Witch Hunts in Full Swing, and Happy New Year

It’s the new year, in the US as in North Korea! What’s in the news lately?

Dennis Rodman isn’t. Raise a glass and cheer.

Analysts are still picking apart everything surrounding the trial and punishment of Jang Song Taek, as in his absence the traces of his influence are being discovered and spooled back up. You’ll recall that along with Uncle Jang, several of his aides were promptly executed by automatic rifle. Then Kim Jong Un got extremely intoxicated and executed two more. As well, the DPRK has been recalling its diplomats and ambassadors, anyone who had connections to Uncle Jang. What’s crazy is that even though the DPRK undertook an extensive campaign to scratch out or delete Uncle Jang’s name from any news articles and erase his face from video record, all citizens aged 17 years or older, living in country or abroad, were required to write a freakin’ essay about what Song Taek did wrong. (And North Korea does not grade on a curve.)

In response to recent events, some of these aides have fled the country. One, the Kim family accountant, read the writing on the wall and scampered to China, seeking their South Korean embassy, a couple months before Uncle Jang was fingered (perhaps precipitating his demise, in part). And he’s willing to buy his way into safety by providing the NIS a list of Pyongyang’s spies in the south, as if his catalog of checks and balances wasn’t enough.

Many other dignitaries and aides are fleeing to China as well, reaching out to their contacts and cashing in their favors. How many are we talking about? About 70, by one estimation.

The latest commentary upon the official notice the DPRK released on Uncle Jang’s death has been studied several times over. No matter how thickly they applied the Orwellian frosting of double-speak and revisionism, they could not avoid hinting at certain events and conditions they would rather die than admit. For instance, there’s reason to believe that, despite appearing to call for stricter socialism, Uncle Jang may have been actually facilitating young citizens to defect (I like to think these could have been university students, since he was so big on foreign education). And absolutely, the DPRK didn’t desire anyone to believe that one man could become powerful enough to stage a coup (his second in ten years!), but they had to trump up crimes greater than capitalist excesses. One has to wonder, with his drive to connect with the outside world as well as to overthrow the Kim dynasty, whether Number Two would have been such a bad replacement of Supreme Leader; he could hardly be worse. He could easily have reintroduced business to his nation and fed the starving people, maybe even started dismantling the labor camps. But we’ll never know now.

With the new year, Supreme Leader has issued his second televised New Year’s address to the loyal, if starving and terrified, citizens of North Korea. Here, opinions diverge: one group believes his message was full of hope for a peaceful new year, an earnest desire for reconciliation and even unification between the two Koreas; South Korea’s not falling for this. Another expert interprets this screed to contain more threats and insanity between the lines*. Which interpretation sounds more believable to you? Here’s a more middle-of-the-road and meticulous approach, just to round things out.

* What’s interesting about this link is that it’s an interpretation by Jang Jin Sung, the pseudonym of a poet and defector. Having worked as a high-ranking official in the department of propaganda, he has a unique perspective in interpreting releases from DPRK. Now he runs his own news source, New Focus International.

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