Whatever happened to armed and dangerous North Korea, The Rogue Nation Voted Most Likely To Nuke Somebody In The Next Five Minutes™?
Heck, only a month ago North Korea was topping the charts on the international scare-o-meter.
Oh, it’s still there.
Still spending more than a third of its GDP on its missiles, mini-subs and million-soldier Korean People’s Army while millions of other North Koreans teeter on the brink of famine.
Still controlled by a junta of stone-cold, steel-eyed generals with chunky, baby-faced Kim Jong-un (The Littlest Kim®) still acting as pseudo-dynastic front man.
But something’s different. Actually a lot of things are different.
Let’s start with The Littlest Kim®. He’s disappeared.
Not “disappeared” like his dad and granddad used to make people “disappear.” But he’s pretty much out of the public eye, withdrawn from circulation, since the big send-off for his dad, the Dear Departed Leader, a month ago.
Sure, he’s got to prep for the Really Big Show that Pyongyang is putting on in two weeks to mark the (supposed) 70th anniversary of the birth of Dear Departed Leader Kim Jong-il (who was actually born Yuri Irsenovich Kim in the Soviet Union a year before his supposed birth on a sacred Korean mountain, purported HQ of his father’s resistance movement against the occupying Japanese).
And, of course, The Littlest Kim® has to oversee all the details involved in the (non-political) prisoner amnesty taking place this month in honour of said 70th birthday bash.
But it’s fairly obvious the generals know Kim Jong-un’s debut as The Great Successor was laughably inadequate (pretty much a belly flop) and they’ve ordered a recall and total re-tooling of The Littlest Kim® 1.1.
Expect to see a somewhat harder, edgier Kim Jong-un when he re-emerges in public for the Feb. 16 birthday party. (The fast-diet drugs they’re force-feeding him at the moment also make the jaw jut and eyes crackle with crazy fire. Just keep the boy away from that red launch button. Only kidding. He’ll still be fat — but with more poise.)
There also seems to be some serious musical chairs going on behind the scenes (not unexpected, given the complexity of power shifting in the interregnum created by the sudden removal of a dictator).
But the end result is that all the major players — not just poster boy Kim Jong-un — have dropped out of sight for the past month.
Of course they’re busy plotting and backstabbing, but they also know a high profile is a very dangerous accessory to have at this particular time.
Which is why the guy delegated to meet the mighty Naguib Sawiris at the airport on Wednesday was an unnamed nobody, a flunky who is either expendable or not seen as a threat to anyone.
Sawiris, by the way, is the Egyptian mega-billionaire whose family controls the Orascom telecommunications conglomerate, which still has a passing interest — along with Russian technoligarchs — in Canada’s Wind wireless network.
Orascom has the contract to develop wireless telecommunications in North Korea (my guess is that it ends up being 6,000 mobile handsets for the elite with 14,000 state security personnel monitoring all on-air traffic). In the process of securing the high-risk/high-reward contract, Sawiris became best buds — and drinking pals — with Kim Sung-il and his oily gofer Jang Song-thaek, seen here enjoying each other’s company tremendously in January 2010.
Sawiris has shown up in Pyongyang this week to make sure his business interests are still safe (as safe as anything can be in North Korea) and to pay his respects to the Dear Departed Leader.
Not a single North Korean who merits being mention by name is to be seen with Sawiris, but at least the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) is still pumping out photos of his visit (with the briefest, most neutral, least committed and thus least dangerous captions) — so it appears Sawiris is in the new regime’s good books — for the time being.
The KCNA has just released video, supposedly made last week, that shows Kim Jong-un getting the star treatment from rapturous kids at an elite military school and hovering like a jovial balloon over pee-their-pants-scared airmen trying to eat some grey slop at KPA air force unit 1017.
As with most of the KCNA’s video and photo coverage of the leadership, there’s nothing to clearly denote when the images were made. So maybe it was last week (with Kim Jong-un — still looking fat — being taken out for a test drive) or maybe it wasn’t. I’m still waiting to see the model they unveil in two weeks.
In the meantime, the KCNA (not knowing who to suck up to) has to make do with things like …
A photo of the Ponghwa soap factory…
And a photo of the Kanggye knitted goods factory …
And stories like: “Pyongyang, February 1 (KCNA) — The U.S. is pushing ahead with its plan for starting a new war on the Korean Peninsula.”
And — my favourite — a photo of North Korean “figure skaters” looking at skates. No kidding. Here’s the official KCNA cutline: “Pyongyang, February 2 (KCNA) — Figure skaters are training hard after receiving figure skates, gifts of leader Kim Jong Il.”
Train harder! But don’t put on the skates — we have to return them to Canadian Tire after the photo shoot.
Extra! Extra! This just in: A North Korean with a name and title has finally met Naguib Sawiris. And the winner is … Kim Yong-nam, president of the presidium of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) Supreme People’s Assembly. Things are looking up for the Egyptian telecommunications mogul. Or else they’re looking down for Kim Yong-nam. (And don’t you like his title, “president of the presidium?” That’s like being “king of the kingship.”)
And KCNA is even engaging in North Korea’s version of celebrity/pop culture journalism: A tribute to the memory of state opera singer Im Tok-sun, 67, who dropped dead of a heart attack or stroke on Dec. 30, perhaps in emulation of the Dear Departed Leader.
Here’s part of the story on Im Tok-sun:
“After joining the Korean People’s Army Song and Dance Ensemble in 1971, he played the part of a botanist in the revolutionary opera The Story of a Nurse, a winner of the People’s Prize…
“After the performance leader Kim Jong-il highly appreciated Im’s acting, saying the actor in his twenties performed well just like an old botanist.”
Really. You can’t make this stuff up.
What the heck, here’s the whole story, courtesy of your friendly North Korea propaganda team. Enjoy:
Singer Remaining in Memory of Korean People
Pyongyang, January 28 (KCNA) — After enjoying a music and dance performance “Let Us Uphold Our Supreme Commander Forever” at the April 25 House of Culture in Pyongyang some time ago, the dear respected Kim Jong Un recollected Im Tok Su, 67, who was a singer of the State Merited Chorus.
Kim Jong Un said he felt sorry that Im died in harness after singing revolutionary songs for decades.
Born as a son of a mine worker, Im enlisted in the Korean People’s Army in Juche 52 (1963).
During his military service, he took part in servicepersons’ art festival.
After joining the Korean People’s Army Song and Dance Ensemble in 1971, he played the part of a botanist in the revolutionary opera “The Story of a Nurse”, a winner of the People’s Prize.
Under the guidance of Kim Jong Il, he successfully performed his part as a veteran member of the Workers’ Party of Korea in the opera.
In December that year the song and dance ensemble performed the opera in honor of President Kim Il Sung. After the performance leader Kim Jong Il highly appreciated Im’s acting, saying the actor in his twenties performed well just like an old botanist.
Since then, he took part in some 1 000 performances of the opera.
Afterwards, Im took the part of the hero in another revolutionary opera “Under the Bright Sun”.
After enjoying the opera, Kim Jong Il introduced Im to the President, saying he performed a feat as a botanist in the opera “The Story of a Nurse”.
Im was honored with the title of Merited Artiste in September 1978.
He visited many army units and industrial establishments to sing solo or in chorus. He also made performance tours of some Asian and European nations.
He was active as deputy head of the song and dance ensemble and a section chief of the State Merited Chorus, training a lot of singers.
He, honored again with the title of People’s Artiste, took part in more than 100 performances of the State Merited Chorus from the first one in December 1995.
He died of a sudden illness in December 30 last year while energetically conducting artistic activities for inspiring with strength and courage the Korean servicepersons and civilians who were overwhelmed with grief at the demise of leader Kim Jong Il.
Though he passed away, he still remains in the memory of the Korean people.