Im Dienst des Diktators (In the service of the dictator)

Im Dienst des Diktators - Ingrid Steiner-Gashi, Dardan Gashi

Im Dienst des Diktators – Leben und Flucht eines nordkoreanischen Agenten (Ingrid Steiner Gashi, Dardan Gashi)

I’ve just finished reading a very saddening yet brave life story of Kim Jong Il’s personal agent, Kim Jong Ryul. Life and Flight of A North Korean Agent – it is saddening because it seems to me that he will not live to see his one and only dream in life fulfilled – that of the reunification of North and South Korea.

In short, this german biography (written by an Austrian couple) uncovers the ill-fated lives of those in the North. Jong Ryul is one of the few emancipated hermits who benefited directly from serving the Leader, having received specialised education in various communistic yet westernized lands like East Berlin and Dresden, as well as stayed for long periods of time in other stalinised countries like the old Russia (USDDR) and Austria. He is also one of the rare rebels in the country who decided to exchange these benefits for one thing in the world that cannot be derived in his hometown and which has been denied to his people for as long as he could remember – Freiheit! (Freedom). It demonstrates the power and piquancy of liberty in the face of life-and-death situations, one luxurious ideal that bestrides the world on its own implacable terms in leading human beings to doing the most unthinkable and to risk their life in so doing.

From another standpoint though, it could be that the fatal attraction of liberty actually plays no significant role here, that nothing beats getting out of North Korea. Punkt. It shows just how adverse life in the North has become, even for an elite like himself. All signs of hope that have survived the 2 Korean wars in the past century seem to have withered long ago, perhaps even before the passing of the ‘Father’ of the North, Kim Il Sung.

2 flashes of thought that came to my mind when I was reading the book:

1. North Korea can and will never be saved, for reasons within and without. The former has got to do with the passive and unbelievably contented nature of her people, due largely to the repression, so much so that no one dares to rebel against the colossal evil before their eyes anymore, this being one of the biggest problems identified by Jong Ryul. Nobody can blame them because the ruthlessness of the Leader has proven to be doubtless and swift. The latter pertains to the already developing and fast evolving South, who wishes to play no part in reversing an intractable fate like that of the North. In times like this, who cares about whether blood is thicker than water? Unless, of course, the Leader threatens to send the toy bomb flying across the ocean, again.

2. Every ruling authority in every country engages in propaganda to an extent, so that the show can run as scripted. Everyone of us plays a role as a pawn on the chessboard, and all of us work towards securing the fate of the most important piece on the board so that the game will keep on playing. The difference between the rest of the world and North Korea is that the hands controlling the liberalised pawns are invisible; those controlling the suppressed pawns are invincible. The bad news is that even the free souls have become totally desensitized to their own needs because they have become too accustomed to the chartered rhythms in life. There can be no such thing as complete liberty because a country must be ruled in one way or another. So we ask ourselves: why are we here? Why are we doing what we are doing? Why should this be done? These are not questions pursuing the origin of life, but that of the purpose of life, as an individual, for an individual.

We have learnt a precious and painful lesson: that absolute communism cannot survive the greed and evil of mankind. Its ideals, as magnanimous as they are, cannot be realized in a complex world where conflicts are incessant. So, Jong Ryul, no doubt everyone wishes for your dream to be fulfilled one day, it being a most altruistic dream one can have, but even if it does come true, it may not occur in your lifetime.

But then again, miracles do happen, don’t they?

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