[Viewpoint] Where irony reigns supremeNorth Korea is a country where irony reigns.
Look at its governing Juche ideology, which the country worships to near-sanctity. The bottom line of the idea is that “man is the master of everything and must make all the decisions.” It teaches self-reliance, stating “we are the master of our fate and have within the power to make our own destiny.”
Despite having these ideas ingrained in their minds, North Koreans live a completely opposite lifestyle. The common people are whittled down by multiple layers of surveillance and oppression, required to serve the autocratic party and leader without question.
This country, with the official name of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea has, since its founding, been run by two dictators of the same Kim family line. A 20-something inexperienced son has virtually been named heir apparent to rule over senior political, military and governing organs manned by haggard men in their late 80s or in sickbeds.
But such a phenomenon is nothing out of the ordinary in North Korea. No North Korean with common sense would think or say otherwise, fearing being sent straight to prisons or asylums.
North Korea is run by an omnipotent ruler, empowered by the “10 principles of the party’s single [Juche] ideology,” which eclipses any constitution or party regulations. They basically encapsulate a government of Great Leader Kim Il Sung, by Kim Il Sung and for Kim Il Sung.
After the Great Leader’s death, his son, Dear Leader Kim Jong-il replaced him. Governance, including appointments, are defined by the Constitution and party only in name.
It is completely up to Kim Jong-il to call the shots and pull the strings. A country like North Korea - a place where the governing ideology and methods emanate from a single man, is a rarity in the world today.
The single-leadership structure began to take root in May 1967. North Korean history is therefore separated into the pre-1967 period and post-1967 period. Kim Il Sung purged rival factions and opposition powers that helped create the communist state, establishing himself as a supreme leader of a state independent of the Soviet Union and China.
By taking a personality cult to new levels, Kim brainwashed the people by preaching self-reliance on the ideology, spirit and succession of a revolutionary legacy. Ruling authority is naturally entitled to the descendants of Kim Il Sung, with his glorious record of revolutionary legacy from guerilla activities.
North Korean society has been governed by this doctrine for four decades. The highest ranks were filled by Kim Il Sung’s family or Kim’s guerilla cronies and their families.
With the deteriorating health of Kim Jong-il, it is natural that his son, in spite of his young age, become a key member of the Workers’ Party’s governing Central Committee and vice chairman of its Central Military Commission at the recent party congress.
Underscoring the exclusiveness of the Kim bloodline, Kim Jong-il’s sister and confidante Kim Kyong-hui was promoted as a full member of the party’s Politburo, higher in rank than her husband Jang Song-thaek, who earned alternate membership on the Politburo.
Other recent promotions included Kim Kuk-tae as Politburo member, Choi Yong-hae as military commission member, and senior party official O Il-jong. They are the second generation of Kim Il Sung’s guerrilla comrades Kim Chaek, Choi Hyon and O Jin-woo.
Under the North Korean succession theory, the descendant of the leader inherits the throne. Titles like party secretary-general and chairman of military commission are secondary and not subject to bequests.
But the leader irrefutably must come from the Kim family line. Age and experience do not make any difference. Some factors must be bent in order to sustain the dynastic rule.
North Korea believes it can avoid a fate similar to the Socialist bloc in early 1990s with its unique supreme leadership establishment. But it cannot keep up such a ludicrous system forever. In an interwoven and connected global community, a society in which hereditary rule is protracted into a third generation cannot coexist.
It is uncertain how long North Korea’s supreme leadership can last. But those living across the border must put up with them, despite how preposterous they appear. As North Korea goes against the clock with its third-generation power succession, it will become a more risky neighbor.
We need an entirely flexible and attentive mind-set and strategy. We should neither be hawkish nor dovish, but opportune and alert according to the circumstances.
We cannot resolve anything by disregarding them. We must realign our security, foreign and defense posture and functions according to changes in the North.
*Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
The writer is a senior editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
By Ahn Hee-chang