Three years have passed since the succession of Kim Jong Un. His father was a repressor who let millions die of starvation. Kim’s educational background abroad, including studies in Switzerland, raised hopes that he might open North Korea.
Those hopes have gone unfulfilled. Kim Jong Un showed his international influences by mobilizing military forces to build the Masikryung ski resort in North Korea in part to fulfill his wish to live close to the Alps. The “progress” he has brought to the country is reflected by the construction of a massive water park that continues to operate despite power cuts to homes in Pyongyang. Supermarkets, Internet shopping, Italian restaurants, European beers and coffee shops are the luxuries he has made available for a tiny privileged class. The rest of the starving population is left neglected.
It turns out there are only small differences between Kim Jong Un and his father. The son does not share his father’s reported fear of airplanes; he has publicized his wife in the media and has made internal party matters—like the execution of his uncle Jang Sung Taek—completely public. Most of Jang’s supporters have been purged, sent to political prison camps or executed.
Kim Jong Un might show some degree of modernity, but the system of totalitarian repression and leader worship remains unchanged. However, North Koreans have ceased to chant his name with their sincere hearts, and Kim’s allies are slowly backing away from him. The future of the son seems uncertain.
Kang is a North Korean defector and executive director of the North Korea Strategy Center
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