[Viewpoint] A surreal comedy in both landsRomanian leader Nicolae Ceausescu returned from a visit to North Korea in 1971 so inspired that he redecorated his capital, Bucharest, to look like Pyongyang and immediately embarked on creating a personality cult and dynastic rule for himself and his family. When his health deteriorated, his wife Elena, second in power with the deputy prime minister’s post, and his son ruled over Romania.
The self-dubbed “Mother of the Nation” had no more than an elementary school education and her only talent was in needlework. But with the help of the dictatorship’s powers, she was transformed into a science genius, having supposedly graduated from the University of Bucharest with a Ph.D. in polymer chemistry and summa cum laude honors. She later obtained numerous awards at home and abroad through bribes and threats and obviously not on merit. She made herself co-author on numerous theses written by Romanian scientists.
By 1989, Ceausescu was completely oblivious - or in self-denial - of the realities and the state of his country and the fact that his people were suffering under heavy foreign debt. When the dictator gazed upon the angry masses in December, he misunderstood the booing and invectives from the crowd and waved in return. The stunned faces of Ceausescu and his wife as the crowd turned more hostile and violent were their last public images in power before they fled on a helicopter.
But after getting captured by their closest aides, they were publicly executed by a firing squad after a televised court trial on Christmas Day. Elena cried out, “I am the Mother of the Nation. How dare you treat me this way!” Their closest ally Kim Jong-il watched this scene from Pyongyang in shock.
Romania was the scene of a surreal comedy under the Ceausescus’ rule. It was under a malignant, hallucinatory spell that distorted truth and reality, until the spell was suddenly broken and the comedy turned tragic. Someone once said comedy is tragedy plus time. The reverse is also true.
North Korea is a long master of comedy of the bizarre. Its legendary founder Kim Il Sung was a wizard who created a grenade out of a pine tree cone during his guerilla days against the Japanese. His overweight, late-20s grandson is his spitting image, though he lacks any political or military experience. Yet he has suddenly been made a four-star general, because of his superior genes, of course, that enabled him to recite ancient Chinese poems at age of three.
The only real amusement from this farcical comedy of a third-generation power transfer is watching our own left-wing audience not knowing how to respond. Socialism is an idealistic concept created to fix the injustices of commercialism and materialism in modern industrial society. The lofty goal of freeing human existence was spawned in the age of industrialization. The rapid ascension of the Soviet Union was a source of envy for many societies. The “Soviet model” was too intriguing to resist. Anyone who had experienced repression and social injustice would have been infatuated.
Koreans were no exception. Many became devotees to socialist ideas and dreamt of an egalitarian society while living under Japanese colonial rule. Many of the key players of the Third Republic, which was vehemently anticommunist, were pupils of the socialist school in their younger days. It is no crime to believe in socialist ideas. Such preference should be understood and embraced for the sake of a unified Korea in the future. But we cannot forget the past and the atrocities that occurred under the banner of communism.
Socialism, in truth, has been a catastrophic experiment. It has failed in theory, in reality and in all moral aspects. Devout socialist Fidel Castro even claimed recently, “The Cuban [socialist] model doesn’t even work for us anymore!” The last remnants of socialism are sustained by labor parties in societies that respect elections.
The future of the left-wing in South Korea depends on their wisdom and ability to develop a viable composite socialist-democratic model. They won’t last if many continue to blindly follow North Korean ideology and its Dear Leader or campaign for generous and one-sided love for the recalcitrant regime.
There are some who say North Korea’s hereditary rule is no different from the monarchial system in Britain and Japan. Some even claim South Korea has an equally bad pro-American power legacy that has persisted more than six decades. Weird comedy also plays out on our side of the border. Many members of the progressive groups are turning against these hard-core socialists.
If North Koreans can live in better conditions, both physically and spiritually, it doesn’t matter what kind of comical figure sits on the throne. It wouldn’t matter if the Kim family comes to the same tragic end as the Ceausescus.
We just pray the tragic ripples do not reach the people of North and South Korea.
*The writer is a professor of archival sciences at Myongji University.
By Kang Kyu-hyung