“Normal” North Korea

Often times, when we think of North Korea, we have an image of people with grim faces and lifeless eyes walking through a drab city full of grey tones. We think of these people as mere puppets of the North Korean government putting on shows for the foreign tourists with a forced smile on their faces. They become part of the picture we paint in our minds of starving children and prisoners. How often do we actually think of these people as just people who have daily lives just like you and I do? Granted, our lifestyles may be extremely different. But the fact that they have lives separate from the one we imagine them to have is very true. Dr. Andrei Lankov addresses this in his article in The Korea Times.

For those of you who do not know who Andrei Lankov is, let me offer you a brief introduction. Dr. Andrei Lankov was born in St. Petersburg, Russia and is now a renowned specialist in Korean studies. In 1985, he even spent some time studying at Kim Il Sung University of North Korea. In 2004, he moved to South Korea to teach at Kookmin University, which is where he remains today. He is one of the few foreigners in South Korea who can offer a scholarly perspective on North Korean issues. If you follow North Korean news and issues, you have probably come across his name quite a few times.

In his article “Normal North Korea,” Dr. Lankov talks about his experience of visiting North Korea in September of 1984. As he first drove through the streets of Pyongyang, he explains that what he saw was quite unexpected. Russia at the time was by no means a democratic state but was far more open and “permissive” than North Korea was. Therefore, having come from Russia, he had expected North Korea to look like a scene from George Orwell’s book 1984, which is ironic considering the year of his visit. He explains it as follows: Continue reading

In the News – Who Is Kim Jong Un’s Mystery Woman?

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In the News – Who Is Kim Jong Un’s Mystery Woman?

Sister? Lover? Girlfriend? Wife? Speculation is mounting over the identity of a mystery woman and the nature of her relationship with Kim Jong Un, Supreme Leader of North Korea, with whom she has been spotted on a number of public engagements. The short-haired woman, dressed smartly in a black suit, is thought to be in her 20s.

The South Korean daily Chosun Ilbo speculates that the woman may be his sister, Kim Yeo Jong. “Born in 1987, Yeo Jong is now in her mid-20s,” an article posted on its website read. “She apparently went to a school in Switzerland along with Jong Un in the 1990s.”

However, South Korean intelligence experts have identified the woman as Hyon Song Wol, the former front woman of the Bochonbo Electronic Music Band and a married mother whom they believe is having an affair with the North Korean leader.

According to the Daily Telegraph, the Bochonbo Electronic Music Band produced several hit singles that were “hugely popular among the North Korean masses,” but Hyon “disappeared from public view at the time that Mr. Kim emerged as the heir-apparent to his father Kim Jong Il.” Hyon reappeared in public to perform at a concert in the North Korean capital, Pyongyang, in early March to mark International Women’s Day.

Rumors of the affair have reportedly been circulating for some time. Kim Jong Un is believed to have begun a romance with the singer a decade ago, but was forced to end the relationship by his father. She is then said to have married a North Korean army officer and given birth to his child. Nothing is known of the current whereabouts of Hyon’s husband and child, or whether she even remains married.

However, others speculate that the woman is in fact Kim Jong Un’s wife, a view shared by Andrei Lankov of Kookmin University in South Korea, an expert on North Korea, who thinks it highly implausible that the Supreme Leader would so publicly reveal his girlfriend. He told CNN that her presence is likely a part of a carefully constructed campaign to appear “much more approachable, humanlike and soft on people” in order to distance Kim Jong Un from his father and predecessor.

Lankov added that Kim Jong Un “travels much more than his father and even [more] than his grandfather. He likes to hug everybody, physically hug. In this regard it’s probable he decided that it might be a good idea to hint that he does have a wife.” If the woman is his wife, then it would mark a significant departure to the secrecy with which his father and grandfather, North Korean founder Kim Il Sung, cloaked their personal lives. Lankov noted, “When his grandfather’s first wife, if you like, the founding mother of the dynasty, was alive, her name was never, never mentioned in media. Her existence was never even hinted at.”

Likewise, Toshimitsu Shigemura, a professor at Waseda University in Tokyo and author of a number of publications on North Korean leadership, told the Daily Telegraph, “It is highly possible that this is his wife and that Kim is trying to show a new style of leadership, of a husband and wife, in North Korea.” Shigemura also observed that Kim Jong Un had been uncharacteristically quiet in the weeks leading up to the woman’s sudden appearance.

Earlier this year he engaged in a large number of high-profile appearances, in an attempt to shore up his position as North Korea’s new leader, following the death of his father in December. It is possible, Shigemura said, that his recent silence could be the result of behind-the-scenes preparations concerning how to publicly introduce his spouse.

The mystery woman was first seen with Kim Jong Un watching a performance of North Korea’s Moranbong band at a theater in Pyongyang on Friday. (The performance included the appearance of various Disney characters, which the Walt Disney Co. confirms were used without its permission.) On Sunday, North Korean state TV showed the woman standing beside the Supreme Leader during a ceremony to commemorate the 18th anniversary of the death of his grandfather.

Original Article