The Korean Peninsula may not have seen a time of greater turbulence and rapid change since the liberation from Japanese control. We Koreans have made issues of many things in the past, but the weightiest of all has always been whether the entire peninsula can finally be reunified under a democratic peace, guarded against the risk of a repeat of the North’s history of violent dictatorship. Only when the old system breaks down and democracy prevails in North Korea will North and South learn to coexist in peace.
The key to North Korea’s fate is whether the three generation dictatorship continues to be. North Korea is at a critical point, having announced the third generation succession last year. Of course, the dictatorship in North Korea is not just another like those of other nations; it is far more skilled at controlling both the elite and public opinion. Nevertheless, the present situation stands, with the instability of an unprecedented third generation ruler and the variables both inside and outside the nation threatening the North Korean regime.
Lately, the news leaking from North Korea has hinted at gloom. The vulnerability of the succession regime and restlessness among the North Korean people add up to a mixed appearance.
As if reflective of its nervousness, the government has been conducting all kinds of searches, even taking in the military. Illegal defectors have been banished to the harsh interior, and those caught watching South Korean movies have been placed on trial. Hundreds have been arrested, and tens of people reportedly executed. The regime's struggles are unfolding in across society.
There is a parallel psychological shift in the populace, too. According to data collected in the border districts during mid-June, the people’s discontent with the state is much in evidence. Common sentiments include, “The real thief sits on the throne,” and, talking of Kim Jong Eun, “What would that kid know?” It is no longer unusual to catch sight of ordinary citizens protesting to the security forces.
Witnessing the ‘democratization dominos’ of the Middle East, we Koreans had hoped that it would spread to North Korea. With the weight of the world’s worst dictatorship pressing on their shoulders, it was a natural train of thought. However, the Middle East and North Korea are different in too many ways. For one, North Korea lacks widely spread internet and cell phones, unlike the Middle East. Of course it is difficult to give up hope in any case, even knowing of the chances.
Kim Jong Il recently stopped 250 of his own people in Libya from returning to North Korea. North Korea is the only nation on earth that does not evacuate its people when they are in danger in a foreign country entering civil strife. The North Korean government is fearful of the stories they will spread if they come back; of Qadhafi's ‘sudden’ and disastrous fall that they have witnessed.
One thing that is for sure is that in the face of dramatic change in North Korean society, it is only a matter of time before major conflicts arise between the authorities and the people. How the South Korean government handles these coming situations will greatly shape the future of inter-Korea relations.
Therefore, it is time for the South Korean government to take a more serious and prudent approach to examining the situation in the North. What it does from now on will undoubtedly influence how the future unfolds.
※ The writer’s opinions are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Daily NK.