Echoes: Zim must never go the N Korea way

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2011 had many compelling stories to tell, with the Arab Spring easily the story of the year ahead of the many natural disasters and the worsening eurozone crisis which at one time saw the European Union turn to China for a bailout.

It was indeed a year of surprises, mostly unpleasant, but nothing could have prepared many for what they saw this week.

On Wednesday, TV images provided viewers across the globe a fascinating and rare glimpse into the highly-secretive State of North Korea.

Hundreds of thousands of people lined the streets as heavy snow fell to pay homage to North Korea’s “Dear Leader” Kim Jong-il as the hearse carrying his body moved at a walking pace with his son Kim Jong-un, immediately dubbed the “Great Successor” after his father’s death last week, prominently footing along.

It was indeed a sight to see adults wailing without restraint for the “Dear Leader”. There had been similar outpouring of grief following the death of his father, Kim Il-sung, termed the “Great Leader”, in 1994. It was indeed a spectacle to see soldiers – in full military attire – crying out loudly.

One commentator saw this as “competitive grieving” as people tried to outdo each other in wailing the loudest and most melodramatically.

Was this outpouring of grief spontaneous? Was it a genuine expression of loss or were people caught up in the moment?

Yes, such questions have to be raised among people who have not known anything else besides the propaganda they are daily fed with. North Koreans have been brought up on this propaganda diet; they know no other way.

All the mourners, despite the falling snow, did not in the least appear affected by the bitterly cold weather. It seems grief had tranquillised them to this. Can a society be more regimented and controlled than that?

State media hailed Kim Jong-un as the “supreme leader of the party, state and army”, who “has inherited the character and ideology of his father”. How can one be a supreme commander when they have never been enlisted in the army?

It’s a message to the outside world that nothing is about to change. The Kim dynasty is now running into the third generation. Yes, dictators build up symbolisms and monuments to themselves. There is a personality cult around the ruling family.

For over 20 years, Kim Jong-un’s father was presented as a demi-god. The scale and extent of indoctrination is simply frightening. The whole nation has been brought up to worship the ruling family — from the Great Leader, Dear Leader and now Supreme Leader. Going by what I saw on Wednesday, this is the diet of information-cum-propaganda that North Koreans will continue to be fed — they are on another planet.

Who would envy them? A totalitarian police state may make you feel a little bit “safer”, but no rational person should ever want to live in one.

“Our people’s military will serve Comrade Kim Jong-un at the head of our revolutionary troops and will continue to maintain and complete the Songun accomplishments of Great Leader Kim Jong-il,” a top official said. “Songun” refers to the “military-first” policy.

This is a country with Third World economic indicators, but First World military capability. While millions starve, the regime has developed nuclear weapons — and these don’t come cheap.

With no accountability at home, the regime can afford military adventurism abroad even while famine reigns. After all, they don’t need the people’s vote, so to them they are not worth anything.

Some could be asking: Why the interest in such a faraway hermit State?

First, North Korea will forever be associated with Gukurahundi in this country during which over 20 000 civilians were killed in a crackdown spearheaded by the North Korean-trained Fifth Brigade against what proved to be a handful of armed dissidents.

What could have the North Koreans instilled, drilled or drummed into these soldiers for the killing to be on such a grand scale and so disproportionate a response? Well, this can be understood in terms of their aggressive “Songun” or “military-first” policy which they have promised to continue under the “Great Successor”.

“Along with the army, North Korea’s media is perhaps the institution most responsible for keeping its leaders in power. It built powerful personality cults around both Kim Jong-il and his father and is now beginning to do the same with his son and successor, Kim Jong-un.

It is a myth-making factory that, for most of its audience, is their only source of news,” writes journalist Lucy Williamson. Any similarities with the public media in Zimbabwe?

Second, the North Korean constitution actually guarantees freedom of speech and freedom of the Press; the people supposedly have rights, but in practice there is none of that.

Actually the official name of the country is the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, but there is nothing democratic and people-grounded about a repressive dynasty.

North Korea is a backward one-party State. You are not allowed to leave the country without strict, special permission. Tourists are few and scarce, only really from China and Russia and they have to be accompanied at all times by guards.

Zimbabweans need to understand that just because the Constitution says we have rights does not mean that we will always have them. In fact, today the rights of association and movement are being brutally assaulted and the country is becoming a little more like North Korea.

The price of freedom is eternal vigilance. If we do not stand up for our rights, eventually they will all be gone — the North Korean way.

On that “bright note”, I wish you all a Happy and Prosperous New Year!

ctutani@newsday.co.zw