[Viewpoint] Kim Il Sung’s important last wordsThe flamboyant pleasure journey in Singapore by North Korean leader Kim Jong-il’s second son epitomizes the oddities and incongruities of the world’s most draconian and oppressive dictatorship.
Twenty-nine-year-old Kim Jongchol, once dubbed to be one of the heirs-in-waiting, was spotted in jeans and a T-shirt escorted by bodyguards in Singapore enjoying a shopping spree and rock concert. He wore a carefree air as he cheered among fans at a performance by Eric Clapton.
The eldest son, Kim Jong-nam, had gotten into hot water five years before when he tried to sneak into Japan with a bogus passport to go to Tokyo Disneyland.
The sons of Kim Jong-il mimicking spiffy pastimes of heirs of Western billionaires while most of the North Korean population live in extreme deprivationm and starvation underscores the horrifying contradiction and injustice of the reclusive society.
The two elder sons’ penchants at least clarifies the equation for the socialist regime’s planned power succession. They are not likely to pose a threat to the transfer of throne to the third son, Jong-un.
Dad’s favorite, Kim Jong-un, is said to have been promoted to vice chairman of the National Defense Commission . or the de facto second in command . a few days prior to the 69th birthday of his ailing father on Feb. 16. It may not be long before the lives of 24 million North Koreans come under the hands of an untested leader in his mid-20s.
The chubby youngest Kim came into the public eye last year in the spitting image of his grandfather . Kim Il Sung, North Korea’s founder with near deity status in the country.
The “chip off the old block” narrative had obvious political motives of feeding the public’s nostalgic devotion to the Eternal Leader to establish legitimacy of the family rule.
Kim Jong-un is therefore chained to the shadow of his grandfather. Kim Jong-il also staunchly kept to the legacy and ways of his father.
But the problem is that the delusive and self-absorbed ways of Kim Il Sung cannot work in the 21st century of a global and tech-oriented world.
Kim Il Sung clung to rigid control to his last days . only to manifest the structural limitations of his leadership style. On July 6, 1994 . two days before he died from a heart attack . Kim called in his economic affairs officials.
He reportedly recited the problems of the country’s economic state . that the lack of fertilizer had led to a poor crop yield and the hardening of farmers’ lives, that a shortage of electricity and industrial output had caused an undersupply in fertilizers, that poor coal production contributed to electricity shortages, that poor production at its minefields stemmed from a lack of steel, and that imports from overseas were needed to solve the above problems.
While underscoring the endless snags of the state-controlled and selfreliant economic system, he demanded “more zeal” and responsibility from economic leaders.
His last command, in fact, can be seen as the frustrated confession of a failed economic experiment from its creator.
Kim in his last chairing of an economics meeting also deviated from his self-reliant ideological roots, saying the country needed to send more traders overseas to learn foreign practices and their markets.
He also said he planned to seek economic ventures with other countries, suggesting his realization that an economy cannot survive on its own without activities with the outside world. He might have been studying ways to slowly open the hermit kingdom during his last days.
It is unknown how much the young heir-in-waiting knows about his grandfather. He cannot inherit his character and style just by emulating his looks.
He must ruminate on the dying words of his grandfather to learn the direction in which to lead the bequeathed state. Kim Il Sung apparently had wanted to be free from his framework because it had become a failed one.
Kim Jong-un also had spent time overseas . getting an elite education in Switzerland and becoming familiar with English, German and French.
He may not be a big fan of Eric Clapton like his older brother, but hopefully he has attained more useful insight and experience from the outside world to revamp the old styles in North Korea.
*The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.
By Heo Nam-chin