Pyeongyang’s public works
Posted by ampontan on Monday, July 19, 2010
WHENEVER the subject turns to North Korea’s Dear Leader Kim Jong-il, the world’s most powerful otaku, the mass media likes to bring up the question of his sanity. They’ll begin an article questioning whether he is of unsound mind, but conclude he’s crazy like a fox, usually based on the eyewitness testimony of such experts in the field as former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.
It’s curious that the journalists never consider the effect on his mental and emotional gyroscopes of whatever his upbringing must have been like, his position in North Korean society for most of his life, and the North Korean social environment. Can you imagine how anyone else would have turned out in the same circumstances?
Regardless of whether he was ever the picture of Korean compos mentis, some people are now starting to wonder whether he’s sailed over the edge for good. The excellent North Korea Leadership Watch website has the details:
(T)he Pyongyang rumor mill about KJI continues to hum along. In late April, KCNA reported that KJI attended the “light comedy Echo of Mountain” by the State Theatrical Troupe. He was reported as having attended the play again on 8 May, after his return from his week-long sojourn to China. According to RFA’s sources, Kim Jong Il ordered the demolition and reconstruction of the theater in which the play was performed (the theater was previously renovated in 2003.) This report has been construed by some external observers in the ROK as an indication of KJI’s diminishing mental faculties.
If there’s one avocation all dictators share, it’s a love of urban planning and grandiose public works. Indulging that hobby by tearing down and rebuilding a recently renovated theater for no apparent reason in a country where political torture is routine and reports of cannibalism occasionally emerge does seem to suggest an occluded front might be passing through the Kim cranium.
Meanwhile, the same website reports another public works project is underway in Kangdong:
The latest Kim Jong Un [Jong-un; Chong-un; Jong Eun] rumor is that the Central Party has ordered the construction of a KJU-related historic site, or “shrine” in Kangdong County. According to Lee Young-hwa, of Rescue North Korean People Urgent Action, a railway extension to the site commenced construction in March, 2009. Work temporarily ceased during the summer of 2009, but resumed in early July of this year. It should be noted that there are railway lines that run through Kangdong, so it would seem an extension to an existing route is what they are constructing….It seems the effort to construct a site for Kim Jong Un is part of his official biography, which may claim Kangdong County as a place where he spent his childhood.
One of Kim Jong-il’s sons, Kim Jong-un is widely believed to be prepping for the role of Kim III in the Kim Family Regime. The article also contains some interesting historical background on Kangdon, which the KFR claims is the burial site of Dangun, the legendary founder of the first Korean kingdom in 2333 BC. Aficionados of public statuary should scroll down to the photo of the two representations of Dangun’s sons.
While the public coffers seem to be full enough for razing and rebuilding theaters and building a shrine with its own railroad spur for the heir presumptive, two international groups are in a dispute over whether there’s enough left over for such public services as hospitals, doctors, and medicines.
(World Health Organization Director-General) Margaret Chan praised the communist country after a visit in April and described its health care as the “envy” of most developing nations.
Yeah, that was a bit much even for the AP:
Some groups may fear being expelled from the country if they are openly critical of Pyongyang, which is highly sensitive to outside criticism. Still, Chan’s comments were uncommonly ebullient.
Amnesty International conducted its own study (pdf), however, and last week released a report with different conclusions:
Amnesty’s report on Thursday described North Korea’s health care system in shambles, with doctors sometimes performing amputations without anesthesia and working by candlelight in hospitals lacking essential medicine, heat and power. It also raised questions about whether coverage is universal as it — and WHO — claimed, noting most interviewees said they or a family member had given doctors cigarettes, alcohol or money to receive medical care. And those without any of these reported that they could get no health assistance at all.
Doctors routinely accepting booze and smokes makes it the envy of the developing world? In some countries, maybe. But that wasn’t all:
(W)hereas Chan had noted that North Korea “has no lack of doctors and nurses,” Amnesty said some people had to walk two hours to get to a hospital for surgery. Chan cited the government’s “notable public health achievements,” while Amnesty said health care remained at a low level or was “progressively getting worse.”
WHO is also having trouble justifying its claims:
Asked Friday what countries were envious of North Korea’s health, (WHO spokeswoman Fadela) Chaib said she couldn’t name any.
It seems that WHO’s conclusions were based on some puzzling data.
Amnesty had spoken to North Koreans as well as to foreign health care and aid workers, and relied heavily on WHO for information — including the assessment that North Korea spends $1 per person per year on health care, the lowest level in the world.
Alas, the AP couldn’t resist the urge of many in the global mass media to offer that lamest of excuses for the failures of a Democratic People’s Republic:
The country has relied on foreign assistance to feed much of its population since the mid-1990s when its economy was hit by natural disasters and the loss of the regime’s Soviet benefactor.
South Korea is smack dab on the same peninsula and subject to the same natural disasters, but everyone there manages to eat three meals a day. The same is true of nearby Japan, where earthquakes, typhoons, and floods are a part of life. Neither of them needs a benefactor, either.
Would this be a hint as to the nature of the problem? The AP thinks the “country…feed(s) its population.” Meanwhile, South Korea and Japan let the people feed themselves.
Zarifi of Amnesty said the whole debate would be ended if North Korea’s government provided access to monitors so that everyone had a better understanding of the country’s health care system.
Does this mean WHO was unable to rely on the well-known North Korean willingness to let foreigners snoop wherever they like and talk to anyone they want?
Allowing access to monitors probably would clear up matters.
Perhaps the construction of special facilities for international monitors could be Kim III’s first major public works project. That way, those countries of the developing world envious of North Korean health care could send representatives to study the system that flourished under the benevolent leadership of Kims I and II and perhaps score some surplus liquor and cigarettes.
Either that or learn how to mass produce date rape drugs.