Kim Jong-il, 1941 – 2011

Kim Jong-il, the leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, died on Saturday, the 17th of December.

He is to be succeeded by his son, Kim Jong-eun.

The question we are all asking is, what will happenen to the DPRK and its people? The people are deeply apprehensive about the future, and rightly so. The death of Kim Jong-il has left a vacuum in Pyongyang and nobody knows if Kim Jong-eun will be able to fill that vacuum and hold the DPRK together. They probably imagine the USA, South Korea and Japan as vultures circling overhead, ready to swoop down and devour them.

The disturbing thing is, that could happen. I’m well aware of the DPRK’s faults. The regime in Pyongyang is tyrannical, brutal and corrupt. At the same time, they have been successful in keeping the toxic influence of the USA out of their country. There is little or no influence, either political or commercial, of America. And I’m sure I’m not the only Westerner who would like the DPRK to stay free of American trash.

Kim Jong-eun has a daunting year ahead of him. He is only 28 and was only confirmed as Kim Jong-il’s successor last year. His father, by contrast, was 53 when he came to power after the death of his father Kim Il-sung in 1994. And he had been confirmed as Kim Il-sung’s successor as far back as 1980.

Juche 101 will be a pivotal year for Kim Jong-eun and the DPRK. Either he will prove himself an effective leader as his father and grandfather were and slowly haul the DPRK out of its slump and into an era where it is truly self-sufficient. Or else, perish the thought, it will collapse.

The Youth of the DPRK

I’ve spoken in the past about the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and of how there is little or no influence from the junk culture of the USA that permeates just about every level of society in South Korea.

Korea has an abundance of song, dance and literature in its own right, not to mention a history that stretches back more than four millennia. They don’t need American “culture”, or American anything. And the government of the DPRK is just as aware of that as anyone on the peninsula.

They are also well aware of the potential of young children and the musical and artistic talent that can be fostered and grown. It can make children become the best they can be.

This is Kang Eun-ju (강은주) from Hamhung city. She is playing a tune from the children’s movie “The Boy Commander”.

And here is a quartet of children playing kayageum (가야금).

Kim Yu-san (김유성, 7 years) from Sariwon plays two tunes, “Paradise Flower Garden” and “Children’s play”

Finally, five children from Chongjin city.

Now since these videos appeared on YouTube, comments from Western viewers have been mixed. Some praise the remarkable talent and dexterity of the children, others say they’re so cute. But others still say that these children are merely products of an autocratic society, trained to within an inch of their lives, bullied and browbeaten to become little prodigies.

They are not. Every child is born with some talent or other, be it sporting, artistic or musical. A child discovers that he can make nice sound with a guitar after twanging randomly and playing the odd note. A child discovers that he can make pictures with a pencil and paper after scrawling randomly and drawing circles and squares and spirals. A child discovers that he can control the way he kicks a ball around the field after randomly knocking it around with his feet. And as time goes by, those abilities become more advanced and sophisticated. Some children don’t really develop those abilities until they’re well into their teens. Others develop them quite early on, and with the right guidance they can really become virtuosi.

Many of the cynics and naysayers watching these videos only see chldren dressed up like performing monkeys, a product of a society that is bankrupt, brainwashed and on the verge of collapse. They don’t understand that these children really enjoy playing music. Their parents approve of it and so does the Dear Leader Kim Jong-il. (Would they be on national television if he didn’t?)

Children could not possibly perform like this if their hearts weren’t in it. I never became a footballer because I was never interested in football and nothing anyone did could make me play. I was good at drawing and my parents realised that and they encouraged me. My drawings became better as a result and that got me more praise and encouragement, not just from my parents but from many others.

If those naysayers object to those children being paraded on national television, let me ask them this: is it any worse than what goes on in the USA?

Democratic People’s Republic of Korea

My fascination with all things Chinese and Japanese goes right back into my teenage years and my interest in all things Korean began a bit later. It began in the late 1980s when I was still a teenager in Belfast. This was at a time when there was no such thing as the Internet and books about Korea were few and far between. And there was no possibility whatever of getting my hands on any Korean newspapers.

Coincidentally, the 1988 Olympic Games were taking place in Seoul so there was plenty about capitalist South Korea on the TV and radio, but precious little about communist North Korea. And this made me all the more interested in the North. I got my first glimpse into the DPRK in December 1989 when a school friend of mine got me two DPRK periodicals from the library at Queen’s University.

Now, if any supporters of Kim Jong-il’s regime happen to be reading this post, they would be well-advised to stop now.

A part of me would like to believe that the DPRK is the Socialist dream come true, that Communism really can work under the right administration.

But the DPRK is not Communist at all. It is an odious Stalinist dictatorship, at the centre of which is the grotesque personality cult of Kim Il-sung. It is not self-sufficient as “Juche” ideology says. It is bankrupt and its people are hungry, brainwashed and paranoid.

This country is a prime example of a dystopia. No one familiar with the novels of George Orwell, Aldous Huxley or Franz Kafka would want to have anything to do with this country.

So what is it about the DPRK that I like? Could it be the novelty of the place? The fact that I’d be guaranteed a job, even if it’s boring and back-breaking? Or is it because there’s a proper culture there and not the merest sign of American junk “culture”?