am happy for the people of North Korea as rumours of the tentative
introduction of a market economy by their leader, Kim Jong-il are
leaked from diplomatic sources. Rice is no longer to be fixed and
rationed but its price is now allowed to float and be bought and
sold on the free market. The resultant rise in price to reflect
economic reality has also prompted wage increases for many of its
citizens. Whether this is a shift of policy borne of ideological
change or one of pragmatism as a hungry and rebellious people begin
to murmur is hard to tell. Certainly an openness to a previously
shut out world was symbolised in October 2000 with the visit of
the then American Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright. Shades
of Mao and Nixon, one thinks, but Chinese reform first required
the death of Mao and an unsightly power struggle.
is obvious though is that for nearly fifty years since the Korean
War, these people have suffered tremendously. First under the barrage
of that three year Soviet-American conflict, and then under the
mismanagement of an economy by its founder, Kim Il-sung. Famine,
poverty and a complete lack of liberty have been the bywords of
a nation which has relied heavily on Western aid as one man-made
or natural disaster followed another and the military soaked up
a huge slice of the country’s meagre GDP.
the country defaulted on all its loans in 1980 (except for Japan),
one wonders how much this oppressive government has been propped
up by Western dollars and State bags of grain and medicine? It seems
that the prospect of North Korea collapsing and politically destabilising
the region was a worse scenario to the CIA and military planners
of the Pentagon than liberating its emaciated populace. How often
have we heard that sorry tale of Statist priorities before? Are
not the tender mercies of the State cruel?
North Korea’s leaders looked enviously on South Korea’s prosperity
and joint-hosting of the FIFA soccer world cup, food was further
extracted from starving mouths as the government tried to upstage
this by holding a lavish festival in honour of their founder’s birthday.
No one here noticed it and it is unlikely the North Koreans were
told there was a World Cup going on just over the heavily guarded
border. A bit pointless, one may then deduce, but this is a country
which comes closest to George Orwell’s Nightmare State with the
jackboot endlessly stamping on a human face. Any light relief, even
a festival perpetuating the personality cult of political idolatry
in extremis is welcome by a wearied people.
idolatry finds its zenith in North Korea. The usual suspects are
there, endless murals and gargantuan pictures, which flatter to
deceive. Propaganda pictures of the “Dear Leader” giving advice
in an omniscient manner to plumbers, soldiers and engineers symbolise
perfectly the centrally planned economy whilst the blare of the
sirens across Pyongyang marshals the workers.
times it shrills, 7am, noon and midnight as citizens are commanded
to work, eat and sleep. A band emerges at 8:15am to play rousing
revolutionary songs as workers shuffle blankly to work across vast
boulevards which are devoid of cars or other items capitalist nations
take for granted. If the inclination is there, they can go to the
large shops which dismally stock nothing but pens, plastic kids’
shoes, shampoo and rusting stovetop irons. It is the consumer equivalent
of Hades and it is best that they do not know what goes on at the
Heavenly equivalent of Wal-Mart.
personality cult achieves messianic status in the role of the President
of North Korea. Kim Jong-il is Head of State but the presidential
post is held by Kim Jong-il’s father, Kim Il-sung. The problem is
that he has been dead since 1994. In an astonishing play of godhood,
he has been assigned the Presidency “eternally”. Whilst Kim Il-sung
posthumously presides over North Korea like God, the Father, the
story concerning his son’s birth borders dangerously on a nativity
play. According to communist legend, he was born at the top of a
mountain and was heralded by a new star and a double rainbow. If
they weren’t atheists, we would be expecting a choir of angels to
join in. The truth is less flattering as the present leader was
actually born in 1941 during his father’s exile in Soviet Siberia
and not during the Korean War.
people of North Korea deserve better than these megalomaniacs – anyone deserves better than them. As the last Stalinists begin to
look towards a nascent market economy, we hope a chapter is about
to close on human history that will never be written again.