North Korea

North Korea
The always bombastic and unpredictable North Koreans go hysterical again. This time the country is prepared to "go to war" with South Korea because that country is playing loudspeakers directed at North Korean territory. A headline from a UK paper reads, "More than 50 North Korea submarines 'leave their bases' as war talks with South continue "

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The passing of Vaclav Havel and Kim Jong Il

Over the past weekend, the world has witnessed the passing of two national leaders. One deserved respect and honor for living as a resisting conscience in his native Czechoslovakia during the decades of Communism. The other was a leader who betrayed his citizens for a grasp on power, sending nearly a million to their deaths and that by starvation and want.

Excerpts follow from an article by Nicholas Eberstadt in the LA Times, December 21:

The career of Kim Jong Il, North Korea's "Dear Leader," was marked by a series of historical firsts ... He was, to begin, the first ruler of a Marxist-Leninist state to inherit absolute power through hereditary succession from his father, "Great Leader" Kim Il Sung, founder of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

He was the first ruler of an urbanized, literate society to preside over a mass famine in peacetime: The Great North Korean Famine of the 1990s, which ... is believed to have killed hundreds of thousands of his subjects.

A striking picture showing the lack of electricity in North Korea, in contrast to mainland China, South Korea, and Japan

A more conventional view of North Korea

Since the very late 1990s, when North Korea's famine apparently subsided, the food situation in the country has remained desperately precarious: Resumption of famine has been forestalled only by humanitarian food aid, Western economic assistance and Chinese largesse. Thus Kim Jong Il also earned the lifetime achievement award for overseeing the first industrialized economy ever to lose the capacity to feed itself. ....

... North Korea's economy was actually ahead of South Korea's in the 1960s and early 1970s. ... By the early 1980s, the Dear Leader ... was in charge of day-to-day domestic policy. By then, it was already painfully obvious that the North was lagging badly behind the South, with the gap widening with every passing year.

With the death of his father in 1994, Kim Jong Il assumed total control. In 1995, as South Korea was getting ready to join the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development — the exclusive club of aid-giving industrial democracies — North Korea joined the club of Fourth World countries issuing emergency appeals for famine aid.

Kim Jong Il did not immiserate his country in a fit of absent-mindedness ...[rather] It was a direct but incidental consequence of a grand strategy he relentlessly pursued.

Kim Jong Il - gone at 69 - leaving behind a legacy of misery and death

His father, the Great Leader, may have been a monster — it was he who launched the Korean War and perfected the North Korean police-terror state — but he nevertheless retained a measure of peasant cunning and pragmatism: Kim Il Sung recognized that people would work harder and better if you paid them more, for example, and he wrote as much in his collected "Works."

The Dear Leader, by contrast, would have none of this. In his ideologized worldview, granting North Korean workers material incentives and blandishments would risk fueling "egotism" and "bourgeois thinking." From Kim Jong Il's standpoint, the survival of the ... state depended on ... completely preventing any such noxious attitudes in the population under his command. "Reform" and "opening," he proclaimed, were regime slayers for socialist states.

North Korean's publicly expressing grief at the passing of their "Dear Leader"

This is the vaunted "strong and prosperous nation" that the Dear Leader bequeathed to his legatees: a ruined country, an enslaved and degraded populace, a corrupted and parasitic elite, a bankrupt ideology and an atomic weapons program.

North Korea - with the technological capability to build a nuclear weapon, but unable or unwilling to feed itself. Here is a collective farm

The heir apparent to this family enterprise, "Young General" Kim Jong Un, is a four-star general with no previous military experience, appointed in haste to a pantheon of lofty positions before his father died but after the Dear Leader was stricken, reportedly by a massive stroke. There is every reason, unfortunately, to fear that the Young General will not be up to the multiple critical challenges he now faces." (End of excerpts)

The new North Korean leader, 20-something Kim Jong Un.

From North Korea to the Czech Republic.

Vaclav Havel was a Czech playwright, essayist, poet, dissident and politician. A Nobel Peace Prize nominee, he was the tenth and last president of Czechoslovakia (1989–1992) and the first President of the Czech Republic (1993–2003). He wrote over 20 plays and numerous non-fiction works, translated internationally.

A world statesman. In his role as the Czech President, the one-time political prisoner Vaclav Havel spoke often at the UN in favor of the marginalized and oppressed

Havel was a founding signatory of the Prague Declaration on European Conscience and Communism, that proposed the establishment of the European Day of Remembrance for Victims of Stalinism and Nazism. He also received the United States Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Philadelphia Liberty Medal, the Order of Canada, the freedom medal of the Four Freedoms Award, the Ambassador of Conscience Award and several other distinctions.

Havel inspired millions with his simple approach to resistance - live in truth

In his 30s, after the brief "Prague Spring" - from which we now have the term "Arab Spring" - Havel became active in the politics of Czechoslovakia, as much as one can living in a satellite nation of the USSR. In 1977, he co-authored the Human Rights charter called Charter 77, which brought him an international recognition as the leader of opposition in Czechoslovakia. Consequently, this led to his persecution by the communist regime, and repeated imprisonment. Arguably his most powerful essay was "The Power of the Powerless" where he distilled one avenue of resistance for ordinary citizens - live within the truth. In the face of a police state, a citizen could “ridicule a whole edifice of totalitarianism” simply “by folding his arms and putting a smile, a knowing smile, on his face”, as the late Christopher Hitchens once wrote of Havel.

Young Havel during the 1968 Czechoslavakian "Prague Spring"

In 1989, Czechoslavakia's Velvet Revolution brought Havel into the presidency literally just months after being freed as a political prisoner. He oversaw a peaceful separation of his country into Slovakia and The Czech Republic when a public referendum wanted it so, though he himself was against the split. He then led the smaller Czech Republic into NATO and saw to the start of the negotiations for membership in the European Union (attained in 2004).

The Czech Republic in the middle of Europe

Two lives of leadership - what a contrast.

1 comment:

Sarah said...

I was listening to coverage of the situation in North Korea (on a side note: I thought it very sad that there was so little coverage, that I heard anyway, of the passing of Vaclav Havel compared to Kim Jong-Il)and was amazed that, in this day and age when everyone seems to know everything within 5 seconds thanks to all of our technology, we really know virtually nothing about North Korea. It's amazing!