Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Rogue regime

Former state poet pulls back curtain on North Korean dictator

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Truth is like a weed growing through the cracks in cement: it always finds a way out.

This time it's in a revealing book by Jang Jin-sung.

Dear Leader: Poet, Spy Escapee -- A Look Inside North Korea shines light on dictator Kim Jong-il and his taciturn and repressive regime. He ran (and terrorized) the country from 1994 until his death in 2011.

The importance of this exposé is that it's by the first defector from North Korea to have been among the dictator's very exclusive inner political elite.

Jang's writing could be discredited as outdated prima facie because he's been out of the north for 10 years. However, western reportage since his escape points to the reverse: that since Jong-il's baby-faced son Kim Jong-un took over, the hermit kingdom continues to operate outside the realm of human decency. Jang's accusations, then, are as relevant today as when he escaped to expose them.

With hair hinting of a blow-dryer gone berserk, giant shades, the profile of a pot-bellied stove and jumpsuits even Value Village might refuse to take, the Dear Leader always came across to most outsiders as a comedic mistake in cloning, but Jang claims he was always much smarter (and more murderous) than he looked.

North Korea was founded by Jong-il's father 66 years ago. To the Kims, its 24 million people are more a family inheritance than a country. All three grew up to believe that if ego is a parade, the Kim clan of sociopaths will always lead it, which is what happens when your propaganda comes full circle and you end up believing your own bull.

Dear Leader's belief in his infallibility and his lack of conscience is not dissected, but is disturbingly documented in this important exposé for North Korean watchers by Jang, a former court poet and senior propagandist.

It was the author's job to flim-flam his own people by posing undercover as a South Korean intellectual and praising the Dear Leader in poetry in order to con his subjects into believing their leader was admired in the south.

The author-poet fled the country in 2004 in fear; the friend who fled with him was caught and committed suicide.

Jang claims the power behind the throne in North Korea is a secretive and ruthless machine called the ruling communist party's Organization and Guidance Department (OGD).

Jang notes there was a government department to find and groom beautiful 13-year-old girls for the Dear Leader's private enjoyment. Kim Jong-il also employed a corps of 3,000 researchers to prepare medicines and foods to extend his life, while famine killed hundreds of thousands around him. (He died anyway, at age 70.)

There are also numerous bizarre espionage designs described by Jang. While it's already well-documented that North Korea has kidnapped people, one plan involved kidnapping children in foreign countries, brainwashing them in North Korea and returning them to their country of birth to serve as sleeper agents. Another involved kidnapping foreign women for breeding and creating spies who looked foreign, but were in fact North Korean.

Those who are suffering the most in this rogue country aren't allowed to speak out. Jang is one voice valiantly trying to speak for them.


Barry Craig is a retired journalist.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 5, 2014 G7

History

Updated on Saturday, July 5, 2014 at 8:33 AM CDT: Formatting.

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