When contemplating the future of the North Korean regime, it is worth remembering that “the great winners of the post-communist transition were the members of the elites” such as important party members and senior security agents, Greg Scarlatoiu, Executive Director for the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, told a lunchtime lecture in Seoul today.
Speaking at the ASAN Institute for Policy Studies, Scarlatoiu noted that the outcome in Eastern Europe shows those in Pyongyang that they may be able to maintain their power and status over the long-term even if the Kim regime comes to an end. It may not be a guaranteed sign of trouble, but Scarlatoiu also noted how the “amusement parks” and “ski resorts” that Kim Jong Eun appears to favor were the same kind of “nonsense” that happened in the Eastern European communist nations in the late 1980s, just before the fall of the Berlin Wall.
However, he cautioned that there are multiple factors working against political change, including the ingrained system of communities monitoring one another that prevails in North Korea. “This results in a very low level of social cohesion,” he noted, explaining that centers of resistance are unable to coagulate. This is in contrast to Eastern European communist states in the 1980s, including Scarlatoiu’s native Romania under Nicolae Ceausescu, as well as more recent revolutions in the Middle East.
In addition, North Korean children undergo “relentless brainwashing” from a young age, he said, and most serve in the military throughout much of their late teens and twenties. By the time they finish, they have priorities other than engaging in anti-regime activity.
Meanwhile, Scarlatoiu also repeated the increasingly common refrain that the world must place human rights in North Korea on an equal footing with other issues that pertain to the country, such as denuclearization or proliferation concerns. In his view, it has been a source of ongoing disappointment that the United States and South Korea are failing to adequately address the issue of human rights in their dealings with North Korea.
On the current human rights situation, he urged China to live up to its treaty obligations with respect to human rights, and described the ongoing UN Commission of Inquiry on human rights abuses as an impressive feat and the result of a concerted international effort.