North Korea and the Art of Political Posturing

The Cult of the Leader: The Global Leadership Should Stop Inflaming North Korean Ideology © The Daily Telegraph (AU)

To many foreign observers, North Korea is an odd place. With the succession of odd, little dictators, its dependence on China for aid and its determination to celebrate both its victories and its failures it always seems like one big Political House of Cards where one gust of reality will knock it down. Its attempt and subsequent failure to launch a rocket this week was still celebrated as a great triumph in the capital Pyongyang.

Now this is partly because of the propaganda inbuilt into North Korean society where the glorification of its two former leaders, father and son Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il is more important than feeding its people but also because it plays into its ‘us versus the capitalist’ rhetoric.

It has been studied apprhensively by the Western media to see how the third ruler of the ‘world’s only communist monarchy’ is coping since his father’s death in December and speculated over whether he can maintain the facade of progress while his country slides further and further away from the prosperity of the rest of the world.

The theatrics of the past week suggest that these hypotheses were premature as the Korean propaganda machine rumbles on. With a failed rocket launch and the unveiling of two gigantic statues of the two previous Kims in Pyongyang the ruling class and the masses that appear to follow them celebrated their actions as a massive success.

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‘The Kim is Dead…Long Live the Kim’…

…As the newly late Christopher Hitchens said of the ascension of the also newly late Kim Jong-Il to his father’s premiership in 1994.*

It seems oddly fitting that they died within days of each other.

The death of the most famous modern example of ‘short man complex’, Kim Jong Il, this Saturday instigates another merry-go round of mourning as North Korea prepares for the arrival of more of the same in the shape of his son, Kim Jong Un in much the same way as his father took over power from his grandfather.

The dramatic scenes of public mourning may seem odd to the cynical Western observer who is unlikely to notice one of their leaders passing or only wish to dance on their grave but they are not immune to a cult of personality.

What is it about one person that can inspire such rapturous devotion? Especially in a country like North Korea: regarded as the world’s most dangerous ‘rogue state’ where the capital city, Pyongyang, only has light at night if there are foreign journalists in town and the people regularly starved as the elites indulge their taste for cigars and cognac.
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