A few mornings back, I was reading the North Korean news, as one does, and was surprised to find two articles in the daily list of amazing facts and awe-inspiring exploits of the Supreme Leader at the Korean Central News Agency to be dealing with two people I know well and value highly (here and here). No, dear readers, not Übercomrade Kim Jong Un or his deceased but nevertheless always-with-us father, but two decent, courageous, empathic people (and yes,I am implying that these characteristics would actually not apply to the aforementioned father-and-son tag team; although by saying I imply it I guess I am no longer implying. Anyway). Here are screenshots for the first person (left) and here for the second person (right). And if your Korean isn’t up to reading KCNA announcements yet, here is the English version of number one and here of number two (because one never knows, I’ve put the screenshots at the bottom of this post. Too much screenshots of KCNA web pages in a post, I notice, quickly compromise the esthetics of one’s blog beyond repair or redemption).
I am not a big fan of the regime in Pyongyang. My reasons for not being a DPRK cheerleader are in general impersonal: I don’t like how the regime treats its people, even if I don’t know these people in person. I do know the two persons singled out for slanderous intimidation in the two articles mentioned above (believe me, if a state is after you, that cannot be but intimidating). Jang Jin-sung is at the moment a faculty member of my university and as such a direct colleague as Leiden University Professor for the time being. I think it is known what I think of Jang. Ch’oe Chuhwal I have met a number of times and I’ve never failed to be impressed with his humour and humanity (as well as his Russian!), despite having had to flee his country and leave everything and everyone behind.
So I was less than amused to read the bile regurgitated by the KCNA. The day before the same threat to murder both Jang and Ch’oe had been broadcast on North Korean radio by the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland. Yes, the irony is so overwhelming that I will not dwell on this. I am altogether not sure how eliminating Jang and Ch’oe is conducive to peacefully reunifying the Korean peninsula, but perhaps I am just really dense. The thing that should surprise us though is not necessarily Pyongyang’s insistence that those who fled the fatherly care of the leader should suffer for that, but that the CPRF was chosen as the vehicle to make this particular announcement. Why the CPRF?
I don’t know. That’s a bit of a letdown isn’t it? I don’t know why, but I do know what this signifies, apart from confirming (and rather dramatically) that what elite exiles such as Jang and Ch’oe have been saying for years is in fact true: that the CPRF is nothing but a letterhead organization under the umbrella of your friendly neighbourhood United Front Department, the same people who have been bringing you high-quality smoke, mirrors and psychological warfare for decades now. It also confirms the quality of the information the exiles bring in general. Great job, Pyongyang! You’ve just underscored who we need to talk to with regard to understanding Pyongyang politics. Also, an incident such as this, anger-inducing as it is, shows, again, the utter impossibility of talking to the regime. The CPRF is after all the mouthpiece of the regime in affairs having to do with the peninsula’s reunification (which includes just about everything) and it is the vehicle in which the North Korean regime dresses up in its NGO-guise (“No really, we’re not part of the government, we’ve been an NGO since 1946”) to hoodwink unsuspecting foreign NGOs into engagement initiatives (“You don’t believe us? Then why not visit Pyongyang, all expenses paid, and let us convince you”).
Not much attention has been paid to these publicly issued threats by the DPRK. I guess a state threatening to rain down heavenly punishment on two individuals who chosen to listen to their conscience isn’t news, while allegedly executing machinegun-style your alledged former lover for alledgely producing a sex tape and selling it or alledgedly reading the Bible is. Alledgedly. If you don’t know what I’m talking about: Google is your friend (hint: “Excellent Horse-Like Lady”).
In my book the constant threat posed to people like Jang Jin-sung and Ch’oe Chuwhal is terribly close to state-sponsored terrorism. So excuse me if I think that the proposed balloon launches to North Korea should find place and forgive me if I think this actually is a good idea. This is a state openly threatening to wipe people of the face of the earth, while doing the very same thing thousandfold in its camps every day again. The time for critical engagement has now passed. It has failed miserably, utterly, completely. It is now time for a different type of engagement (and no, I do not think nuking Pyongyang out of existence is a good idea). Stay tuned for more news about this.