In the News – Kim Jong Un stamps his own style on his fantasy kingdom

Aside

In the News – Kim Jong Un stamps his own style on his fantasy kingdom

THESE are unsettling times for watchers of North Korea. Scholars who used to pore over rambling documents on the philosophy of self-reliance are suddenly confronted with strange new questions. Who is the svelte young woman seen accompanying North Korea’s new leader, Kim Jong Un? Why were American symbols such as Mickey Mouse, Rocky Balboa and Frank Sinatra featured at a concert that the two attended in Pyongyang this month? And who are the pop stars with miniskirts and electric violins who elicited an elated thumbs-up from the bouncy mini-Kim?

You could almost sense the relief this week when the boffins could get back to Kremlinology and ponder an unexpected overhaul at the top of North Korea’s armed forces. As ever with the Hermit Kingdom, the meaning was mostly guesswork. But the conclusion for the time being is that, superficially at least, Mr Kim is putting a very different stamp on the oppressive regime from that of his secretive and mirthless late father, Kim Jong Il.

The move, though it caused soldiers to dance through the streets of Pyongyang (see photo), suggested to some that Mr Kim may be toning down the “military first” policy that has guided North Korea for years. With the help of his uncle, Jang Song Taek, he may be promoting the primacy of the Korean Workers’ Party instead. So far, the transition seems to have been orderly—previous purges under his father had involved car crashes—but there is enough uncertainty in a nuclear-armed state to leave plenty of concern.

Far clearer is the emerging personal style of the young Mr Kim. Jocular in public, though no great orator, he seems to have no qualms about letting North Koreans gossip about the mystery woman at his side. He is playing on his youth, declaring in a big speech to the party’s gilded children (millions of less favoured youngsters are kept under heel from birth) that they are “treasures more precious than 100m tonnes of gold and silver”. His father barely uttered a sentence in public, let alone released details of his private life.

For now, though, it is purely cosmetic. There are no signs that conditions are improving for North Korea’s repressed citizens. State media still indulges in horrific invective against the South Korean president, Lee Myung-bak, suggesting that, despite its discovery of American schmaltz, the regime’s attitude remains dangerously paranoid. John Delury, of Yonsei University in Seoul, believes Mr Kim may “shift the priority a bit from security to prosperity”, noting that rapidly increasing trade with China and the illicit import of foreign films are familiarising North Koreans with Western concepts such as higher hemlines. Alternatively, though, they may just be sugar-coated ways of distracting a nation starved of everything else.

Original Article

In the News – Who is North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s ‘mystery woman’

Aside

In the News – Who is North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s ‘mystery woman’

North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un (C) applauds during a demonstration performance by the newly formed Moranbong band in Pyongyang in this undated picture released by the North"s KCNA July 9, 2012
The mystery woman seen next to Kim Jong-un could be a former pop singer, Hyon Song-wol, reports say

It started with Mickey Mouse.

When North Korea’s state news agency published photos of the country’s leader Kim Jong-un at a concert recently, the first face to catch the attention was on stage.

Amid the dancers and North Korean pop starlets, were a selection of Disney characters – among them Mickey and Minnie Mouse.

And no, the news agencies here in Seoul reported, the North Korean regime had NOT cleared copyright with the Disney Corporation.

It was only hours later that attention switched to another face from that set of photographs – the grainy image of a dark-haired woman sitting next to the young North Korean leader.

The question of who she was, and what she was doing sitting next to the Stalinist regime’s young heir, buzzed through South Korea’s news media.

North Korean media gave no details, but showed her accompanying Kim Jong-un to various state occasions: bowing with him in front of his grandfather’s portrait to mark the 18th anniversary of Kim Il-sung’s death, walking with him in a fitted black skirt suit and heels, and sitting next to him during the concert performances.

Screen grab taken from North Korean TV on July 9, 2012 shows an unidentified woman accompanying Kim Jong-Un (C) during his visit to Kumsusan Palace in Pyongyang on July 8, 2012
There was also speculation that she could be his sister Yo-jong, of whom little is known

‘Wife or sister?’

The Hankyoreh newspaper here in the South said one picture taken during the performances showed the mystery woman with her hand on the armrest of Kim Jong-un’s chair.

The normal posture for those in Kim Jong-un’s entourage is to keep their elbows tucked respectfully in.

This, said the paper, indicated that she was either his wife, or his younger sister.

A similar discussion erupted six months ago, when an unnamed woman appeared beside Kim Jong-un during his father’s funeral commemorations.

It is not known whether Kim Jong-un – believed to be less than 30 years old – has married.

But North Korea’s two previous rulers did not routinely include their partners in public events, leading many to conclude that the new mystery woman is a family member.

‘Excellent Horse-Like Lady’

Not South Korea’s Joongang Ilbo newspaper, though. Its headline this week asked “Is Hyon the new first lady of NK?”

The paper identified Kim Jong-un’s companion as Hyon Song-wol, a former singer with North Korea’s Bochonbo Electronic Music Band, whose popularity, it says, peaked in 1995 with her hit song “Excellent Horse-Like Lady”.

Disney characters at North Korean concert
There are also unanswered questions about Kim Jong-un – Disney characters made an appearance at a recent North Korean concert

She reappeared to perform for the new North Korean leader in March this year, says the paper, after six years away from the limelight, during which time she reportedly married and had a child.

An unnamed South Korean intelligence official was quoted as saying that “the two have known each other since they were in their teens, and… rumours about the two having an affair have been circulating among Pyongyang’s top elite”.

If true, Seoul’s rumour mill goes, what does that say about the workings of North Korea’s new leadership – and more particularly, about the mind of its young leader?

Has Kim Jong-un chosen this smart young woman in western dress as his partner? Is he bucking hoary old tradition by appearing with her – perhaps still married – in public?

As usual, windows into North Korea throw up more questions than answers.

For now, ”mystery woman” she may remain.

But then, let us not forget, after six months in power, the man next to her – the heir to North Korea’s closed “Communist Monarchy” – is only slightly less of a mystery than she.

 

Original Article 

In the News – North Korea TV shows ‘Rocky’ clips, plays ‘My Way’

Aside

In the News – North Korea TV shows ‘Rocky’ clips, plays ‘My Way’

PYONGYANG, North Korea — North Korea is tapping into some American-style movie inspiration by showing the film icon Rocky Balboa [trailer] pounding his Soviet rival.

State TV on Wednesday ran taped footage of young leader Kim Jong Un at a concert that played a rendition of the famous “Rocky” theme song and showed clips of the pumped-up American film character boxing against his Cold War rival Ivan Drago.

Appearing to glorify a popular American entertainment icon is an unusual move for Pyongyang, which regularly unleashes invective at its former wartime enemy.

The band also played “My Way” popularized by Frank Sinatra.

The concert last week also featured Disney characters in a performance not authorized by the Walt Disney Co.

Kim was accompanied at the concert by a woman who has not been identified.

Original Article 

In the News – Disney Characters Perform in North Korea

Aside

In the News – Disney Characters Perform in North Korea

(PYONGYANG, North Korea) — Mickey Mouse and Winnie the Pooh took the stage in North Korea during a concert for new leader Kim Jong Un, in an unusual — and unauthorized — performance featuring Disney characters.

Performers dressed as Minnie Mouse, Tigger and others danced and pranced as footage from “Snow White,” ”Dumbo,” ”Beauty and the Beast” and other Disney movies played on a massive backdrop, according to still photos shown on state TV.

The inclusion of characters popular in the West — particularly from the United States, North Korea’s wartime enemy — is a notable change in direction for performances in Pyongyang. Actors and actresses also showed off new wardrobes, including strapless gowns and little black dresses.

Kim himself established the group that performed, and the changes may be a sign that he is seeking to carve out a different image from his father and predecessor, Kim Jong Il, by easing restrictions on Western culture, said Koh Yu-hwan, a North Korean studies professor based in Seoul, South Korea.

The state-run Korean Central News Agency said Kim has a “grandiose plan to bring about a dramatic turn in the field of literature and arts this year.”

Under Kim Jong Il, who died in December, North Korea became well known for its massive Arirang shows, synchronized dance and gymnastics shows involving up to 100,000 people.

This appears to be the first time Disney characters have been included in a major performance in Pyongyang, though Winnie and Mickey have been popular among children for several years. Backpacks, pencil cases and pajamas imported from China often feature Disney characters, and stories such as “Dumbo” have been translated into Korean for North Korean schoolchildren. However, it is unusual to make such images a central part of a North Korean performance and publicize them on state TV.

(PHOTOSDavid Guttenfelder: A New Look at North Korea)

Zenia Mucha, chief spokesperson for The Walt Disney Co., said the use of Disney characters in the North Korean performance was not authorized by the U.S. entertainment company.

“This was not licensed or authorized by The Walt Disney Company,” Mucha told the AP by telephone on Sunday.

U.S. sanctions prohibit the import of North Korean goods to the United States, but do not ban the sales of American consumer products in North Korea unless they involve officials or companies on the U.S. Treasury Department’s sanctions blacklist.

The performance was staged Friday by the Moranbong band, which was making its debut after being assembled by Kim himself, KCNA said.

The dispatch made no mention of Disney characters, but said the concert included the traditional folk tune “Arirang” as well as a number of upbeat foreign songs.

Kim, who is in his late 20s, has sought to project an image of youth, vitality and modernity.

Early Sunday, he led top officials in paying their respects to his grandfather, North Korea founder Kim Il Sung, at the mausoleum where he lies in state. Kim died 18 years ago Sunday.

Earlier in the year, a quintet of accordionists became a YouTube sensation for their arrangement of “Take on Me,” a pop song by the Norwegian band a-ha.

North Korea and the United States remain in a technical state of war because they signed a truce, not a peace treaty, after three years of fighting in 1953. The foes do not have diplomatic relations.

Original Article 

China, Refugees… and Repatriation?

If you’ve been on our blog during the past few months, you may have noticed the news articles about the North Korean refugees being held in China. These refugees have gotten international notice from human rights activists, politicians, and celebrities alike but unfortunately it may not make a difference.

Let me give you some background information on this incident. Early in February, Chinese officials arrested a group of North Korea refugees who had crossed the Sino-Korean border in order to escape the grips of the North Korean government. This issue was first exposed to the world on February 14th through Donga News. It is believed that China eventually arrested 31 refugees and their fate has been up in the air since then. Among those captured, it is said that there are young children and maybe even an infant. Many of these people have family waiting for them in South Korea, family members that can do nothing but wait for their safe arrival. Continue reading

Concert for Unification

On November 19th 2011 I was invited to go to the Unification Concert sponsored by the Ministry of Unification and hosted by the radio station SBS Power FM’s corner called Love Game with actress So Hyun Park. A good friend of mine, who happens to be a domestic correspondent for MOU, called me a few weeks earlier and bribed me into going to this concert by telling me that a lot of famous singers would be there and who could say no to that? And besides, it was for a good cause: unification! Continue reading