The Korean People are doing their best to turn the country into a socialist fairyland”: Glory Reflected, The Emergent Environmental Strategies of Kim Jong Un
by Robert Winstanley-Chesters
June 28th marks the six-month anniversary of the ascension to power of Kim Jong Un after his father’s funereal mourning period. DPRK- and Kim-watchers initially spent much this time wondering what on earth a North Korea under the rule of “the young leader” would be like. What policies would continue, what problems would the DPRK present to the wider world, and would they be qualitatively or quantitatively different from those offered by the era of Kim Jong Il?
It might be fair to say that recent months have represented something of a rude awakening for all involved, as the DPRK’s military and diplomatic strategies have followed the same rollercoaster-esque “push you pull you” style as before. It would be a fair question to ask whether we could in fact distinguish the DPRK’s current political and policy direction with any potentially distinctive “Kim Jong-Un style.” (Of course, the logical corollary of whether we would recognise such a style if it existed is another matter).
This writer’s gaze is of course fixed on the realm of environmental management and the environment in general within the DPRK. By some happy accident, in this particular field of policy/institutional development, Kim Jong Un has put his theoretician’s head above the parapet.
Kim Jong Il’s Environmental Theory | It seems extraordinarily early for this sort of thing to have happened, given the tortuous length of time it took for Kim Jong Il to begin pronouncements of a more particular type after the death of Kim Il Sung. (This is not to say that Kim Jong Il had no theoretical interests at all; it was in the realm of cinema and film theory where Kim Jong Il’s interests were already well documented). It was not until the foundational event within the forestry sector, National Tree Planting Day, was re-imagined at Mt. Moran (rather than Munsu Hill) to feature Kim Jong Il, Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Suk in true Trinitarian fashion (see my previous posting “Trees and a Trinity : Environmental Narratives Revised at the Accession of Kim Jong-il“) in 1999 that environmental narratives or theory began to play a role in the DPRK of Kim Jong Il’s era. April 27, 2012, however, apparently saw the publication of the first work of theory by Kim Jong Un. Astonishingly—given Kim Jong Un’s age and alleged predilections for western technology and basketball—it focuses on the environmental sector.
The Young Theoretician’s Manifest | Aside from being demonstrative of the continued existence of the DPRK’s predilection towards titles of the labyrinthine variety, Kim’s “On Effecting a Drastic Turn in Land Management to Meet the Requirements for Building a Thriving Socialist Nation” serves as something akin to a textual transfiguration within the realm of environmental management.
Reiterating the agenda and perceived historical impacts of the environmental strategies of both Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il, in some senses it may form part of a retrospective exercise in political lionisation focused upon Kim Jong Il (“Under his wise guidance and deep care, a large number of grand edifices of eternal value have been built in various parts of the country and streets and villages have turned into a socialist land of bliss…”). However, this is not its only focus.
Like many of the texts deriving from the early period of Kim Jong Il’s literary production, it serves to direct such lionisation back by reflection upon Kim Jong Un himself. Naturally, although the text does not make clear the direction of practical or theoretical travel that will be undertaken by the younger Kim, it does assert the success of previous directions and notes their importance within the memory and perception of Kim Jong Un.
Accordingly, just as other historical texts (such as Kim Il Sung’s “For the Large-Scale Reclamation of Tidelands”) have been, this text and the legitimative strategy contained within is then incorporated into a process of secondary/ indirect reflection sourced from external/foreign DPRK friendly actors.
The Peruvian Connection | Kim Jong Un’s musings on environmental matters have apparently proved popular and interesting in Peru, where according to the KCNA, both the Socialist Party of Peru and the “Peruvian Group for the Study of Kimilsungism-Kimjongilism” have noted its publication. The importance of recording the reception of Kim Jong Un’s work by such a “tenuous” and distant grouping is of course on the one hand to reaffirm the international mission and importance of the DPRK’s revolution, and more importantly on the other to allow the external source to make explicit what the initial text and local DPRK response only makes implicit, as the Peruvian’s themselves say: “The Peruvian Group for the Study of Kimilsungism-Kimjongilism is convinced that the Korean people will register brilliant successes in preserving land and environment and building a thriving socialist nation true to the idea of Kim Jong Un on land management and under his leadership.”
Whether or not Kim Jong Un has great (and hidden) levels of environmental expertise, or if he is even remotely interested in environmental management issues, will become clearer over time. This text at the very least serves to denote that within this field theory and practice will follow a similar evolutionary path under Kim Jong Un as under Kim Jong Il, and that the environmental field will continue to play an important role with the construction of both dynastic and national legitimacy . In particular environmental projects since the death of Kim Jong Il there have been developments worthy of note, and in a future posting I will investigate the direction of travel at ground level within the sector in this age of Kim Jong Un.
Postscript | It is of course worth bearing in mind both Brian Myers’ assertions as to the flexibility and direction of DPRK material of a presentational nature, especially when it comes to such material’s published form in the English language and the tone of Curtis Melvin’s (of North Korean Economy Watch fame), response: “…On 2012-5-8 KCNA posted two articles citing a publication by Kim Jong-un on “land management”. The paper, titled “On Effecting a Drastic Turn in Land Management to Meet the Requirements for Building a Thriving Socialist Nation”, was not posted but will no doubt be offered for sale to Pyongyang tourists before too long…”
This post was originally published at sinonk.com – The author wishes to acknowledge the editorial support from colleagues at Sino-NK such as Dr Adam Cathcart, Christopher Green, Steven Denney and Darcie Draudt. Any edits or additions to the piece from its original authored draft are acknowledged. The author asserts his right to republish his own work here, but also acknowledges the element of co-production implicit from pieces originally published on sinonk.com