Sunday, September 12, 2010

North Korean defectors have a problem with Kim Jong Un taking over

With Pyongyang set for a Workers’ Party convention that could trumpet the country’s next leader — Kim Jong Il’s youngest son — defectors who speak regularly to North Koreans hear plenty of opinions reflecting what Kim Un Ho described as a broad sentiment against hereditary succession.

“Of 10 people I talk to,’’ he said, “all 10 have a problem with Kim Jong Un taking over.’’

Just as North Koreans know little about their potential future leader, the rest of the world knows almost nothing about North Korean opinions. Recent academic research, based on surveys with defectors, suggests that North Koreans are growing frustrated with a government that allowed widespread starvation in the early 1990s and orchestrated brutal currency reform in 2009 that was designed to wipe out the private markets that enable most residents to feed themselves.

The defectors are motivated to emphasize the worst-case scenario in their homeland. There are some who think that Kim Jong Un will take power and gradually lead North Korea to Soviet-style reforms. Some defectors say that even though the younger Kim is largely unknown, they hope he will allow for a free economy after his father dies.

Sohn Kwang Joo, chief editor of the Daily NK, a Seoul-based publication focusing on North Korea, receives frequent reports from stringers in four North Korean provinces. Those ground-level reporters, gathering information mostly from intellectuals, farmers, and laborers, suggest to Sohn that “8 or 9 out of every 10 people are critical of Kim Jong Un.’’

A recent report from PSCORE, a Seoul-based nongovernmental organization promoting harmony on the Korean Peninsula, suggested that two party officials were sent to a gulag last month for slandering the chosen heir.

Kim Young Il, a PSCORE director who was in China during Kim Jong Il’s recent trip, said, “Criticism of Kim Jong Un is very strong. . . . What you see now is face-level loyalty, but it’s not genuine.’’

[The Boston Globe]

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