Tag Archives | North Korea

Kim Jong Il Dies

In an interesting historical coincidence, brutal North Korean communist dictator Kim Jong Il has died on the same day as heroic anticommunist dissident Vaclav Havel.

Kim presided over the world’s most repressive regime, the closest ever to a real-life version of Orwell’s 1984. Even Soviet communism was relatively mild by comparison. He was responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths, many of them as a result of the politically-created famine of the 1990s, which he facilitated in order to reinforce the regime’s power. He was also known for various strange obsessions, such as his plan to solve North Korea’s government-created food shortages by breeding giant rabbits. This literally hare-brained scheme was cut short when the “Dear Leader” ate the first few giant rabbits imported from Germany at his birthday party.

The interesting question for the immediate future is whether the North Korean government will survive Kim’s death relatively unchanged. Kim tried to install his son as his successor, just as his father Kim Il Sung did with him. Hopefully, things will not go as the Dear Leader planned. […]

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North Korea: Communist Oppression Even Worse than the USSR

Barbara Demick’s recent book Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea, is an excellent account of daily life in for ordinary people in one of the world’s two remaining unreformed communist states. It’s based on extensive interviews with North Koreans who were fortunate enough to escape to South Korea through China.

As described by Demick, life in North Korea is similar to that in other communist dictatorships. There is the same type of secret police, censorship, gulag-style concentration camps, massive personality cults glorifying the dictator, poverty, and starvation. But each of these miseries is noticeably worse than even in the USSR. For example, the North Korean government has rigid family categorizations that hold people responsible for the supposed “class origins” of their family far more comprehensively than even in the Soviet Union under Stalin. In the USSR, dissidents were often sent to prison or Gulags, or incarcerated in psychiatric hospitals; but, at least after Stalin, some of them could survive long enough to attract attention in the West. Not so in North Korea, where the squelching of any sign of dissent is even swifter and more thorough. And even Stalin didn’t have a personality cult that went as far as that of “Great Leader” Kim Il Sung and his son and successor, “Dear Leader” Kim Jong Il.

One story in Demick’s book particularly struck me as illustrating the way in which North Korean repression went beyond that in the USSR. A North Korean college student who later defected and told his story to Demick was admitted to an elite university in Pyongyang. Because he was one of the best and most trusted students at the school, he was allowed access to certain foreign books in the library that were off limits to ordinary people. One of […]

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