North Korea after Kim Jong-Il’s death


From daily The Morning Star in Britain:

No meddling with the North

Sunday 25 December 2011

The death of Kim Jong-Il, leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), has brought forth sneers and jeers from all the usual quarters.

Some prominent features of North Korean society make it an easy target for criticism and ridicule. The cult of the personality around a ruling dynasty is clearly inconsistent with democratic principles as generally understood. Some of the mythology peddled around that cult is obviously absurd.

Yet the British mass media are not best placed to mock hereditary ruling families or the spinning of fairy tales around them.

The spectacular regimented displays that feature in so many of the film clips depicting life in the DPRK are not fundamentally different to the military, sporting and other pageants so beloved of the United States and other countries.

That this regimentation permeates many other aspects of North Korean society, including its martial approach to labour discipline, is rather more unpalatable; although hardly unique to the DPRK.

Nor is that country alone in affording such a large priority to its armed forces in terms of status or resources.

Possession by the DPRK of rudimentary nuclear weapons is also held up as evidence of that state’s deeply sinister and aggressive intent. Yet no such opprobrium is heaped on Israel, with its history of aggressive expansionism and war, or on unstable Pakistan.

And who would deny that, had they possessed nuclear weapons, Iraq and Libya would not have been bombed or invaded by the West to enforce regime change?

Nonetheless, there are still major issues of particular concern on the left about North Korean society and its current trajectory.

The concentration of so much power in the hands of one person as head of state, chief of the army and general secretary of the ruling party would be rejected by most socialists and communists.

Although there is a ruling circle within the Workers Party of Korea beyond its leader, this is far from the notions of collective, transparent, democratically elected and accountable leadership held by most on the left.

The hereditary principle profoundly violates these same notions. Nor is there any parallel with Cuba, where President Raul Castro was a communist before older brother Fidel and a leading party member in his own right for decades.

All who have the genuine interests of Korea at heart will be concerned about the social conditions of the people.

Living standards have seriously deteriorated over the past 20 years, after a period of industrial construction and social progress that brought the vast majority of women into the workforce and secured free eleven-year schooling for all children. The DPRK remains a highly literate and numerate country.

The allocation of up to 20 per cent of national income to the DPRK armed forces is difficult if not impossible to justify. The continuing presence of 28,000 US troops in South Korea and their participation in provocative military exercises are designed – as with the arms race that drew in the Soviet Union – to bleed the North dry.

The workers and people of the DPRK must be free to determine their own future without the threat of outside interference. But true friends of Korea also have a responsibility to expand relations with the DPRK and to be modest, honest and constructive in their comments about its current condition.

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