humanitarianism. Part II: Economic, Political and Ideological Relations between East/West Germany and North Korea, and their Legacies. Part III: Capacity-Building and Development. Part IV: Investment, Business, and Business Schools.

The table of contents is available at: – North Korea book.pdf 

October 27, 2010, SNU Workshop Program:

15.30 – 16.00 Registration

16.00 – 16.15 Opening remarks: Prof. Myoung-Kyu Park, Director, IPUS (Institute of Peace and Unification Studies). Congratulatory remarks: Marjo Crompvoets (deputy head of Mission, Embassy of The Netherlands). Prof. Woosik Moon (Director, Center for EU Studies)

16.20 – 17.40 Session: “The European Way toward North Korea”. Moderator: Mr. Pierre Clément Dubuisson (Ambassador of Belgium). Paul Tjia, “European businesses and North Korea”. Prof. Sung-Jo Park, “Aspects of European NGOs and EU’s Asia- Invest Programme in North Korea”. Dr. Bernhard Seliger, “Capacity building in North Korea – the experience of Hanns-Seidel-Foundation”.

17:40 – 18:00 Book presentation.

First University Founded by two Koreas to Open in Pyongyang Next Week

23 10 2010

SHENYANG, China, Oct. 22 (Yonhap) The first university founded jointly by South and North Korea is scheduled to open next week in Pyongyang, a school official said Friday.

The project to build Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST) was launched in 2001 after the two countries’ governments approved a South Korean nonprofit organization to participate in it. The university’s stated aim is to promote reconciliation and prosperity among the Korean people, separated since the 1950-53 Korean war, and “help North Korea develop the necessary economic and intellectual infrastructure to function as a member of the international community,” according to its Web site.

“All the facilities and staff are ready, and we will officially open (next Monday, 25 October),” said James Chin-kyung Kim, the school’s founding president and co-chairman. Kim, a U.S. citizen, also founded the Yanbian University of Science and Technology in the Chinese city of Yanji, a major Korean-Chinese population center.

“In time for the opening, 17 foreign professors will fly to Pyongyang from Shenyang (on Saturday). These professors come from the U.S. and Europe,” he said. South Korean staff will also be able to teach, starting next semester, according to the school.

Instruction will be in English, and 160 students have been selected for the school’s undergraduate and master’s degree courses in agriculture, information and communication technology, and industry and management. Forty doctorate-level students began studying with four foreign academics in the summer. The university plans to increase the number of students to 500 and open more departments to teach architecture, engineering, construction and public health care.

An Unlikely Pairing Bears Fruit in North Korea

The driving force behind the school was Kim Chin-kyung, an American born in Seoul who founded a university in China in 1992. He made periodic trips from China into North Korea and in 1998 was arrested at his hotel in the capital and thrown into prison, accused of being an agent for the C.I.A…

Also read “The capitalist who loves North Korea”
“After making it as an entrepreneur in America, James Kim is fulfilling his dream of opening an university in North Korea that will offer, of all things, an MBA…”

Leonid Petrov has received an e-mail message from the PUST informing him about the following positive developments: “It seems that we will be able to open the first official semester within the next few weeks. The first faculty team members are ready to move to Pyongyang and begin the work. We are waiting for the final approval for the faculty to arrive. There are still many fine points that will have to be determined, but the main issues seem settled and we are happy to report that the North Korean counterparts who will work with us are very cooperative and have been extremely helpful to us since they arrived on campus in mid-summer. There are a few PUST personnel who are already residing at PUST and are preparing the campus for the faculty when they arrive shortly. The students also are either already on campus or will arrive in the next week. That means that there is real progress.”

24% of N.Korean Defectors Wish to Leave S.Korea

23 10 2010

The Dong-A Ilbo (October 22, 2010) Thirty percent of North Korean defectors living in South Korea are considering immigrating to another country chiefly because of discrimination, a survey released Thursday said.

Ruling Grand National Party lawmaker Kim Young-woo commissioned a poll of 210 North Korean defectors Oct. 6-19. Fifty respondents (24 percent) said they wish to go to another country, with four even saying they want to return to North Korea. Among those seeking to move abroad, 21 (42 percent) cited discrimination against defectors in South Korea as the reason, followed by their children’s education (11 people or 22 percent) and the difficulty in getting a job (nine people or 18 percent).

A 40-something female defector who participated in the survey asked for help with her child’s education, saying, “Since my child is very different (from South Korean children) in language, personality and knowledge, he cannot do what he wants.”

On Korean reunification, 80 percent (168 respondents) said, “Korea must be reunified absolutely.” On shouldering reunification costs, 50.8 percent (101) said they are willing to help cover the cost and 17.1 percent (34) said they would help if it is a small amount. On the method of reunification, 52.2 percent (105) preferred absorption as result of the collapse of the North’s communist regime and 23.9 percent (48) wanted a model guaranteeing sovereignty.

Rep. Kim acknowledged problems in Seoul’s policy for supporting defectors given the number of defectors wishing to move to another country or even back to North Korea.

Undercover “Journalism” in the DPRK

19 10 2010

David McNeill_The Independent(by Tad Farrell , October 19, 2010) As most people are aware, Western journalists are not typically welcome in North Korea. The case of Euna Lee and Laura Ling last year was a good example of what can happen to those too eager for an NK scoop.

But that didn’t stop David McNeill of London’s ‘The Independent’ travelling to the DPRK just two weeks ago, ostensibly as a tourist attending the Pyongyang International Film Festival, but most likely there to try and cover the impeding Party Congress, initially rumoured to be starting around the same time.  He wasn’t the first reporter to enter the country on a tourist visa, and he won’t be the last.   But one thing is for sure, 0 Comments and 0 Reactions is a classic example of the hyperbolic and sensationalist approach to North Korea reporting that is standard in mainstream media –  a standard where fact-checking and normally rigid editorial standards go right out of the window.

McNeill starts his tourist ‘exposé’ by explaining that just behind the boulevards of Pyongyang, “stories abound of poverty and malnutrition.” The reality?  Well, as in any other capital city, differences do exist between the showcase boulevards and less well developed back streets.  However, this qualitative difference does not mean those living in the back streets are thus starving or living in abject poverty.  No, those living in Pyongyang’s backstreets are living in relative luxury to the rest of the country – where McNeill should have gone if he wanted to prove that yes, North Korea is a poor country.

McNeill goes on to describe his guides as treating visitors “like antibodies around a virus, hustling them from one approved site to the next and isolating them in the hotel – dubbed Alcatraz because it’s built on an island”. But many of the guides are extremely friendly and inquisitive people – who, if you have an amenable character, will soon join you for beers, talk about their personal lives, and be as flexible as possible with regards to modifying itineraries.  Sure, you might not enjoy the freedoms associated with a weekend jaunt to Paris, but if that’s what you want, then Paris awaits.  And although the Yanggakdo Hotel is indeed located on an island, visitors are perfectly welcome to stay at the Koryo Hotel in downtown Pyongyang, just opposite a main road lined with shops and restaurants (open to tourists too).

Obviously distressed by the fact that the Party Congress wasn’t going to coincide with his visit, Mr. McNeill decided to do the next best thing and go with a colleague for an unescorted stroll around Pyongyang – for what better way to “see beyond the façade”?   And so at dawn McNeill set off.  After walking for more than two hours, McNeill remarks that in the DPRK, “modern life is stripped bare – no iPods, jeans, T-shirts or sneakers – which are banned as foreign affectations…[where] mobile phones are as rare as sparrows in winter”.

While iPods might well be rare, mobile telephones are becoming increasingly commonplace in Pyongyang, with over 250,000 units now sold in the DPRK and a network that spans the length of the country.  And although that’s a relatively low number of phones for a population of 23 million, it is nevertheless clear that not just the elite possess them.   In terms of McNeill’s fashion observations, Simon Cockerell from Koryo Tours points out, “loads of people wear sneakers, most wear leather shoes, they cost the same, this is nothing more than a choice, jeans of course are rare there – although you do see them being worn, and now some Chinese traders bring them in for sale at the markets”.  To suggest these items are illegal is simply incorrect, merely serving to perpetuate the same old impressions of the North.

Having dwelled on the lack of consumer goods visible seen during his 7am stroll, McNeill then describes his walk through the backstreets, where “roads were potholed, the people scruffier and more sullen, [with] some appearing to live in slum-like conditions”. Assuming he had been kept away from the many HuTongs of Beijing (where he undoubtedly started his visit), one can appreciate that witnessing such scenes in a capital city must have very well felt newsworthy for Mr. McNeill.  But more was to come.

After rounding a backstreet, McNeill then explains how he “came across a group of maybe 200, huddled around a makeshift street market” – the first sign that even in Pyongyang, “the country’s state-controlled distribution system is shot to pieces”. Describing the markets as “illegal” in North Korea, McNeill describes the angry reaction of customers when he pulls out his camera to snap them – as if on safari in Kenya.  When a “man in a scruffy army uniform demanded the cameras”, McNeill’s reaction is to try and run away – around the corner and into a “phalanx of green uniforms – a local guard-post”. And so he and his Times of London colleague were therefore ‘caught’, with the scoop being brought to a premature end.  Cameras confiscated, they were escorted back to the hotel where guide Mr. Cha was waiting, shocked to hear of what had happened.  A disaster in investigative journalism coupled with a healthy dose of misreporting.

Simon Cockerell explains, “The market isn’t a secret and people don’t get in trouble for trading there, its clearly obvious to anyone looking at it and the sellers in the streets around it too are also there legitimately.  Foreigners working in Pyongyang can go to the markets as well”.  But regardless of the markets legality, what reaction did McNeill expect to receive when pulling out his camera to snap its customers?  That the Koreans stop and pose for him, or perhaps, that he be showered with rose petals?

Back at the hotel McNeill ends his ‘exposé’ by describing a ‘tearful’ Mr. Cha and the consequences of his unescorted walk – the writing of a letter of apology and the confiscation of his camera memory cards.  Unfortunately this time, for McNeill, no high-ranking British official would be flying to Pyongyang to secure his release.

In summary, all McNeill’s “exposé” really confirms is that North Korea is a poor country with an authoritarian government.  But didn’t we know that already?  When travelling beyond Pyongyang as a tourist it soon becomes evident that the country is far from equally developed.  There are ample opportunities to see real poverty and hunger – if that’s what you are looking for.  As you travel to towns like Wonson, Kaesong and Hamhung, the tour guides most likely won’t be pointing out to the run-down villages, shabby markets, or hungry looking people – but if you look, you will see them.  In reality, these things are not the state secrets that many in the mainstream media suggest North Korea is hiding from its tourists.  Its just the North Korean tourist agency doesn’t like to draw attention to them.   As guides in Washington D.C will keep tourists away from its many poverty-stricken areas, the objective of North Korea’s tourist company is unremarkably the same.

See the comments here…

Why Russia doesn’t share its Cheonan results with Seoul

12 10 2010

By Sunny Lee, The Korea Times (12 Oct. 2010)

BEIJING ― With Russia’s envoy Alexei Borodavkin in Seoul this week, the question of why Russia has refused to share its Cheonan investigation results with South Korea begs an explanation more than ever.

The tragic incident in March remains the most instrumental event that has reconfigured the dynamics of inter-Korean relations and the regional security in East Asia where different stakeholders compete for leadership.

After the incident, Moscow signalled to Seoul that it wanted to send its own investigators. Seoul honoured the request. Russia was not part of an earlier Seoul-led international inquest, which determined that the Cheonan, the 88-meter-long navy frigate, was torpedoed by a North Korean submarine, killing 46 sailors on board.

The Russian investigators made a week-long probe, examining the Cheonan wreckage. After they returned home, however, Russia has oddly been keeping mum. So far, it has refused to release its findings to South Korea in what some observers see as a diplomatic insult. “Russia probably shared the results with China and the U.S., but not with South Korea to avoid open confrontation with Seoul,” said Leonid Petrov, a Russian expert on Korean affairs.

In a recent conference in Russia, Borodavkin, who is deputy foreign minister for Asia-Pacific affairs, vaguely touched upon on the matter when he was asked about it by a reporter. Borodavkin said the investigation results were “classified” and were submitted only to Russia’s top leadership, adding it wouldn’t provide the results to either to South Korea or to North Korea.

“Russia doesn’t want to disclose a report that would destabilize the region and which would invite immediate anger from South Korea and its allies, including the United States,” said Petrov who now teaches at the University of Sydney. “These regional powers led by the U.S. wouldn’t be pleased if Russia produced a report on the Cheonan, which could contradict their investigation.”

Russia’s silence has understandably aroused speculation. Donald Gregg, a former U.S. ambassador to South Korea, then jumped into the debate, saying the Russian investigation report was not released “because it would do much political damage to President Lee (Myung-bak) and would embarrass President Barack Obama,” citing a well-placed Russian source.

Petrov is skeptical, however, as much as he is skeptical about the Seoul-led investigation. “I don’t know whether the Russians have found anything sensational from their investigation.” Reflecting the general Russian sentiment on the Cheonan incident, he said: “I think the Russian report is as equally unconvincing as the South Korean-led report.”

Actually, according to him, focusing on whether Russia has any evidence that contradicts the international investigation is a flawed approach. In fact, he said Russia’s aim is more strategic.

“The whole purpose of Russia’s move was to restore the balance of power in Northeast Asia. There was no balance of power when South Korea with its allies, including the U.S., Japan, the U.K., and Australia, produced a document, unilaterally accusing North Korea over the Cheonan incident.’’

In the region, Russia forms another security bloc with North Korea and China. Petrov believes that the Russian move was following the recommendation of China. Just days before the Russian investigators arrived in Seoul, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov flew to Beijing to discuss tensions between the two Koreas following the Cheonan sinking with top Chinese officials, including President Hu Jintao.

“China said (the Cheonan) is a sad story, but this page has to be turned over,” Petrov said. “Producing their own report was good enough to restore the balance of power over how to approach this unfortunate event.”

But the Russian behavior of withholding its investigation results was seen as insensitive, if not insulting, by the South Korean side. “Russia’s behavior is rather rude since South Korea provided so much assistance to the Russian investigation team. It projected an impression that Russia believed South Korea didn’t deserve to know,” Petrov said.

Although the Russia-South Korea ties have been strained with the unpleasant episode and albeit the damage has been done, Petrov nonetheless expects that the two countries will continue to move on with their relationship, not because they will eventually find a political consensus on the Cheonan matter, but because their mutual economic dependence will hold them together tight.

“South Korea and Russia mutually need each other. Seoul needs to maintain its export capability. And Russia has the market to absorb South Korean products,” Petrov said.

Highest-ranking N. Korean defector Hwang Jang-yop found dead

10 10 2010

SEOUL, Oct. 10 (Yonhap) Hwang Jang-yop, the highest-ranking North Korean ever to defect to South Korea, was found dead at his home Sunday, police said, adding no attack is suspected in his death.

Police said the 87-year-old Hwang appears to have died of old age, saying there was no signs of a break-in at his home in Seoul where a security guard was staying together with him.

In the meantime in Pyongyang…

SEOUL, Oct. 10 (Yonhap) North Korean leader Kim Jong-il and his heir-apparent son reviewed a massive military parade Sunday that marked the 65th anniversary of the ruling Workers’ Party, television footage showed, as Pyongyang steps up a campaign to pave the way for the son to take over.

Live footage from Pyongyang showed Kim and his youngest son, Kim Jong-un, watching the parade from the reviewing stand at Kim Il-sung Square in the capital city. It was rare for the North to televise such an event live, which shows the importance of the show to the regime.

Kim Kyong Hui, the godmother of North Korea’s dynasty

9 10 2010

BY KIYOHITO KOKITA ASAHI SHIMBUN WEEKLY AERA (2010/10/09) In the large group photograph taken Sept. 30 in front of the Kumsusan Memorial Palace in Pyongyang, international attention was focused on Kim Jong Un, the youngest son of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il and heir apparent. But another individual in that photograph, sitting five places to the right of Jong Il, may warrant even more attention than Jong Un. The woman is Kim Kyong Hui, 64, Jong Il’s younger sister and the “godmother of the royal family.”

She has been described as cantankerous, obstinate and a drunk. She might also become the true power figure of the impoverished nuclear-power wannabe. The Sept. 28 meeting of representatives of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea served as the debut on the political stage for Jong Un, who was sitting in the front row two places to the left of his father in the photograph run by the party organ Rodong Sinmun. Kyong Hui also marked her debut on the political stage at the meeting. After being named general, she was appointed to the party Politburo.

In late August, Yuriko Koike, chairwoman of the opposition Liberal Democratic Party’s General Council, predicted the emergence of Kyong Hui. “In that nation, the most important factor is blood relations,” Koike said recently. “I do not have a very specific image of Jong Un. I believe she is the only family member who has gained the trust of Kim Jong Il.”

Ha Tae-keung, who heads Open Radio for North Korea based in Seoul, said: “(Kim Jong Il) is probably very worried about the fate of his dynasty should anything happen to him under the present circumstances. He probably wanted to give his younger sister greater authority now, so that when the time comes, she can serve in the roles of ‘executor of the will’ and ‘manager of the dynasty.'”

There is likely no other candidate who could fulfill those roles better than Kyong Hui, who has maintained strong ties with Jong Il. When United Nations troops pushed back the North Korean military during the Korean War, Kyong Hui fled to China with her older brother. After returning to Pyongyang with Jong Il, she apparently was “treated very coldly” by her stepmother, who had married Kim Il Sung, the North Korean founder, according to sources. North Korean insiders say Kyong Hui has a violent temperament and never changes her mind once she has made a decision.

She met her husband, Jang Song Thaek, who came from an ordinary family outside of Pyongyang, when they were students at Kim Il Sung University. Kim Il Sung was opposed to their marriage because he wanted his daughter to marry an outstanding military officer. He pulled strings to have Jang transferred to a university in Wonsan. But Kyong Hui drove herself from Pyongyang for weekend trysts with Jang in Wonsan. Kim Il Sung finally gave in to his stubborn daughter and approved the marriage.

Kyong Hui is a regular member of the alcohol drinking parties hosted by Jong Il and attended by high-ranking party officials. According to sources, she cannot stop drinking once she starts. She has been known to drunkenly bellow: “Hey, Jang Song Thaek, drink up!” But she is said to be the only person who can give advice to Jong Il. And he apparently can do little to control his younger sister. Hwang Jang Yop, a former party secretary who defected to South Korea in 1997, wrote in a book that Kyong Hui once told him, “Although he is surrounded by many flatterers, my older brother is actually very lonely.”

After Jang married Kyong Hui in 1972, he proceeded along an elite promotion course as a close associate of Jong Il. However, he was demoted in around 2004 after being criticized for forming his own faction. Kyong Hui wept to her older brother, explaining the difficult position of her husband. Sources said Kyong Hui’s pleas may have been behind Jang’s resurrection in 2006. Although she was appointed director of the party’s light industry department in the 1980s, she rarely made public appearances. At the same time, she became well known for being a “shadow power broker.” Japanese companies seeking to move into North Korea sought out personal connections that would eventually lead to her.

From 2003, Kyong Hui completely disappeared from the public stage, but made a sudden re-emergence in June 2009, after Jong Il was apparently felled by a stroke. She began accompanying her older brother on visits to outlying regions of North Korea. Photos taken of the two siblings were played up big by the North Korean media. This year, she has been by far the most frequent traveler with Jong Il among any of his close associates. In second place is her husband, Jang. Jang heads the party’s Administration Department, which gives him control over public security and the “thought police.” In June, he was promoted to vice chairman of the National Defense Commission, the highest decision-making organ in North Korea.

Speculation before the Sept. 28 meeting was that Jang would be named to the party Politburo. However, the only appointments he received were as an alternate member of the Politburo and member of the Central Military Commission. There is a wide gap between a Politburo member and an alternate member. Alternate members can offer their opinions during meetings–but they cannot vote on important decisions. In an unusual move, North Korean authorities released the backgrounds of Politburo Presidium members, Politburo members as well as alternate members. The only two individuals whose backgrounds were not mentioned were Jong Il, a Politburo Presidium member, and Kyong Hui, a Politburo member.

Jang’s background was released along with other top party executives. Analysts said that difference was meant to show that Jang is not a major member of the dynasty, but only a man who has married into the family. The situation in North Korea could become very fluid if Jong Il dies in a few years. Sources said Kyong Hui herself has heart problems, is an alcoholic and has also suffered from depression.

Koike said, “There is the possibility that Kyong Hui herself would grab power.” The Kim dynasty is increasingly showing signs of direct control by the family even as it fails to adequately feed its own people. Park Too Jin, who heads the Korea International Institute in Tokyo, described the recent events in North Korea as “the final fruitless struggle to maintain the power structure.” The fate of that structure and the future of the Kim family are closely intertwined…

Leonid Petrov’s commentary: One important detail remained ommited in this biographical report. In 2006, Kim Kyong-hee and Jang Song-taek’s daughter, who had studied in Paris and apparently refused to return to North Korea, suicided or was murdered. This familty drama might have softened Kim Jong-il’s anger toward his sister and promted to pardon her husband the same year. 

Also, the growing involvement in domestic politics and her strong family credentials might backfire on Mrs. Jang (Kim Kyong-hee) soon after the death of Kim Jong-il, as it happened with Jiang Qing in China immediately after the death of Mao Zedong.   

Foreign Films Show in North Korea

3 10 2010

by Ian Timberlake (AFP, Pyongyang, 01 Oct. 2010)

One of the world’s most tightly-controlled societies got a rare glimpse of the outside world at the Pyongyang International Film Festival last week, where even Western films were screened. Communist North Korea strictly controls access to information, including via mobile phones and the Internet, leaving most North Koreans in ignorance of the wider world. A tour guide had never heard of the late pop star Michael Jackson. Yet participants in the 12th Pyongyang International Film Festival, which ended on September 24, say it helped open a window for the impoverished country.

Only a minority of the population was able to attend the event, but it gave them access to documentaries, feature films and shorts from several European countries and Canada. Productions from Asia, Russia, the Middle East and elsewhere were also on the programme. Henrik Nydqvist, a freelance film producer who was Sweden’s official delegate to the eight-day event, said anything which breaks North Korea’s isolation is positive. “We think we’re doing something good here,” he said. “We feel we can make some positive impact… and that outweighs the other things.”

The festival has its own venue, the Pyongyang International Cinema House, which includes a 2,000-seat theatre as well as other smaller halls. Red, blue and green neon signs hanging in the atrium beam the country’s foreign policy slogan: “Peace, independence, friendship”. A 300-seat hall was almost completely filled with Koreans for an afternoon screening of the comedy “Pieces d’Identites” from Congo. They sat quietly behind padlocked doors in a hot, airless room for the story of an African king who travels to Belgium in search of his daughter, who has been forced to work as a nude dancer.

The film’s images include bordellos and a heaving African nightclub, depicting a world alien to North Koreans who are bombarded with propaganda from childhood and whose showpiece capital Pyongyang appears to be stuck in a time decades past. Such images can only help to bring about change, said a source connected with the film festival. “They have in mind: Why is North Korea, my country, different?” Connections are required to gain admission and authorities do not want the rural masses outside of the capital to see foreign movies, he said. “I watched some poor people who wanted to see the movie, and the guard stopped them.”

At the event’s closing ceremony attended by more than 1,500 people, including foreign diplomats, Nydqvist read a letter of thanks to Kim Jong-Il, ruler of the country which has twice tested nuclear weapons and is under various United States and United Nations sanctions. “The Pyongyang International Film Festival is unique,” the letter said, thanking Kim for his “care and interest.” Such messages are common practice in the country, Nydqvist said.

Kim, 68, is said to have a collection of 20,000 Hollywood movies, and engineered the kidnap in 1978 of a South Korean director to help him make films. He has also written books about movie-making, including one slim volume which says cinema “has the task of contributing to the development of people to be true communists and to the revolutionisation and working-classisation of the whole of society.” At Pyongyang’s Korean Film Studio, the country’s centre of film production, a director said Kim had visited “on more than 500 occasions”. Kim has also provided “guidance” to the film festival, Nydqvist said, citing organisers of the event. But the ailing Kim’s time on the political stage appears to be nearing an end.

On Thursday, 30 Sep., the regime released the first-ever official photograph of Kim Jong-Il’s youngest son Kim Jong-Un, which analysts said confirms the young man’s status as leader-in-waiting. Jong-Un, believed aged about 27, has assumed powerful posts in North Korea’s ruling party, state media said after the Workers’ Party of Korea held its highest-level meeting in 30 years on Tuesday. Whether he shares his father’s cinematic obsession is unknown but Jong-Un did have an interest in Hollywood tough-guy Jean-Claude Van Damme, say staff and friends at Swiss international schools where he studied, according to newspaper reports.

Several North Korean films were screened at the festival, including “Hong Kil Dong,” a 1986 production about a type of Robin Hood martial arts fighter in ancient times, whose flute-playing induces terror in the villains. The festival programme listed Germany’s “Four Minutes”, the Serbian documentary “Let There Be Light”, and Swedish feature “As It Is In Heaven” among the many international offerings.

An organising committee chooses delegates from among those who apply, Nydqvist said, adding their expenses in Pyongyang are paid for but airfare is not. A Briton and a Vietnamese were among the members of the film jury which chose a Chinese film, “Walking to School,” as the grand prize winner. China won at the previous festival, too, but Nydqvist said: “I’ve never heard anything suggesting that the jury was encouraged to favour a specific country…”

See the full text of the article here…

Spiritual Tradition, Presentation and Power in the DPRK

3 10 2010

by Konrad Mathesius (Renlai Magazine, 30 Sep. 2010)

Snooping around for information on the DPRK isn’t really rocket science, but you have to read between the lines. With the Dear Leader, Kim Jong-il, in bad shape, both international and domestic media have been quick to cover recent shifts in power and the promotions of his son, Kim Jong-un. Taking into consideration the amount of energy that was invested in building up Kim Jong-il’s reputation as a gifted, nurturing and obvious choice for his father’s successor, it’s unnerving to think that the state has neglected to strike up an equivalent propaganda campaign for his son in DPRK media, nor has his inherent genius been lauded to the point of conviction. Considering the high levels of ideological indoctrination in the DPRK, the state seems to be neglecting necessary prerequisites for a legitimate leadership.

The state ideology, Juche, is often simplistically translated by one-time analysts as ‘self-reliance’. Others have mislabeled it a state religion. Based on these perceptions, the fear of instability is warranted. But despite the lack of fanfare surrounding Kim Jong-un, the true mechanism of power is likely to remain unchanged.

The state claims that Juche is based upon concepts developed by Kim Il-sung during his time spent as a guerilla in Manchuria. However, Juche wasn’t standard vocabulary until the early-to-mid 1960s when Soviet relations with their North Korean brethren cooled and Kim Il-sung was obliged to seek friends in the Third World. These ideas were then later refined by Kim Jong-il who published his contribution, ‘On the Juche Idea’, in 1982. There is a significant amount of debate surrounding whether or not the works of the Kims are original; nevertheless, these ideas touch on a number of socio-political subjects, with arguments based in ad hoc interpretations of history. The dichotomy that analysts often neglect to observe is between what was originally written as a guide to Juche, and how media coverage of the leadership and publications of their ideas have since conveyed the purpose of the State. On the books, Juche is political and devoid of overtly religious statements, but its presentation and the tone of the media support claims that North Koreans are living in a politically religious state.

[…] Since 1994, Juche has become less and less commonplace in the media, even though the state’s style and presentation has remained consistent. In need of military support following the death of his father and waves of natural disasters that wreaked havoc upon the population, Kim Jong-il was obliged to introduce Seongun Cheongchi, or military-first politics. It has come to dominate the slogan banners around Pyongyang although the occasional reference to Juche still manages to makes its way into the limelight. Slogans and policies reflect the shift from the old guard of the Korean Workers Party to the military. In addition to this, the rift between the party and the military seems to be growing.

[…] Kim Jong-un might be the face for the new regime, but the real decisions will be made by the two men pinned to the gills with medals standing on either side of him. If they outlive the Dear Leader, from what little information we will be able to gather on them, Hyon Chol Hae and Ri Myong Su are two potential regents to watch.

The State will continue to utilize spiritual concepts to prop up the leadership. Although somewhat uncreative and excessively repetitive, propaganda in the DPRK works as a well-oiled machine. Its word choice and methodology stem back to pre-DPRK times and will employ the same strategy to prop up the leadership in the future. To the disappointment of both China and pundits predicting the imminent collapse of the DPRK following the death of Kim Jong-il, the state will putter along as it always has. Although the people will still be reading about the New Leader’s ability to instruct farmers how to grow more crops or, say, his gifted talent in foreign literature, Seongun Chongchi will continue to dominate the ideological arena and the military will continue to enjoy an internal position of strength in relation to the Party and the Kim Family.

Konrad Methesius visitited North Korea as a member of the Internatiuonal Association for Contemporary Korea Studies delegation in 2007, and graduated from the Australian National University in 2008.

See the full text of this OpEd here…