Sunday, January 30, 2005


is the title of the latest exercise in P’yôngyangology by the London Sunday Times. The piece contains all sorts of salacious and usually wholly unsubstantiated gossip. Some snippets:
Jang Song-thaek, Kim’s ambitious brother-in-law, was purged from party office after he tried to build up a military faction to put his own son in power. Mystery surrounds the fate of Vice-Marshal Jo Myong-rok, the soldier once sent as Kim’s emissary to meet Bill Clinton in the White House.

The dictator’s favoured heir apparent, his son Kim Jong-chol, 23, who was educated in Geneva, is reported to have staged a shoot-out inside a palace with Kim Jang-hyun, 34, an illegitimate son of Kim Il-sung, father of the dictator and founder of the dynasty.
Analysts in Seoul say that in recent propaganda pictures the bouffant-haired dictator is wearing the same clothes as in photographs from two years ago, suggesting that they may have been taken then. Observers await Kim’s official birthday, February 16, to see if the state media accord him the usual fawning adulation.

According to exiles, North Korean agents in Beijing and Ulan Bator are frantically selling assets to raise cash — an important sign, says one activist, because “the secret police can always smell the crisis coming before anybody else”.

If one continues to make breathless predictions of imminent collapse, one will eventually be proven prophetic. While I might hope for a speedy demise of a regime that oppresses its own citizens so cruelly, I am not, at present, holding my breath.

Some eyewitness descriptions of Rajin:
However, here we saw economic chaos that has led to unheard-of social disorder. At the central market child beggars chased us along alleys of shoddy Chinese goods, past stalls heaped with decaying fish. A group of dead-eyed teenagers kicked and shoved the younger boys to go after the foreigners. The guides hastily warned us against robbers.

To most North Koreans the prices must have seemed insane. A crab caught locally cost more than a driver’s monthly wages of £1.40. A Chinese cotton vest cost two weeks’ money.

Still hundreds of people jammed the officially sanctioned market and dozens of illegal vendors froze outside as they touted vegetables, clothes and hunks of rancid meat.

No official intervened to stop the illicit trade. Judging by the aggressive pushing and arguing over the goods, there might have been a riot if they had. A few North Koreans are clearly making money. Many more, though, are falling into penury.

Later we were taken for lunch to a state restaurant where lukewarm fish, vegetables and rice were produced from a chilly kitchen. There were iron bars on the windows and a heavy padlock on the door to prevent looting. Marxists, if there were any remaining in North Korea, might have described the situation as prerevolutionary.

UPDATE: some debate concerning the article and its claims can be read here.

As much as I hate communism and it's half-sister socialism, the real cost of these was described to me best in an interview in the Times-Standard back in the Reagan years...

A Polish family escaped to the West and ended up in McKinleyville, CA. A town which we "sophisticates" in the "big city" of Eureka were wont to mock for its (at the time) tar-paper shacks and mobile homes. "Little Arkansas by the Sea" we named it.

But in the newspaper, the wife and mother burst into tears and collapsed when she saw the meat counter and realized she could have as many as she wanted or could afford and there were no crowds or lines vying for the same food...

I was humbled then. I often wish I could do more. As much by compassion as by guilt, I have tried to support the cause of freedom. But the people of Poland (and Russia and South Africa and so many other countries) had to achieve their own freedom. And it is the same for North Korea.

I know sometimes it takes War. But the fight has to start in the hearts and minds of the people who live there. My desire for the end of North Korean communist rule isn't worth a bottle of the dirt-flavored medicine they used to give to way-gook customers at the jewelry counters in Itaewon... unless and until they want it too.
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