Obstacles to reform

Victor Cha writes in the Washington Post:

The real problem is the system itself. Even if the young Kim is enlightened, there are three obstacles to reform. First, despotic regimes such as North Korea’s cannot survive without an ideology to justify their iron grip. And the ideology that accompanies the son’s rise appears to look backward rather than forward.

I call it “neojuche revivalism.” It is a return to the conservative and hard-line “juche” (self-reliance) ideology of the 1950s and ’60s, harking back to a day when the North was doing well relative to South Korea. Neojuche revivalism is laced with “songun” (military-first) ideology, which features the North’s emergence as a nuclear weapons state (Kim Jong Il’s one accomplishment during his rule). This revivalist ideology leaves no room for an opening-up, because it blames the past decade of poor performance on “ideological pollution” stemming from experiments with reform.

Second, true reform in the post-Kim Jong Il era would require the courage to loosen the political instruments of control that allow the regime to keep its iron grip on the people. The dilemma the young Kim faces is that he needs to reform to survive, but the process of opening up will undeniably lead to the end of his political control. This was perhaps the most important lesson North Korea learned from the end of the Cold War.

Finally, even if Kim Jong Eun is an enlightened leader who has the courage to attempt such reform, he will be dealing with a generation of institutions and people who are the most isolated in North Korean history. The generals, party officials and bureaucrats of the Cold War era were far more worldly than those of the post-Cold War years. Kim Il Sung’s generation was able to travel freely to East Bloc countries. Kim used to vacation with Communist leaders such as East Germany’s Erich Honecker and Romania’s Nicolae Ceausescu. By contrast, Kim Jong Il’s generation saw Ceausescu executed and the Chinese Communist Party almost lose power in Tiananmen Square. The generation of leadership the young son will inherit sees nothing comforting about the outside world.

The full article is worth reading here:
Without a loosened grip, reform will elude North Korea
Washington Post
Victor Cha


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