Wednesday, November 10, 2004


The Marmot links to a translation of a Der Spiegel article in the New York Times which, in turn, appears to based largely on a soon-to-be-released book by British journalist Jasper Becker (an aside: I haven't read Becker's book on Mongolia, nor his book The Chinese. I have read, enjoyed and use excerpts in some of my classes his Hungry Ghosts).

So we're talking about a translation of a story based on excerpts. Usual caveats about grains of salt etc. Still, the piece contains some interesting anecdotes that provide a compelling counter-narrative to the usual one of the unquestioning loyalty of the North Korean people to the Kim regime. Some snippets:
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.
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.
An agricultural expert who fled the country began discovering the first signs of famine in 1987. But in a North Korea dominated by the cult of personality, no one dared inform old Kim Il Sung about the situation. By the time the "Great Leader" became aware of the problem, it was already too late. As Becker discovered, a serious disagreement between father and son must have occurred during this period. The patriarch was furious because his son had kept the economy crisis concealed from him for so long. Kim junior apparently opposed his father's plan to reform the economy based on the Chinese model, and to seek reconciliation with his South Korean compatriots. When Kim Il Sung died of heart failure in his villa on July 8, 1994, things may not have entirely above-board. Apparently, his son forbade doctors from entering his father's room for a long period of time. Two of the five helicopters that were to take the corpse and the dead man's entourage to Pyongyang crashed, killing the doctors and bodyguards on board. Other functionaries later disappeared without a trace.

All of this has the ring of the types of exciting but often unfounded rumors that are the staple of a commentariat reduced to resorting to P'yongyangology to comprehend a reclusive and secretive regime. Still, if these stories are accurate, it might cause some to reconsider what is the conventional wisdom among Korea-watching academics at least: the idea that North Korea isn't anywhere near the brink of collapse. I think I will have to go order the book to see what kind of sources Becker uses.

Comments: Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?