Jang Song Taek’s Purge: One Year On

December 12th marks one year since the execution of
Jang Song Taek, former elite official in North Korea. What could have happened
to make the leader
s powerful uncle undergo a sudden
purge and lose his life?

Jang being escorted out of a special military court last year.
Image: Chosun Central TV Screen Capture

In order to find some answers, we must
first look at a portion from the court ruling stipulating Jang
s execution. 

Jangs perfunctory applause as Kim Jong Eun rose
through the power ranks to his current status is cited among his offenses,
described as
insolent behavior that has provoked a
gust of rage from our people and army,” within the document.

This half hearted
as the reason for Jangs purge quickly became a joke shared by many North Koreans over drinks.
Aspects of the unexpected power shift in North Korea unraveling from this incident are so absurd they could be found humorous to some degree, but
in actuality, the author imagines this jest reveals the true origin
behind Jang
s purge: any figure serving as a hindrance
to the sole leadership authority in place will be removed.

Whatever changes such a purge brought to all echelons of North Koreas power structure, if one considers the public images projected in the aftermath, it is easy
enough to discern. High-ranking cadres, all old enough to be Kim Jong Eun
s father, scramble to gather around him and demonstrate their utmost
respect, while taking copious notes of everything Kim Jong Eun says to avoid
s fate. 

Witnessing Kim Jong Euns brutality by purging the husband of his fathers sister with their own eyes, and fearing being swept up in the wake
of the protracted purges to follow, North Korea
s Party
cadres, driven by chronic anxiety, have no choice but to blindly show deference
and loyalty to the leader. One year later, and Jang’s purge served as the catalyst for the apparent consolidation of Kim Jong Eun
s power.

Two high-ranking officials surround the leader in a deferential stance.
Image: Chosun Central TV Screen Capture

Party cadres scribble down notes as Kim Jong Eun speaks.
 Image: Chosun Central TV Screen Capture

Are these high-ranking North Korean
officials really loyal to Kim Jong Eun?

High-ranking officials young enough to be
the leader
s son, in their attempts to demonstrate unfailing courtesy, collectively convey an image less akin to loyal subordinates, and more like that of pathetic human
Or is is just the gruesome agony of struggling
for existence? What types of feelings could they possibly be harboring on the

While North Korea has been controlled by a totalitarian dictatorship spanning three generations of the Kim dynasty, during the Kim Il Sung era,
anti-Japanese partisan fighters who fought with the leader offered up loyalty of their own volition. Engaging in armed struggles with Kim Il
Sung during the Japanese colonial period–sharing life and death together–generated a stronger sense of solidarity and bound them together. After the
liberation of Korea from the Japanese rule, power struggles emerged between a number
of factions vying for control, but the loyalty from those who fought alongside
Kim Il Sung played an important role in ultimately helping him secure power.

However, following the purge of Jang Song Taek, it’s
doubtful that any self-loyal groups have built up a support base around Kim
Jong Eun. Loyalty expressed of one’s own accord stems from shared experiences
of joy and sorrow–a genuine personal rapport established between upper and
lower ranks. It’s hard to say if the figures surrounding Kim Jong Eun maintain
these types of sentiments. Whether or not Kim Jong Eun’s leadership, which may
ostensibly appear to be solid, can gain stability depends on his ability to
evoke genuine loyalty from those around him.


*Views expressed in Guest Columns do not necessarily reflect those of Daily NK.

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