Monday, 19 December 2011

A tale of two leaders

This morning, it was announced that the North Korean leader Kim Jong Il had died of a heart attack, aged 69. It was strange that I should have mentioned him in yesterday's blogpost, when I referred to the death of the Czech former president, Vaclav Havel. The contrast between the two men could not have been greater.

Havel, a writer by trader, had worked tirelessly to drive communism from his native Czecho-Slovakia. An aim that was finally realised in 1989. The people on the streets in Prague that year, demonstrating to be liberated from the yoke of communism, jingled their keys in the air. The same happened yesterday, when the Czechs gave voice to their sorrow. Genuine sorrow, for Havel gave them back the freedom they lost in 1939. First to the Nazis, in 1945 to Stalin's communists. An uprising in 1968 was brutally suppressed by Soviet tanks. Czecho-Slovakia split amicably in 1993, with the Czech Republic in the west and Slovakia in the east.

North Korea has remained on Stalinist footing since the Korean war in the 1950s. After Kim Il Sung's death in 1994, Kim Jong Il took over and maintained the regime of brutal suppression of dissent and focus on armaments. The people of North Korea have suffered greatly, as food production came second to arms. The North Korean regime is a nuclear power, and has tested ballistic missiles. Kim Jong Il died on board a train. His death triggered mass outpourings of grief - I should rephrase that. His death prompted the regime to orchestrate mass outpourings of grief, along the lines of "Weep or I'll shoot". Watching the crowd surge forward to the statue of Kim Il Sung, cry their eyes out - and then stop all at once. The successor is Kim Jong-un, a man in his late twenties. A period of great uncertainty looms, rendered even more dangerous by North Korea's nuclear arsenal.

This seems to be the year that the world gets rid of many of its dictators. Unfortunately, I do not believe that Kim Jong-il's death will end the dictatorship in North Korea.

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