Monday, October 11, 2010

Hwang Jang Yop's passing deserves more coverage

If you watched or read most of the media in the last day or so you'd think the key news about North Korea was the appearance of Kim Jong Il and Kim Jong Un at the 65th Anniversary celebrations of the founding of the Workers' Party of Korea in Pyongyang.  After all, the authorities in Pyongyang invited foreign journalists and TV crews to cover it.

Sadly on the same day a man died in South Korea who sheds more light on the regime than the spectacle of military parades in the (surprisingly small) Kim Il Sung Square and pictures of an ailing autocrat and his youngest son (with a face allegedly reshapen by plastic surgery to look like his grandfather).  

Hwang Jang Yop was President of the Committee for the Democratisation of North Korea, and the highest ranking defector ever from North Korea.  He was International Secretary of the Workers' Party of Korea and Chairman of the Supreme People's Assembly from 1972 to 1983 when he was removed and "softly" purged (criticised and demoted rather than incarcerated and condemned).  He subsequently defected in 1997 by walking into the South Korean Embassy in Beijing whilst on an official trip, after which he spent his remaining years in South Korea, writing books and memoirs of the regime in North Korea.

He passed away at his home in Seoul due to a heart attack on 10 October 2010, the day North Korea commemorates the 65th anniversary of the founding of the Workers' Party of Korea.   Thankfully his passing does not appear to be suspicious, as it was well known that he was a leading target for North Korean agents  to assassinate.

His defection was bitter for the regime, and he was aware of this, as he fully expected his wife and children would suffer enormously as a result.  North Korea imprisons entire families for the political crimes of one, including children and the elderly with no limits on age.  His letter to his wife expressed his belief that he had to defect for the people of North Korea and could not go on with things remaining as they are.
He wrote 20 books after his defection, about the regime, the Kims and strategies to bring its downfall and reform.  In his memoirs he claims to have written the Juche Idea (the national ideology associated with Kim Il Sung), he tells about the long history he lived through from Japan's brutal colonialism, the Korean War, the rise and fall of socialism, the death of Kim Il Sung and the so-called "Arduous March" when mass starvation saw Kim Jong Il prepare for war whilst millions died.

His excellent regular column in the Daily NK website was one of the most incisive commentaries on the regime and its nature.  His final column mentioned the annointing of Kim Jong Un as Kim Jong Il's successor:

Kim Jong Il has turned his entire country into a huge prison; a place where a few million people starve and he enslaves the rest...Kim Jong Il is the worst kind of thief; a man who stole a whole country...Now he is making fun of and humiliating the North Korean people, making them shout ‘Hurrah!’ and ignoring the world after conferring a boy with the title, 'general'."

He is being commemorated in South Korea now as a great man whose defection helped challenge the views of many who supported North Korea, and highlighted much about the reality of the regime in Pyongyang. 

The Daily NK visual tribute is here.  His memoirs were published, in serial form, on Daily NK here.

Sadly his passing is likely to get only a brief mention in Western media, compared to the military display and show of Kim Jong Il and Kim Jong Un in Pyongyang yesterday, for which the BBC, CNN and other major TV broadcasters were invited.   I note none of Stuff, TVNZ and RNZ websites are carrying this news (NZ Herald carries an AP report), but all carry the story, video and pictures of North Korea the regime want to show.  Even CNN doesn't have the story on its Asia page.  While the BBC does, it puts greater headlines on Michael Law's being an attention-seeking airhead.

Journalism? Ha!

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