For those who have their reservations about western democracy, take a look at contemporary North Korea.
The leader, Kim Jong Il, has just appointed his son – Kim Jong Un – to be the next leader of the one-party country.
Belatedly letting North Korea’s 23 million people know who he’s chosen, Kim Jong Il appeared before a vast military parade in mid-October 2010 on the 65th anniversary of the founding of the Workers’ Party of Korea.
Like an extreme caricature of a creaky old Stalinist regime, the state paraded its military might by getting thousands of identikit soldiers to march past the leader with goose-steps so tightly synchronised they looked like clockwork toys. Tanks and military vehicles stuffed with katyusha rocket launchers and grenades flowed along behind. Missiles were paraded too, plastered with the snappy slogan of the Korean People’s Army:
“Defeat the U.S. military. US soldiers are the Korean People’s Army’s enemy.”
Old Kim and his hereditary successor stood remotely on a balcony, watching the mass display of enforced loyalty to the party. The undeniably fat young Kim Jong Un, now known as the Young Commander, was unknown to the North Korean population until this month. He had never been seen in public. Not even a photograph of him as an adult had ever been published and even the spelling of his name was uncertain. His subjects do not know how old he is – just that he’s 20-something.
The regime took the opportunity offered by the massive parade – and the rare admission granted to the foreign press – to issue a nuclear threat to America. Ri Yong Ho, chief of the General Staff of the North Korean army, addressed the soldiers before the parade and had this to say:
“If the US imperialists and their followers infringe on our sovereignty and dignity – even slightly – we will blow up the stronghold of their aggression with a merciless and righteous retaliatory strike by mobilising all physical means – including self-defensive nuclear deterrent force – and achieve the historic task of unification.”
If ever there was a self-defeating “righteous” threat….
The appointment of Kim Jong Un, Kim Jong Il’s youngest son, is clear evidence that the sclerotic North Korean regime is as scared of any change as ever. Their hope will be that nothing much will change under the stewardship of the son of their present leader, gradnson of their former leader.
Since Kim Jong Il had a stroke in 2008 the party leadership has been mulling over the question of which of Kim Jong Il’s children should succeed him. Kim Jong Il has been North Korea’s leader since his own father, Kim Il Sung, died in 1994. Kim Il Sung had fought the Japanese colonization of Korea and wove a typical stalinist cult of personality around himself once he established the North Korean state in 1948. Officially North Korea is known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
Just how much democracy figures in the political life of the country is amply illustrated by the latest transfer of power.