The Kim family’s tyranny

Friday, 3 May, 2013

Pae Jun-ho, known in the US as Kenneth Bae, was arrested last year after entering North Korea as a tourist. Earlier this week, he was sentenced to 15 years hard labour for alleged anti-government crimes. His real “crime”? Taking pictures of starving children, say his supporters. On the face of it, then, we have what seems like another provocation, but the harsh sentencing might actually be an attempt to draw US negotiators to Pyongyang, which would give North Korea a propaganda victory, and an occasion for talks on the wider issues.

North Korean poster

But for talks to achieve something, the parties have to be rational, and that’s not the case with the North Koreans, as Ian Buruma points out in a Project Syndicate piece titled The Trouble With North Korea. Snippet: “North Korea is essentially a theocracy. Some elements are borrowed from Stalinism and Maoism, but much of the Kim cult owes more to indigenous forms of shamanism: human gods who promise salvation (it is no accident that the Reverend Sun Myung Moon and his Unification Church came from Korea, too).”

Buruma’s conclusion is not exactly uplifting, either:

The tragedy of Korea is that no one really wishes to change the status quo: China wants to keep North Korea as a buffer state, and fears millions of refugees in the event of a North Korean collapse; the South Koreans could never afford to absorb North Korea in the way that West Germany absorbed the broken German Democratic Republic; and neither Japan nor the US would relish paying to clean up after a North Korean implosion, either.

And so an explosive situation will remain explosive, North Korea’s population will continue to suffer famines and tyranny, and words of war will continue to fly back and forth across the 38th parallel. So far, they are just words. But small things — a shot in Sarajevo, as it were — can trigger a catastrophe. And North Korea still has those nuclear bombs.

Still, we mustn’t get depressed. Over at Foreign Policy, they’re taking a wry look, in the style of BuzzFeed, at the Kim family racket with 7 Things North Korea Is Really Good At.

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