KUL CHANDRA GAUTAM
Here is a tale of two deaths, funerals and Nepal’s reaction.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il died on Saturday December 17, 2011, but the citizens of the “Democratic People’s Republic of Korea” were given a cue to grieve uncontrollably only two days later on Monday December 19 by the country’s officially tearful TV news announcer who could barely pronounce the news of the “Dear Leader” passing away as she acted so shocked and awed that such an unimaginable event could ever occur in her homeland.
Meanwhile on December 18 the news spread instantaneously across the world of the death of Vaclav Havel, former President of Czechoslovakia, playwright and dissident leader of the Velvet Revolution that overthrew a DPRK-style socialist paradise. Millions of Czechs and citizens of the world mourned spontaneously the passing away of this inspiring icon of freedom and truth.
Here in Nepal, our Deputy Prime Minister officially conveyed the “heart-felt condolences of the Government and people of Nepal to the grief-stricken people of DPRK on the irreparable loss of their leader and Nepal’s ‘great friend’ Comrade Kim Jong-Il. Apparently the Nepali Government was shocked and saddened to learn about the sudden demise of the General Secretary of the Workers´ Party of Korea, Chairman of the National Defence Commission of DPRK and the Supreme Commander of the Korean People´s Army.
But Nepal expressed full of confidence that the Korean people would be able to overcome this shock with their usual resilience to transform grief into strength. Quite a few of Nepal’s Communist leaders of various denominations trooped to the embassy of DPRK to pay their tribute.
But to the best of my knowledge, there was no official statement from the government expressing any sentiments or even acknowledging the passing away of Vaclav Havel. The reluctance of Nepal’s Communist leaders to express any grief at the death of an anti-Communist icon is somewhat understandable, but even the Nepali Congress that prides itself as champion of democracy and human rights found it unnecessary to express any condolence.
I am sure an internationalist leader like BP Koirala would certainly have issued a statement eulogizing Havel. But on the day of Havel’s death, the current crop of pathetic NC leaders were too busy preparing for a nation-wide “peaceful” strike inconvenienced millions of innocent citizens from exercising their right to peaceful livelihood.
What were some of the great achievements of Kim Jong-Il that made him such a “great friend” of Nepal? Many books have been written about Kim Jong-il’s heroic accomplishments, including by his Nepali admirers like Comrade Narayanman Bijukchhe “Rohit”. I have had the opportunity to visit North Korea many times, in connection with the massive humanitarian assistance the UN had to mount there since Kim Jong-il became its paramount leader in mid-1990s. What I witnessed there was in stark contrast to what visitors like Comrade Rohit were shown during their official guided tours.
Apparently the government was saddened to learn about the death of Kim Jong-il but there was no official statement expressing any sentiments or even acknowledging the passing away of Vaclav Havel.
Perhaps the greatest achievement of Kim Jong-il was to realize his father Kim Il-sung’s dream of turning his starving, isolated country into a nuclear power. It is capable of feeding and equipping its million-person army—the sixth largest in the world—even as its economy collapsed, child immunization and malnutrition rates plummeted to levels worse than those of Nepal or sub-Saharan Africa, and the country was hermetically sealed so its people would not be able to see any other model of development that might pollute their minds into questioning the heaven-on-earth model. In my travels to over 100 countries, North Korea was the only one where I could not receive any short-wave radio broadcasts or TV and telephone signals from outside the country when I went on field trips.
In Nepal we rightly complain about the inconvenience of prolonged load-shedding. But imagine living in the upper floors of a 30-story apartment as many do in Pyongyang–and having long black-outs and no functioning elevators, or having to live half a year in sub-zero temperature without any house-hold heating. That was the reality of Pyongyang I saw, excluding a few government offices, hotels for foreigners, and residences of a handful of the privileged nomenklatura close to the Dear Leader.
Following Kim Jong-il’s death, predictably, the whole of North Korea has plunged into an outpouring of grief, with everybody in tears, wailing uncontrollably, thumping their chests, and beating their fists against the pavements on a massive scale. “How could he leave us?” apparently people are asking—incredulous that such a fate could befall a super-human being.
Apparently, the Dear Leader’s death was such a cataclysmic event that DPRK’s official news agency announced that a fierce snowstorm paused and the sky began glowing red above sacred Mount Paektu just minutes before his death, and the ice on volcanic Lake Chon at the mountain in the far north cracked with a roar. And in the city of Hamhung, a Manchurian crane circled a statue of Kim´s father, the “eternal” President Kim Il-sung, its head drooping, before it took off towards Pyongyang. Presumably there is some Marxist-Leninist-Maoist “scientific” explanation for such super-natural and divine occurrence, as such events have also happened before, for example, during the mourning period following the death of Kim Il-sung in 1994.
Contrary to its official name, North Korea is neither democratic, nor people’s, nor a republic. It has established a hereditary Communist monarchy, in which one Kim succeeds another Kim. So predictably, immediately following Kim Jong-il’s death, the Workers Party declared his third son, Kim Jong-un, as “the great successor to the revolution” and “the eminent leader of the military and the people”. Please note the carefully chosen order here: military first, and people second.
Kim Jong-un has been hailed by the state media as “Supreme Commander” of the country´s powerful armed forces. And the ruling party newspaper Rodong Shinmun called on him to lead North Korea to “eternal victory”. To ensure this message remains unforgettable, an editorial in the Workers Party newspaper reaffirmed:”We declare from our hearts that we will complete the task of songun [military-first] revolution under Comrade Kim Jong-un”.
A grand funeral service will be held for Kim Jong-il on December 28 in Pyongyang, followed by a separate “national meeting of mourning” the next day at which all North Koreans have been instructed to pay a three-minute silent tribute. We can predict that it will be a funeral of massive scale with the whole North Korean nation coming to a stand-still in grief of unprecedented proportion, because in North Korea everything that is not forbidden, is essentially compulsory.
Interestingly, foreign guests have not been invited to attend, presumably because the regime knows, no world leader of any stature is likely to attend, and it would not wish to be embarrassed by just a tiny sprinkling of second-rate leaders gracing such grand occasion.
In contrast to the funeral in Pyongyang, the one in Prague on December 23 will have been a modest and subdued affair. But it was a voluntary, spontaneous and truly heart-felt event without anybody having been instructed or expected to weep and wail. Havel’s funeral was attended by world leaders, Presidents, Prime Ministers, Foreign Ministers and dignitaries of important countries, former Nobel Prize winners and free thinkers.
The tributes paid to Havel were truly moving and meant sincerely. US President Obama said Havel had “helped to unleash tides of history that led to a democratic Europe”. German Chancellor Angela Merkel described Havel as a “great European whose fight for freedom and democracy was as unforgettable as his great humanity”. French President Nicolas Sarkozy said, “France has lost a friend, and Europe has lost one of its wisest men.” British Prime Minister David Cameron said, “Europe owes Vaclav Havel a profound debt. Havel led the Czech people out of tyranny and helped bring freedom and democracy to our entire continent.”
Many Nobel Prize winners from Lech Walesa to Aung San Suu Kyi, Dalai Lama to Desmond Tutu, were effusive with admiration for Havel, as were ordinary citizens of many countries. By contrast, except for pro-forma platitudes or accolades by Kim Jong-il’s ideological soul-mates like some Nepali leaders, commentaries by most other world leaders were full of caution, anxiety, and hope that nothing rash and dangerous would happen. Many of DPRK’s neighbours put their militaries on high alert to avoid any untoward incidents. Many world leaders expressed the hope that the people of North Korea would get a leadership that is more humane and less mercurial.
With the new baby Supreme Commander Kim Jong-un, we can only pray that the celestial powers will bless the people of DPRK and deliver to them the spirit of Vaclav Havel. And here in Nepal, as we complete our peace process and a new Constitution, let us hope and pray that we are spared an Orwellian multi-party people’s federal democratic republic, with guarantees of the kind of human rights as enshrined in articles 66 and 67 of the Constitution of DPRK.
Published by Republica 2011-12-28