I’m no more an authority on fashion than I am on opera, but can I tell that Florence Foster Jenkins couldn’t sing.
Discussion about North Korea’s crimes against humanity is accelerating so quickly that it’s becoming difficult to keep up with it all. Last week, among other events, diplomats from Australia, Panama, and Botswana–which severed diplomatic relations with North Korea after the Commission of Inquiry published its report–held a Panel Discussion on human rights in the North.
At one point, members of the North Korean delegation were heard referring to Botswana’s UN Ambassador Charles Ntwaagae in Korean as “that black bastard,” sources who were nearby told VICE News. They also chuckled at the testimony of Kirby and the two prison escapees, Jung Gwang-il and Kim Hye Sook. Those in the room with the North Korean delegation who later spoke with VICE News insisted on anonymity due to fear of reprisal.
“I am not the least bit bothered by whatever insult they may have hurled at me,” Ambassador Ntwaagae told VICE News when approached for comment. “What is important is everyone recognizes the report of the commission of inquiry makes grim reading. What is important is that they are challenged to rebut the findings of the report.” [Vice News]
Some observers have called North Korea’s frenetic and incoherent reaction to the proposed U.N. action as a “charm offensive.” Myself, I see very little charm, but much that is offensive.
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Update: Ironically, the New York Times reports that China’s strategy for killing the resolution at the General Assembly will be to “lobby vigorously against the I.C.C. language, especially among African states that have their own grievances with the international court.”
And even this is really the fault of imperialist sanctions, which prohibit the import of “luxury goods” to North Korea:
When the North Korean officials at the U.N. briefing were asked Tuesday to identify human rights problems in their country, Choe Myong Nam, a North Korean responded, “We need some facilities where people go and enjoy a bath… Right now, due to problems in the economic field — that is due to the external forces hindrance — we are running short of some of the facilities.”
He cited lack of facilities and did not mention executions, torture allegations or food shortages. [CNN, Madison Park]
Choe’s statement raises some very grave questions — I hope you’ll pardon the use of that word — such as: What kind of a monster prioritizes ski resorts over bath houses? (You can sweat a lot under those ski clothes.) And, how much of the U.N. aid that’s currently squandered on the “third of children under five” who “show signs of stunting” ought, in the interests of decency, be diverted to building bath houses instead? Failing that, would Jimmy Carter accuse us of a human rights violation?
This WTF moment bought to you by an observant CNN correspondent with a taste for irony, who interviewed me Tuesday night to collect guesses about why North Korea has undertaken another one of its periodic charm offensives. My guess at that first link, for whatever it’s worth.
The thing about these charm offensives is that too many analysts are dazzled by the charm and overlook the offensive. A few weeks ago, Pyongyang was calling Park Geun Hye a “political prostitute” again and calling for her excommunication from the Korean race. To Madison Park’s credit, she noticed all of it, and leaves the interpretation to the reader:
From “capricious whore” to “disgusting political prostitute,” the South Korean president is routinely insulted by the North. So when KCNA, its state-run news mouthpiece called South Korean president, Park Geun-hye a “wretched pro-U.S. stooge and traitor to the nation,” it was nowhere near its worst invective.
But just two days after this latest round of insults, three high-ranking North Korean officials arrived in a surprise visit to South Korea. They received a red carpet treatment on Saturday and shook hands with South Korean officials with a message: Let’s talk.
Google around, and it’s not hard to find recognized experts talking about what a big deal this visit was, despite the fact that we still know almost nothing about what Choe Ryong-Hae and Hwang Pyong-So even said. For all we know, they just repeated the same demand KCNA has been making for years — that Seoul lift sanctions without preconditions.
Which gesture was more probative of Pyongyang’s intent? The correct answer is probably “neither.” The most reliable indications of North Korea’s intent don’t come from its words, but from satellite imagery.
… purge thousands of former comrades and class enemies — and the fact that getting out of Disneyland is easier than getting in — I suppose you could say that “the worlds created by Walt Disney and Kim Il-sung are actually not that far apart.” It’s even less clear how the comparison adds to our understanding of North Korea.
When I was a kid, I considered Cracked to be the Phantom Menace of humor magazines, a lame knockoff of Mad that could never be as good as the original. In the online age, Cracked matured into something funny and intelligent, and often seems to be better researched than many news sites.
The other day, commenter “kcr” pointed me to this piece about North Korea in Cracked, co-authored by Michael Malice, and I was favorably impressed. In my recent interview on the CBC, I talked about the sloppy, superficial, and trivial portrayal of North Korea on in our public conversations about it, and I conceded that I’ve also struggled with the boundaries of taste when parodying a regime that’s also perpetrating a horrific humanitarian tragedy. Cracked manages to find that line stay within it, writing a piece that’s funny, sympathetic, and informative.
Thanks to commenter “kcr” for pointing it out.
Evidently, North Koreans are unfamiliar with The First Rule of Holes:
Pyongyang, May 12 (KCNA) — The spokesman for the DPRK Foreign Ministry gave the following answer to a question put by KCNA on Monday accusing U.S. officials of pulling up the DPRK over its residents’ criticism of Obama reported by its media:
The resentment expressed by individuals of the DPRK at Obama recently was a proper reaction to him who malignantly insulted and slandered the dignified DPRK during his junket to south Korea.
Obama termed the DPRK’s inevitable steps for self-defence a “provocation” and “threats” and cried out for tougher “sanctions”, “pressure” and “not ruling out the use of military force.” Not content with this vitriol, he went the lengths of letting loose a spate of such invectives that the DPRK is a “country which makes its people go hungry and takes a lonely path”, “isolated state”, “abnormal state” and “reckless and irresponsible” government.
This is an unpardonable insult to the people of the DPRK who are leading a happy life under the benevolent socialist system and considering independence dearer than their life and their resentment at the U.S. is running high.
The U.S. had better stop letting loose rhetoric about the resentment expressed by DPRK residents at Obama and look back on his unspeakable invectives which enraged them so much.
The U.S. is trying to cover up the thrice-cursed wrongs committed by Obama and divert elsewhere criticism of him while finding fault with the bitter accusations of Koreans against him, but such a move would get it nowhere. -0- [KCNA]
Hat tip: The Korea Herald. Overall, it’s striking to me how disinterested the South Korean press has been in this story, in contrast to the high level of interest in the U.S. and Europe. It may be that Koreans are still preoccupied with the Sewol Ferry tragedy, but Koreans really don’t seem to be terribly outraged about this — or, for that matter, about the sexist attacks on their own President. It may be that South Koreans have just built a very high tolerance for North Korea’s offenses, which means North Korea is able to get away with just about anything.
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Update: Maybe I spoke too soon. Yonhap has the story now.
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Update: Professor Lee and I have an op-ed published at CNN.com on the more material aspects of North Korea’s racism and sexism.
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Update: Here are some links to other informed comments about this topic. Dennis Halpin of the Center for Strategic & International Studies wonders why activists who’ve protested far less egregious examples of racism, sexism, and homophobia have given North Korea a pass. Halpin has a good point here. Is there any question that North Korea’s treatment of gays, women, and racial minorities are worse than Brunei’s? If there is, it’s only because North Korea is so good at hiding its crimes from the world.
Writing at Forbes, Don Kirk of the Christian Science Monitor puts North Korea’s racism into the context of its broader xenophobia — its hatred of foreign influences and ideas. Finally, Isaac Stone Fish of Foreign Policy (as if in response to commenter Emil Lewis) writes about North Korea’s long-standing history of anti-black racism.
Oh, yes they did:
Park made waste water-like reckless remarks slandering the DPRK’s line on simultaneously developing two fronts after inviting her American master reminiscent of a wicked black monkey to visit south Korea on April 25. [Korea Central News Agency]
Wow. There’s even a slavery reference.
The people are unanimous in deploring the fact that there is no remedy for curing Park’s mental disease as she has gone so mad with hurling mud at the nuclear deterrence of justice which the fellow countrymen in the north have had access to prevent the outside forces from imposing a nuclear disaster upon them.
Worse still, she is making a new ploy so called “human rights issue in the north” aimed at hurting and slandering the fellow compatriots. This is also part of her confrontational hysteria.
Regular readers will recall that North Korea recently called the female President of South Korea a “whore” and a “political prostitute,” and called the openly gay Chair of a U.N. Commission of Inquiry, which found evidence of crimes against humanity in North Korea, “a disgusting old lecher with 40-odd-year-long career of homosexuality.” KCNA is also notorious for threatening journalists who criticize North Korean government policies.
A friendly reminder: In 2012, the Korea Central News Agency, or KCNA, signed two memoranda of agreement with the Associated Press, the contents of which remain undisclosed, but which allowed the AP the exclusive right to open a bureau in Pyongyang, to exhibit North Korean propaganda in the United States, to embed two North Korean “journalists” in the AP’s bureau who would write the occasional “news” story, and generally, to show you North Korea just as Kim Jong Un wants you to see it.
Because the terms of those MOAs haven’t been disclosed, I don’t know whether the AP is providing any financial compensation or support to KCNA. Maybe Paul Colford, the AP’s Director Media Relations, will tell you what he wouldn’t tell me.
This piece in Korean is directed entirely at Obama. They take racism to another level, with really unspeakable vitriol: “Obama’s gut-wrenching, revolting facial features,” “monkey climbing up this and that tree and scrounging up fruits on the ground,” “it’s certain that Obama has slipped out of the body of a monkey,” “he should live as a monkey in an African natural zoo licking the breadcrumbs thrown by spectators,” etc.
It’s not translated into English. The White House should translate it and see the North Korean regime as it is: a vile, despicable lot beyond reason and beneath the consideration of civilization.
This goes on for paragraph after paragraph. My poor, suffering wife promised to help me translate the whole thing over the next day or so, unless one of you would like to take this on. Needless to say, I’d never print anything like this if it didn’t have substantial public interest value. The fact that a foreign government would allow its official news service to publish this is a matter of global public interest.
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Update: Welcome, Washington Post readers.
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Update: As promised, here’s a translation of the complete article. Some of the North Korean vernacular is virtually untranslatable, so we did our best to capture the meaning, but left some particularly difficult phrases in the original Korean. Our hope is that a few of you may offer upgrades to this translation.
On the device of quoting a North Korean citizen, we saw the same device used as the North Koreans started to warm up their sexist attacks on President Park. But then, I suspect that Mr. Kang is about as authentic as Comrade Ogilvy, or at best, Comrade Stekhanov.
Last week, the Honorable Michael Kirby, a retired Justice of the High Court of Australia, and the Chairman of the U.N. Commission of Inquiry for Human Rights in North Korea, was in Washington. It was my honor to be invited to two events with Justice Kirby — a small-group breakfast meeting (Kirby called this is a “barbarous” custom) hosted by the Australian Embassy, and a small-group dinner hosted by a member of the Board of the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea. I debated whether I should accept both invitations, but ended up going to both because I suspected that the discussions would be different. I guessed correctly. (I had to miss the main event because of work obligations, but you can watch it here.)
I’ve often formed views of great men from how they were described in the newspapers, and almost as often, I’ve found that my expectations were greater than their presence. Justice Kirby is not such a man. Sagacious, eloquent, and quietly determined, Michael Kirby is the sort of man my mother calls a “mensch.” He is the right man for the great and historic work he was chosen to do. Although I don’t believe the other participants in those meetings would want to be named or quoted, I’ll simply say that Justice Kirby emphasized to people more important than myself that he does not see his work as done. It was clear, too, that Kirby has the gravitas to make this issue impossible for our State Department to forget.
Today, in a delectable irony, North Korea’s official “news” service has done a great service toward publicizing Justice Kirby’s cause.
[Justice Kirby at dinner last week. Author’s photograph.]
Justice Kirby hasn’t made a secret of his sexual orientation since 1999, before a general social acceptance of homosexuality prevailed. He and his partner have lived together almost as long as I’ve been alive. That’s why I figured it was only a matter of time before the North Koreans said something stupid, like this, about him:
As for Kirby who took the lead in cooking the “report”, he is a disgusting old lecher with a 40-odd-year-long career of homosexuality. He is now over seventy, but he is still anxious to get married to his homosexual partner.
This practice can never be found in the DPRK boasting of the sound mentality and good morals, and homosexuality has become a target of public criticism even in Western countries, too. In fact, it is ridiculous for such gay to sponsor dealing with others’ human rights issue. [KCNA, Apr., 22, 2014]
Huh. So I suppose the North Koreans haven’t heard of Bayard Rustin either.
Sometimes, I’ve caught myself describing North Korea as like South Korea, only more so. The “no gays in Korea” myth still persisted when I lived in South Korea a dozen years ago. Although there’s now open discussion of homosexuality in South Korean culture — and probably on some of those DVDs smuggled into the North — Korean culture remains very conservative.
As been already known, what was put up by Kirby and his group as data is all testimonies made by those “defectors”, who are runaways or terrorists as they betrayed their country and nation after committing indelible crimes.
However, the Kirby group styling itself a judge accepted such unconfirmed data to cook up the “report”. This makes one question if the group has an elementary legal sense. After all, they changed their position as judges with money paid by the U.S. and its followers.
At present, many countries and even Western media and personages are astonished at the Kirby group’s “report” presented to a sacred UN body, terming it a replica of Nazi-style arbitrariness.
It is so pitiable for the U.S. and its followers to attempt to frighten the DPRK by letting such dirty swindlers, ready to do anything for money, invent an anti-DPRK false document.
The army and people of the DPRK reject the fabricated document as a foul crime unprecedented in the world history of human rights and will surely force them to pay dearly for it. -0-
Christine Ahn and Christine Hong were not available for comment. (Someone please remember to tweet this to them, just to gaze upon their paroxysms of self-contradiction.)
Now, in the grander scheme, I suppose Justice Kirby has probably heard more offensive and sillier things than this. He would probably agree that KCNA’s words (to the extent they are merely that) fall low on the hierarchy of North Korea’s offenses against civilization, although they do give us further reason to question the hypocritical nonsense of its propagandists who’ve presented North Korea as relatively tolerant toward gays. Still, if anyone out there didn’t find racial infanticide, public executions, concentration camps, and deliberate mass starvation offensive enough, maybe North Korea’s homophobia — and our darkest fears about what actions follow in the trail of its words — may just manage to offend whole new constituencies.
In the past week, our attention has been called to Justice Kirby’s report by the editors of The Washington Post, Marco Rubio, Human Rights Watch, Vitit Muntarbhorn, The Brookings Institution, and Marzuki Darusman, among others. As a consequence of its latest act of public relations genius, North Korea has now given The Washington Post a whole new reason to talk about Justice Kirby’s report, and gasp anew at North Korea’s uniquely oblivious strain of stupidity. No doubt, his response will be a major story in the news cycle everywhere (except, ironically, for gay-unfriendly South Korea) for a few more days after that.
Forget what I said this week — North Korea is still funny. Look what a reader spotted on this apparently official North Korean propaganda video, posted on YouTube at a channel that has always posted authentic North Korean material in the past.
If this is a fake, well, they fooled me. Note the logo on the upper lift-hand corner, which appears in some other apparently legit videos posted at the same channel.
The video was a compilation of stills and video from around the world intended to show how much we all love/fear/respect Kim Jong Un. Whatever the impact domestically, I’m afraid the impact internationally will be very much the opposite.
If anyone knows how to preserve or download a YouTube video, please do, before “StimmeKoreas” (it means “Voice of Korea” in German) catches on and pulls this down.
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Update: This post was corrected after publication.
Dennis Rodman’s September trip to North Korea included a trip to Kim’s yacht near Wonsan, which Rodman described as “like going to Hawaii or Ibiza.” Evidently, this trip hasn’t been as pleasant:
A day after the former basketball star sang “Happy Birthday” to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and led a squad of former NBA players in a friendly game, Rodman issued the apology through publicist Jules Feiler in an email message to The Associated Press.
“I want to apologize,” Rodman said. “I take full responsibility for my actions. It had been a very stressful day. Some of my teammates were leaving because of pressure from their families and business associates. My dreams of basketball diplomacy was quickly falling apart. I had been drinking. It’s not an excuse but by the time the interview happened I was upset. I was overwhelmed. It’s not an excuse, it’s just the truth.
“I want to first apologize to Kenneth Bae’s family. I want to apologize to my teammates and my management team. I also want to apologize to Chris Cuomo. I embarrassed a lot of people. I’m very sorry. At this point I should know better than to make political statements. I’m truly sorry.” [AP]
Even Kim Jong Un appears to have been taken by surprise when Rodman burst into “Happy Birthday.” And Max Fisher, who often emphasizes the quirky aspects of North Korea, thinks “Rodman may have crossed some sort of line,” and has reached “the point where what he’s doing stops being funny and becomes something more serious.”
So, to summarize — Rodman has fallen off the wagon, made himself into a national pariah, driven away some of the retired players who joined his tour, hardened global attitudes against his new best pal, and quite possibly freaked out Kim Jong Un himself — which may be the most unwise thing he’s done all week.
If anyone asks Rodman what he gave Kim Jong Un for his birthday, we might also learn whether he’s also in legal trouble for violating U.S. sanctions laws.
But at least he still has Jesse Jackson, who isn’t wrong when he says that Rodman is the reason we’re talking about North Korea. And to be fair here, a lot of us have piled on Rodman for not talking about human rights, but he is, after all, just a washed-up basketball player. What people are really upset about is Rodman’s effusive and cretinous affection for a mass murderer. If Rodman had just stuck with the story that he’s not a diplomat and that’s not his job, plenty of people would have accepted that.
As Rodman implies, it’s the diplomats who are responsible for talking to Kim Jong Un about human rights. Unfortunately, Kim Jong Un isn’t willing to meet with them, and the specific person whose job it is to “promote and coordinate North Korean human rights and humanitarian issues“ is a nice, quiet man you’ve never heard of because he’s wholly ineffective in that role, because he’s trying not to rock any diplomatic boats (or, if you prefer, yachts).
But strategic silence isn’t going to change North Korea or achieve our national interests. We brought Iran back to the bargaining table by sanctioning it to the edge of extinction. Why not North Korea? Because the Obama Administration has no North Korea policy, and its sanctions against North Korea are pale shadow of our sanctions against Iran. Our sanctions against Iran were forced down the Obama Administration’s throat by Congress. Hopefully, that will happen with North Korea next.
But what then? Even when our diplomats do meet with the North Koreans, they do everything they can to sideline, bury, and marginalize the question of human rights. Rodman certainly is the easiest target here, but the smarminess of our diplomats, the incompetence of the Obama Administration, and — above all — the atrocious conduct of Kim Jong Un himself are really more deserving of serious criticism.
[Update: This post has been corrected to note that Rodman’s “Ibiza” experience in Wonsan was in September 2013, and not his “last” trip to North Korea (which was in December). Oh, and it was Rodman, not Kim Jong Un, who sang “Happy Birthday” to Kim Jong Un.]
When I first saw the report here that an Elle Magazine columnist had declared “North Korea chic” to be one of this year’s top fashion trends, I immediately assumed that someone was failing to appreciate someone’s rather tasteless parody. When Americans do think of North Korea, they often infantilize it. Tasteless parodies may be our third-most common reaction to North Korea, after apathy and passive disgust. Sadly, having seen the screenshot of Joe Zee’s post, I think Zee was seriously suggesting that “North Korea chic” was a real trend:
This time, it’s edgier, even dangerous, with sharp buckles and clasps and take-no-prisoners tailoring.
As of last night, the offending page had been removed from the slide show and sent to Elle’s memory hole. All that remained were some reader comments (if one really “reads” Elle) that, given the venue, were encouraging for their relative moral depth.
This is disgusting and not funny. North Korea chic? Where are the starving and beaten children, women and men? Learn about what’s really happening in North Korea before you make stupid titles like this.
Not to mention ‘take-no-prisoners tailoring’. Way to cheapen the experience of people suffering in gulags up and down North Korea, Elle.
Leaving the slide for “N” nondescript only makes it more evident of the ignorant mistake you made. How about you stop hiring “fashionistas” and hire someone can use a dictionary or is actually aware of current trends? Nautical? Navy? Neon? I could go on if you are at a loss of ideas.
Elle does not acknowledge removing the image or apologize for publishing it in the first place, but does acknowledge its readers’ outrage in an unsigned post written in a shallow, bouncy style you’re more used to seeing in Tiger Beat (don’t try to deny it). I left a comment at that last link. Perhaps you’ll want to leave a comment of your own?
Over the weekend, a lot people were giggling at the decision by Paul Chan, President of HELP University, to award an honorary degree in economics of Kim Jong Un. Foreign Policy’s Isaac Stone Fish, who first revealed the story, obligingly prints Chan’s manifesto, which reads like the work of a true belieber — a man who writes as if he has spent an inordinate amount of time watching High School Musical over and over again. I have fond memories of my friendships with Malaysian students during law school, so it saddens me to say that this can’t be unrelated to the weirdness of Malaysia’s political culture. At the end of the day, however, the main consequence of this will be to make HELP University look ridiculous, and to highlight how little Kim Jong Un really knows about economics.
What concerns me more is how the weirdness of Malaysia’s political culture may play a role in North Korea’s illicit arms deals and the evasion of U.N. Security Council sanctions. The Korea Herald has called Malaysia “a cornerstone for North Korea’s diplomacy in Southeast Asia.” Malaysian banks are suspected of hosting offshore bank accounts for North Korea, and of serving as financial intermediaries for North Korea’s arms deals with Burma, long after those transactions were banned by U.N. Security Council resolutions. As of July, Malaysia had not yet provided the U.N. a report of its compliance with U.N. Security Council resolutions sanctioning North Korea. Today, it is one of just two states that still has direct Air Koryo flights to Pyongyang.
Every now and then, I read something so brilliant I’m angry at myself for not writing it first.
While I was there, I also found this guilty pleasure.
So the news today is that North Korea–which President Bush removed from the list of state sponsors of terrorism on October 11, 2008 for agreeing to give up its nuclear weapons programs–has warned the civilian populations of Baengnyeong-do, Yeonpyeong-do, and other islands in the Yellow Sea to evacuate now. The instrument this time is the quasi-official Uriminzokkiri, which is hosted in China, a nation that embraces the sacred principle that all speech, no matter how threatening or objectionable, has a protected place in the marketplace of ideas.
Yes, children, there is a word for this sort of thing.
Some sources are also alleging that during a visit to some of the artillery units with their guns trained on the islands, Kim Jong Un threatened to “wipe out” Baengnyeong-do, population 5,000, although the curious thing about that is I can’t find a KCNA report quoting His Porcine Majesty as saying quite what Sky News and Al Jazeera say he said.
You can see more pictures of the budding Western-oriented reformer here, posing with one of North Korea’s 170 millimeter koksan guns, which, from forward placements, can range parts of Seoul. I can hardly wait to hear how he reacts to this statement, by Rep. Mike Rogers:
“You have a 28-year-old leader who is trying to prove himself to the military, and the military is eager to have a saber-rattling for their own self-interest,” said Rep. Mike Rogers, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. “And the combination of that is proving to be very, very deadly.” [….] “This is very, very concerning, as we just don’t know the stability of their leader — again, 28 years old,” Rogers said. “We’re just not confident that we know he wouldn’t take those steps.” [CNN]
Keep the good people of the Yellow Sea islands in your thoughts. These must be pretty scary times for them.