Kim Jong-un reached seemingly impossible new levels of paranoia this week as the infamous North Korean leader imposed a nation-wide ban on sarcasm. Anything which may be considered an indirect criticism of the country’s government is now forbidden in every day conversation, with phrases such as “this is all America’s fault” being specifically targeted (this alluding to the state head’s tendency to attribute any internal problem to other countries).
A stream of increasingly ludicrous rumours about Kim Jong-un in recent years have led to him becoming something of a laughing stock here in the west – from his alleged ability to drive at age 3 to his invention of an alcohol which doesn’t give you a hangover (as much as we might wish it were true). But this latest step really seems to push the boundaries of what is possible in a 21st century so-called democracy.
Beyond the obvious questions of practicality in terms of implementation, it isn’t immediately clear what this change in the law will accomplish. It’s said that Kim Jong-un has brought about the ban after fearing that people may agree with him ironically – like an American finding themselves surrounded by brits for the first time, we can all surely sympathise with the great commander on this one. But on a serious note, this new rule is yet another example of violations of the right to freedom of expression coming out of North Korea.
The sinister reality of this bizarre move highlights the issue that beneath the layers of material for jokes is a powerful man with the capability to do some terrible things. Already, Kim Jong-un has shown a capacity for brutality within his country far exceeding even that of his father who led North Korea before him. Since he has come to power, he has reportedly executed seven times as many people as Kim Jong-il in his first years in office alone. In a move worthy of an episode of Game of Thrones, Kim Jong-un is said to have burned one deputy minister alive using a flame thrower.
On an international level, too, he has demonstrated a disregard for rules and a capacity to cause real damage with little care for the consequences. North Korea’s recent nuclear test (successful this time it would seem) flew in the face of international relations and at long last gave some substance to the country’s threats of nuclear attack towards America and other western countries. So should we be worried, or are his actions simply an elaborate over-compensation for a lack of any real competence?
It could be argued that these are the acts of a desperate leader simply grasping at straws. It seems that this ban on sarcasm may in fact be an indication that the Korean people aren’t as enamoured with their Commander in Chief as their national publications would have us believe. Regional media has reported an increase in dissent recently within the country, with graffiti mocking the government and Kim Jong-un particularly.
It seems at times that not even his own staff have faith in him. When he was abruptly thrust into the spotlight after surprisingly being chosen as his father’s successor (his older half-brother Kim Jong-nam had been the favourite to lead the country next but reportedly fell out of favour after he was caught attempting to enter Japan with a fake passport to visit Tokyo Disneyland) his advisors set about making him into the image of his grandfather, a leader much beloved by the Korean people. This elaborate process, which supposedly included a bout of plastic surgery, seems to suggest that those closest to Kim Jong-un don’t think he alone has what it takes to lead.
In such a strange time for the country, even by North Korean standards, it’s very interesting to see whether Kim Jong-un can really take on the top job, and what his next seemingly crazed move will be. Unfortunately for us only time will tell, perhaps assisted by some South Korean intelligence agents.
Image: Marco Verch