No matter where you were in the world today (December 19, 2011) you probably heard about the death of Kim Jong Il. North Korea’s official statement is that Kim Jong Il died of fatigue on Saturday, December 17th at 8:30 am on a train. For me, I was at work when I first heard about it. I work at an NGO in South Korea that deals specifically with North Korean issues and we keep close tabs on any new shifts within the rogue country, such as keeping an eye on the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) television station, the North’s official source of news. And it’s thanks to this careful observation that we were able to hear about the death of Kim Jong Il, “the Dear Leader.”
All of us in the office had just started to delve into our individual work when we noticed something strange. An anchorwoman, the same lady that’s been doing the same job for years now, came on the screen unannounced and reported that there is to be a special announcement at 12 o’clock, noon. Now, if you know anything about KCNA then you know that official broadcasting begins at 5pm sharp. For something to be aired unexpectedly means that something HUGE has to have happened. Many of my coworkers are defectors from North Korea, and as soon as they saw the short broadcast they immediately suspected that Kim Jong Il must have died. Me, being confused about their out–of–the–blue assuredness, asked them how they could possibly know. They simply said that all the signs were there. First of all, like I mentioned above, for North Korea to air an unplanned announcement in the middle of the day was weird to begin with. And second, my coworkers said that the anchorwoman’s expression and tone was already different from just an average announcement. That’s all they had but they were dead sure of themselves. They didn’t need much evidence. They just knew because they had already dealt with a death of a “great leader” in 1994 when Kim Il Sung had passed away. And as soon as the tearful anchorwoman, dressed in black Korean mourning clothes, came back on the screen, I got goose bumps.
So. With Kim Jong Il now dead everyone is asking the same question: what does this mean for North Korea? That was the first question that popped into my mind as well, followed by a string of others. To be honest, there aren’t very many answers to give right now, only more questions to ask. Will Kim Jong Un rule differently from his father? What about the people? Will situations change for them? Will North Korea act with provocations? Should South Korea, and the rest of the world, be worried? And I could go on listing so many more. It seems that one question only gives rise to another until you’re even more confused than when you started. Trust me. I’ve been doing this all day. But like I said, there aren’t very many answers right now so we’ll just have to wait and see what North Korea says… or does.
But in the meantime, what we can do is to take a look at the facts that we do have.
Kim Jong Il has reportedly died of fatigue two days ago on the 17th of December. More specifically, KCNA has stated that he died from a “severe myocardial infarction along with a heart attack after suffering from great mental and physical strain.” The funeral is to be held on December 28th and mourning will be continued starting from today until the 29th (ten days). Keep in mind that North Korean weather at the moment is about -10 degrees Celsius, meaning that the North Korean people will have to endure the blistering cold outside to attend the mandatory mourning service.
It is expected that Kim Jong Un will take power immediately as the anchorwoman has stated that the people of North Korea should “faithfully revere the respectable comrade Kim Jong Un” and that “at the leadership of comrade Kim Jong Un, [they] have to change sadness to strength and courage and overcome today’s difficulties.” Experts are saying that North Korea is prepared for anything and all North Korean elites will remain closely allied through this transitional period.
South Korea is on its highest alert at the moment, with tightened security measures at the border and at sea. The South Korean police is also to be on emergency work shifts across the country. The Blue House and the Ministry of Unification is working closely together to monitor North Korea’s next moves and to prepare for anything that might happen. President Lee Myung Bak and President Obama are also keeping in close contact. President Obama has stated that the U.S. “remain[s] committed to stability on the Korean peninsula, and to the freedom and security of [its] allies.”
South Korea is also currently working on getting South Korean citizens that are in North Korea to safety. There are over 700 South Koreans working in the Kaesung Industrial Complex alone, but officials are keeping close tabs on citizens to ensure their safety.
These are just some of the most major facts. I’m sure that more will be unveiled as time passes. I just hope that only good comes of this historical event.