KEEP­ING UP WITH KIMS

Mandate - - Contents - By Raoul Lobo

How do you grab at­ten­tion when you’re al­ready the world’s cra­zi­est dic­ta­tor? You dis­ap­pear. When Kim Jong-un was out of the lime­light for nearly six weeks (don’t worry he’s back), he caught our eye and we de­cided to dig deeper into the enigma that is North Korea. Read on and step into the world of dead pres­i­dents, su­per­nat­u­ral lead­ers and the crazy Korean pro­pa­ganda be­hind the world’s most iso­lated coun­try.

North Korea is so se­cre­tive you can’t even see it from space! De­spite cov­er­ing 47,000 sq miles, North Korea is in­vis­i­ble from space, un­like its neigh­bour­ing coun­tries, Rus­sia, China and South Korea. Of course, this has more to do with the coun­try be­ing back­ward and lack­ing elec­tric­ity rather than be­ing guarded.

It isn’t easy be­ing Kim Jong-un. The supreme leader of North Korea has an un­en­vi­able le­gacy to live up to. Firstly, his grand­fa­ther, Kim IISung aka ‘The Great Leader’, who ap­par­ently died 20 years back, con­tin­ues to be the Pres­i­dent of the coun­try. Then, there is his fa­ther, Kim Jong-iI, whose very birth por­trayal could fill reams. Ac­cord­ing to North Korean ‘his­tor­i­cal’ lit­er­a­ture, at the mo­ment of his birth on Korea’s most sa­cred moun­tain, a bright star lit up the sky, the sea­sons spon­ta­neously changed from win­ter to spring, and rain­bows ap­peared.

In case you’re won­der­ing what we’re talk­ing about, let me take this mo­ment to in­tro­duce you to the wild and wacky world of North Korean pro­pa­ganda. The en­tire na­tion is cut off from the rest of the world and strictly ad­heres to Kim II-Sung’s phi­los­o­phy of Juche or self re­liance.

But first a lit­tle his­tory… Korea was an­nexed by the Em­pire of Ja­pan in 1910 and Kim IISung (the founder of the dy­nasty) re­belled against Korea’s Ja­panese rule in the ’30s, which led to his in­volve­ment and train­ing in the Soviet Union. Af­ter Ja­pan’s de­feat in World War II and its sub­se­quent with­drawal, Korea was di­vided into two oc­cu­pied zones, with the north oc­cu­pied by the Soviet Union and the south by the United States. Kim came to lead the Soviet-backed North’s pro­vi­sional gov­ern­ment, and even­tu­ally be­came the first pre­mier of its new gov­ern­ment, the Demo­cratic Peo­ple’s Repub­lic of Korea (aka North Korea), in 1948. And in 1950, he started a war with South Korea with hopes to re­unify the re­gion. There has been a cease­fire since 1953 in­ter­rupted by the oc­ca­sional skir­mish.

Up un­til this point, things seem rea­son­ably sane, but Kim II-Sung was an au­to­cratic leader who didn’t trust the out­side world or his own coun­try­men and quickly be­gan cre­at­ing an amaz­ing story about him­self. He claimed to have been an anti- Ja­panese con­spir­a­tor at 14 and founded a battle ready army at 19. He even ex­ag­ger­ated the role his par­ents played as lead­ers in the anti- Ja­panese lib­er­a­tion move­ment. He be­gan build­ing stat­ues of him­self around the coun­try and giv­ing him­self es­teemed ti­tles like ‘ Sun’, ‘Great Chair­man’, ‘Heav­enly Leader’ and oth­ers, as well as awards like the ‘Dou­ble Hero Gold Medal’. All this, cou­pled with com­pletely cut­ting off the cit­i­zens from any knowl­edge about the out­side world, quickly made Kim a god of sorts. The more bru­tal

part of main­tain­ing his cult of per­son­al­ity was harsh ret­ri­bu­tion for any­one re­motely crit­i­cal of the gov­ern­ment, which in­cluded tor­ture, con­cen­tra­tion camps and se­cret ex­e­cu­tions. It is par­tic­u­larly chill­ing to note that even the slight­est of in­fringe­ments could see a per­son locked up for decades. One man was sent to pri­son for ab­sent-mind­edly us­ing a news­pa­per printed with a pho­to­graph of Kim II-Sung to mop up a spilled drink.

Kang Chol-hwan, a North Korean de­fec­tor, who spent close to 10 years (9 to 19) in a con­cen­tra­tion camp there and is now the ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of North Korea Strat­egy Cen­ter (NKSC) in South Korea, said, ‘To my child­ish eyes and to those of all my friends, Kim II-Sung and Kim Jong-il were per­fect be­ings, un­tar­nished by any base hu­man func­tion. I was con­vinced, as we all were, that nei­ther of them uri­nated or defe­cated. Who could imag­ine such things of Gods?’

It turned out the Kims were hav­ing ex­actly the ef­fect on peo­ple they wanted. In his mem­oir, Kim II-Sung nar­rated an anec­dote in­volv­ing his fa­ther and grand­fa­ther that gives the ra­tio­nale for this sani­tised pre­sen­ta­tion of North Korea lead­ers to their fol­low­ers. As a young pupil, Kim II-Sung’s fa­ther was of­ten sent to fetch wine for one of his teach­ers, who drank fre­quently, un­til one day, his fa­ther saw the drunken teacher fall face-first into a ditch. This led to a con­fronta­tion, in which the young

pupil shamed the teacher into giv­ing up wine al­to­gether. Kim II-Sung said in his mem­oir, ‘My grand­fa­ther’s opin­ion was this: If pupils peep into their teacher’s pri­vate life fre­quently, they lose their awe of him; the teacher must give his pupils the firm be­lief that their teacher nei­ther eats nor uri­nates; only then can he main­tain his author­ity at school; so a teacher should set up a screen and live be­hind it.’

Kim Jong-iI, the next Kim to take the throne, had his very first ap­point­ment in the state pro­pa­ganda and in­for­ma­tion depart­ment, and took to it with rel­ish. When he came to power, his fa­ther’s mythol­ogy was firmly es­tab­lished and he de­cided to cul­ti­vate his own brand by mix­ing the grandiose with the ridicu­lous.

Even as a baby, Kim Jong-il had the pro­pa­ganda ma­chine work­ing over­time for him, con­stantly an­nounc­ing his achieve­ments, in­clud­ing one claim­ing he could walk and talk be­fore the age of six months. Later, he even be­came the world’s lead­ing fash­ion icon, with the North Korean news­pa­per, Rodong Sin­mun, re­port­ing that an ‘uniden­ti­fied French fash­ion ex­pert’ said of Kim’s fash­ion, ‘Kim Jong-il mode, which is now spread­ing ex­pe­di­tiously, is some­thing un­prece­dented in the world’s his­tory.’ Not only that, but ac­cord­ing to state-run me­dia, Kim Jongil was the most prom­i­nent states­man in the world dur­ing his life time, with peo­ple around the world cel­e­brat­ing his birth­day with films and fes­ti­vals.

His many achieve­ments in­cluded the mun­dane like scor­ing 11 holes in one when he played golf for the first and last time and in­vent­ing ‘dou­ble bread with meat’, a prepa­ra­tion sus­pi­ciously like a ham­burger. But, all th­ese feats are sim­ply trivia be­cause in North Korea, there is only one kind of God and they all have the last name, Kim. The dy­nasty even co-opted por­tions of Chris­tian­ity and Bud­dhism, with Kim II-Sung de­scribed as a god and Kim Jong-il as the son of god

or ‘Sun of the Na­tion’, evok­ing the fa­ther-son im­agery of Chris­tian­ity. There is even wide­spread be­lief that Kim II-Sung cre­ated the world, and that Kim Jong-il con­trolled the weather.

For all his dis­dain of the West, Kim Jong-il cared very deeply about win­ning the ap­proval of for­eign­ers. He re­port­edly went so far as to force wait­resses at restau­rants fre­quented by for­eign­ers in Py­ongyang to have cos­metic surgery in or­der to ap­pear more ‘west­ern’. In prepa­ra­tion for the World Fes­ti­val of Youth and Stu­dents in 1989, he even had dis­abled res­i­dents re­moved from Py­ongyang. The gov­ern­ment also dis­trib­uted pam­phlets ad­ver­tis­ing a won­der drug that would in­crease the height of short peo­ple. Those who re­sponded to the pam­phlets were sent away to dif­fer­ent un­in­hab­ited is­lands along with the dis­abled in an at­tempt to rid the next gen­er­a­tion of their sup­pos­edly sub­stan­dard genes.

Long be­fore his fa­ther’s death in 1994, Kim Jong-il played su­per­vi­sor to the North Korean movie in­dus­try. As such, he made sure each pro­duc­tion served dou­ble duty as both an art form and pro­pa­ganda- dis­per­sion ve­hi­cle. As per his in­struc­tions, the na­tion’s cin­e­matic out­put con­sisted of films il­lu­mi­nat­ing themes such as North Korea’s fan­tas­tic mil­i­tary strength and what hor­ri­ble peo­ple the Ja­panese were.

De­spite Kim’s cre­ative in­flu­ence on the in­dus­try dur­ing the ’70s (when he served with the coun­try’s Art and Cul­ture Min­istries) and the fact that he lit­er­ally wrote the book on com­mu­nist film­mak­ing (1973’s On the Art of the Cinema), North Korean movies con­tin­ued to stink.

Frus­trated, Kim sought help by forc­ing 11 Ja­panese ‘cul­tural con­sul­tants’ into servitude, only to have sev­eral die in­con­ve­niently on the job (some by their own hands). But, co­erced con­sult­ing can only get a film in­dus­try so far, and North Korea was still in search of its Or­son Welles. Then, in 1978, re­spected South Korean direc­tor Shin Sang Ok sud­denly found him­self out of work af­ter he an­gered his own coun­try’s mil­i­tary dic­ta­tor in a spat over cen­sor­ship, and Kim Jong-il saw his chance to har­ness Shin’s artistry.

Kim promptly lured Shin’s ex-wife and close friend, actress Choi Eun Hee, to Hong Kong to ‘dis­cuss a po­ten­tial role.’ In­stead, she was kid­napped. A dis­traught Shin searched for Choi, but found him­self sim­i­larly am­bushed by Kim’s min­ions. Af­ter some ‘con­vinc­ing’—by way of some chlo­ro­form and a rag—he was whisked away to North Korea. Choi lived in one of Kim’s palaces, and Shin—hav­ing been cap­tured af­ter an at­tempted es­cape only months af­ter ar­riv­ing— lived for four years in a pri­son for po­lit­i­cal dis­si­dents, where he sub­sisted on grass, rice, and com­mu­nist pro­pa­ganda.

In Fe­bru­ary 1983, Shin and Choi were fi­nally re­united at a din­ner party. With lit­tle fan­fare, Kim com­manded them to hug and ‘sug­gested’ the cou­ple re­marry (which they did). Then, they were con­fronted with their new moviemak­ing du­ties—namely, to in­fuse some life into North Korean cinema and pro­mote gov­ern­ment ideals.

When Kim Jong-un came to power, with his Swiss ed­u­ca­tion, in­for­mal de­mea­nur and his near ob­ses­sive love for bas­ket­ball, there was hope for the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity that they could look for­ward to a more open and less au­to­cratic North Korea. But, they were wrong. For all his ap­par­ent cud­dli­ness, the third gen­er­a­tion ruler proved to be ev­ery bit as dic­ta­to­rial as his fa­ther and grand­fa­ther. He had his 67-year- old un­cle, Jang Sung-taek, the sec­ond most pow­er­ful man in the coun­try, stripped naked and fed to a pack of 120 dogs, who had been starved for three days. He de­scribed the ex­e­cu­tion as the re­moval of ‘fac­tion­al­ist filth’.

Kim Jong-un has mod­elled his en­tire public per­sona on his grand­fa­ther. There are even re­ports that he put on weight and got cos­metic surgery to look more like Kim II-Sung. As soon as he came to power, the coun­try was filled with posters and signs pro­claim­ing his glory, in­clud­ing 1,840 ft long pro­pa­ganda sign erected in his hon­our. The sign, sup­pos­edly vis­i­ble from space, reads ‘Long Live Gen­eral Kim Jong-un, the Shin­ing Sun!’

On the in­ter­na­tional front, how­ever, the world’s youngest head of state is fac­ing the prospect of charges of hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions in an In­ter­na­tional Crim­i­nal Court (ICC). The UN has been ex­press­ing its dis­plea­sure at North Korea’s hu­man rights record for decades, and North Korea has hap­pily ig­nored them. But, some­thing changed this year, when the UN pro­duced a

metic­u­lous 400-page re­port on North Korea’s hu­man rights sit­u­a­tion. When it com­pared the coun­try’s sys­tem­atic vi­o­la­tions to Nazi- era atroc­i­ties, gov­ern­ments around the world took no­tice. Botswana, for ex­am­ple, broke off re­la­tions with the na­tion.

Even more star­tling is that Kim him­self has been named as re­spon­si­ble. UN Spe­cial Rap­por­teur on hu­man rights in North Korea, Marzuki Darus­man, said the goal at the UN should be to hold accountable those North Korean lead­ers who are ‘most re­spon­si­ble’, and that would in­clude Kim Jong-un him­self. ‘Hav­ing been in­formed of th­ese vi­o­la­tions, and no ac­tion be­ing taken ren­ders Kim cul­pa­ble of com­plic­ity in crimes against hu­man­ity.’

Of course, no one thinks Kim will ever face trial. North Korea is not a sig­na­tory to the treaty that set up the In­ter­na­tional Crim­i­nal Court. It has a one-mil­lion-man army and nu­clear weapons, ap­par­ently. China would also be likely to veto any ac­tion at the UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil to re­fer North Korea to the ICC. Nev­er­the­less, North Korea has been tak­ing some un­prece­dented diplo­matic steps.

In late Oc­to­ber, a top North Korean diplo­mat held an on-the-record brief­ing about hu­man rights in New York. North Korean of­fi­cials took part in pro­ceed­ings at the UN re­lated to this is­sue. North Korea even sig­naled that it would be will­ing to al­low the UN Spe­cial Rap­por­teur to visit the coun­try. Some ex­perts see the re­cent re­lease of the Amer­i­can pris­on­ers—Ken­neth Bae and Matthew Todd Miller—as part of this ef­fort. ‘It’s al­ways been as­sumed that they are im­per­vi­ous to hu­man rights crit­i­cism, but I be­lieve that we’ve now seen that that’s not the case,’ said Roberta Co­hen, co- chair of the Com­mit­tee for Hu­man Rights in North Korea.

It is un­clear how Kim Jongun will han­dle in­ter­na­tional pres­sure in the fu­ture, but it’s likely that nu­clear threats will con­tinue to form the back­bone of his coun­try’s for­eign pol­icy. On the do­mes­tic front, the tried and tested meth­ods of in­doc­tri­na­tion seem to be in full swing, and af­ter Kim Jong-un had many of his top of­fi­cials ex­e­cuted for trea­son, it does not look like there will be any sig­nif­i­cant in­ter­nal chal­lenge to Kim’s rule. Mean­while, the pro­pa­ganda shows no sign of abat­ing, and why would it, when it con­tin­ued mak­ing gods of the Kims, while the coun­try suf­fered through famine, war and hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions un­par­al­leled in the mod­ern world. For all prac­ti­cal pur­poses in the Demo­cratic Peo­ple’s Repub­lic of Korea, the Kims are gods, above and be­yond the reach of mere mor­tals.

Kim Jong-il only spoke seven

words in public, ever Kim II-Sung Square is fa­mous as the place

where Kim Jong-il made the sole public speech of his en­tire reign. His words were, ‘Glory to the heroic Korean Peo­ple’s Army.’

Mass games could be deadly The Ari­rang Fes­ti­val, one of the most fa­mous mass per­for­mances in the world, is a master­piece, mo­bil­is­ing about 1,00,000 peo­ple from kinder­garten kids to col­lege stu­dents. The con­di­tion of the stu­dents par­tic­i­pat­ing, how­ever, is ap­palling. Con­sid­ered a sym­bol of na­tional pride and co­he­sion, the prac­tice is so rig­or­ous that stu­dents have even died dur­ing per­for­mances.

Talk about dis­ci­pline All kids wear the same uni­form all the time, even when they’re not in school.

Tear game North Kore­ans are forced to live and breathe North Korean pride around the clock and are ex­pected to weep when they see their leader. So, some cry for real and some fake it, be­cause if they don’t, they’ll be sent to a labour camp for the rest of their lives.

The mys­tery be­hind the rocket ho­tel The 105-story Ryu­gy­ong Ho­tel in the mid­dle of Py­ongyang, started to be built in 1987 and still hasn’t been fin­ished. It’s ei­ther the con­trol room for nu­clear weapons or it’s just an odd un­der­tak­ing for a na­tion whose econ­omy is stag­nant and the in­fra­struc­ture is rot­ting.

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