North Korea could have used a Havel by Charles Burton

[This op-ed piece was written by CanKor Brain Trust member Charles Burton, and published in the Ottawa Citizen on 22 December 2011. Charles Burton is associate professor of political science at Brock University and a former counsellor at the Canadian embassy in Beijing. –Cankor]

Vaclav Havel and Kim Jong-il, both of whom died this week, personified an extreme contrast in leadership styles. Each man oversaw a nation’s response to the dashing of the hope for human dignity and justice that the Marxist-Leninist paradigm once offered. But the ways each went about it could not have been more different.

Vaclav Havel

Both Czechoslovakia and North Korea were deeply affected by the decline of the Soviet Union that began in the mid-1980s and culminated with its collapse in 1991. But North Korea turned inward, replacing Marxist ideology with the even more stifling and arcane Juche doctrine, and intensifying its repressive politics of charismatic personality cult to new extremes. From the late 1980s on, North Korea became even more closed to the outside world, leading to a rapid deterioration of the national economy to the point that more than a million of its people died of starvation in the famine of 1995-’97.

Today North Korea is dependent on food and energy inputs from China, South Korea and the UN, which delivers food aid originating in the United States and other western nations, including Canada. Even so, about half the children in North Korea still suffer from stunted growth and disabilities due to prolonged malnutrition. Meanwhile, the North Korean politicaland military elite lives in high luxury with their Mercedes Benzes, munificent walled housing compounds, flownin supplies of lobster and cognac, jewelry and expensive perfume imported through China; all gifts of the Dear Leader to maintain their support for his domination of a miserably failed state. Read the rest of this entry »

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