The world has lost a supreme leader this week. But is it the time to weep?
Kim Jong-il, the well-respected authoritative ruler of North Korea and successor of legendary leader Kim Il-sung, died at the age of 69 last Saturday, the state media Korean Central News Agency announced on Monday morning.
In this extremely authoritarian state, we need to depend heavily on the dissemination of news from the state media. Forbes magazine said Kim Jong-il’s death surprised the world, showing his country’s success at manipulating the flow of digital information, such as Facebook or Twitter, naming it as “technologically famine”. Due to the controlled flow of information, little is known by the outsiders about the latest development of North Korea from various perspectives. A Japanese professor from Waseda University posed a challenge towards the authority, by saying Kim Jong-il had already died of diabetes in late 2003 and the current figure was a replacement in a Japanese weekly in 2008.
North Koreans are living in a very enclosed society, with almost no contact with other parts of the globe and constraints travelling to other countries. Immediately after the announcement of the death of the dear leader, increased security along the borders of China and the 38th parallel (where dividing between North and South Korea), to prevent North Koreans escaping from the country.
Kim Jong-il appeared to pride himself on North Korea’s independence economically and agriculturally, with almost zero reliance on the imports of food. He also aggressively pursued “military-first” policy, investing a tremendous amount of money in military expenses and nuclear experiments.
North Korea suffered from extensive famine in the 1990s, the starvation persisted due to decline in the production of the crops. Observers said international aid was confiscated by the government for the use of military, most locals have never received foreign aid during this period. Up til now, hunger is the common and shared feelings among North Koreans.
Weeping: Stage Act or Real Grief?
North Korea can be seen as the world’s most secretive state, as BBC named it, based on its human rights violations and economic stagnation. Despite widespread human rights abuses within the territory, weeping is the common reaction to this obituary. The state television broadcaster reported emotionally that Kim Jong-il died of sudden heart attack suffering from a great mental and physical over-work, when he was travelling on the train during a field guidance tour.
John Delury, a professor at Yonsei University at South Korea, told the Guardian, that he couldn’t believe in the first image of a total outpouring of grief, he thought it could be totally a stage act.
Or shall we say the death of Kim Jong-il marks the day for the liberation of people? For there are plenty of victims suffering from the maltreatment under the dictatorship of Kim Jong-il, such as Kang Choi Hwan, who spent years in the prisoner camp and have met US President George W. Bush in 2005. Kang said, “Before I didn’t know about the North Korean system. When I was imprisoned, I learned why Kim Jong Il dictatorship system is the worse one.”
Unfortunately, no one determines the transition of power yet. This is a critical period, as the next leader of North Korea will determine the future stability in the region in terms of nuclear development and security issues.
North Korea has the world 4th strongest army, all political dissidents are sent to political prison camps and some extreme ones are sentenced to death. The weeping North Koreans may have no choice or freedom to choose, because they have been brainwashed from the political party that ‘life in North Korea is already the best and the happiest compared to South Korea or other parts of the world’.
The state media said:
[Kim Jong il] dedicated all his life to the inheritance and accomplishment of the revolutionary cause of Juche and energetically worked day and night for the prosperity of the socialist homeland, happiness of people, reunification of the country and global independence.
As a great guardian of socialism and justice, he conducted energetic external activities for the victory of the socialist cause, global peace and stability and friendship and solidarity among peoples under the uplifted banner of independence against imperialism, thus remarkably raising the international position and prestige of the DPRK and making immortal contributions to the human cause of independence.
A typical totalitarian propaganda machine. North Korea wants the world to perceive how great it has been, while internally it is the opposite. It is depressing to know they do not have the right to know the truth, or even, they don’t even have an opportunity to know the truth of the outside world or the real brutality of North Korea during their lifetime… You may argue that being submissive to the political leader has become their social norm due to it is morally right according to their societal standard, and given the fact that they are not exposed to western education.
Let’s hope the next possible leader Kim Jong-un, the third son of Kim Jong-il, could govern and lead North Korea with care and humanity…
Back to Kim Jong-il’s death
Noting that the funeral service of Kim Jong-il will be held on December 28, it reminds me the the situation when the other great leader Mao Ze-dong was died. Leaders in North Korea and China in the 70s become so important to the people, simply, they are like religious God.
In the 1960s to 70s, almost every Chinese people considered Mao Zedong, a pre-eminent communism revolutionist, as an idol or a religious God. You could see Mao’s portrait in every home and public places. You could see people carrying the Red book everywhere. Maoism was the popular culture, that explained why people paid so much respect to his political ideologies.
On September 9, 1976, the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) announced Mao’s death, as he had been in poor health for several years. His death left a power vaccum in the CCP. BBC reported that Chinese people were wearing black armbands in remembrance of their respected leader. Political power change is always considered as guarded party secret.
In the end, can we pay the same respect to David Cameron in the UK, Barack Obama in the US? Such obsession towards the political leaders appears to be existed only in communist regime, because their freedom is constrained. Today, we have the freedom to like/dislike or to vote for/against the political leader or party.
Al Jazeera – China backs stable transition in North Korea
Chosun – Kim Jong-il’s Last Trip to N Korea’s 1st Supermarket
Christian Science Monitor – South Korea in furor over intelligence vacuum on Kim Jong-il’s death
Daily Mail – McCain says the world is better off without Kim Jong Il who’s gone to join Gaddafi, Bin Laden and Hitler
New York Times – In Kim’s Undetected Death, Sign of Nation’s Opacity
The Guardian – US sees Kim Jong-il death as opportunity to improve relations