The last couple of years have been very eventful for dictator-watchers. After a series of geriatric regimes collapsed in 2011, we are now seeing the tentative green shoots of an authoritarian recovery. For instance, in Egypt Mohammed Morsi is currently staging a coup. We will need to wait and see how all that plays out, but- pace the US state department and countless naïve Western journalists- it was entirely predictable.
In Syria Assad is hanging on, and if he falls then his regime will surely be replaced with something equally if not more horrible. Libya is chaotic, Tunisia is a mess- but in both countries things will need to deteriorate further before aspiring strongmen can justify power grabs. Over in Iran, Khamenei is still rockin’ in the un-free world though very soon Mahmoud Ahmadinjead will be only a memory for most of us. Meanwhile all across Central Asia dictatorships are standing firm, but nobody in the media cares what happens over there.
As for North Korea, well the world’s most classical totalitarian dictatorship remains resolutely unreformed. Who could believe that it’s been a year since puffy faced dough boy Kim Jong-il shuffled off this mortal coil thus propelling his son, the puffy faced dough boy Kim Jong–un into the global spotlight?
And what a ride it’s been! This week brought news that the North Koreans are planning to launch a long range missile to celebrate. But is that really the best the North Koreans can do? After all, the nation’s top scientists have now had a year to work on embalming the remains of Kim Jong-il, so perhaps there will be a surprise unveiling. Will the mummified Kim Jong-il be animatronic, talking and waving at visitors like the robot presidents at Disneyworld? We can but hope.
Kim Jong-un meanwhile has become very popular. As I write this, he’s ahead in Time magazine’s online “Person of the Year” poll. He had a little help from the website 4chan, which is very popular among connoisseurs of sexual, violent and disgusting imagery, or so I am told. Apparently Morsi was ahead by 60,000 votes until the readers of 4chan propelled Kim to the front. This latest success follows on his winning the “Sexiest Man Alive” title from The Onion, a victory triumphantly reported by The China People’s Daily.
Of course, some claim that the award was satirical but Kim is definitely sexier than Morsi, who looks like a bear in glasses. The bad news for Kim is that Time magazine is not a democracy and the editorial board can at any point overrule the will of the people- much like Kim himself.
Still, it must have been a nice way to end the year, especially after his 17 year old nephew Kim Han-sol called him a dictator in an interview with a Finnish TV station in October. That must have stung! Kim Han-sol is a nerdy-looking kid with glasses, lacking the family penchant for wearing pajamas in public, which the Kims share with the hillbillies at my local Wal-Mart. He actually wore a suit for interview. He wants to heal the world, like Michael Jackson before it all went wrong:
''I would like to engage in more humanitarian projects, work to contribute to building world peace, especially back home because that is a really important part of me.''.
As for Kim Jon-un, what has he actually done in his first year in power? Well, in August he threatened “all out war” with South Korea over a military drill his neighbor was conducting with the US. But people were actually much more interested a month earlier when he appeared in public with his wife, Ri Sol-ju by his side. When Ri subsequently disappeared for two months North Korea watchers speculated that she might be pregnant, just like the Duchess of Cambridge. Could play-dates between the heirs to the thrones of England and North Korea be on the cards? We can but hope.
Kim has also spent a lot of his time looking at things- e.g. seafood, juice, socks, a child’s amusement park, animals at the zoo, a bath, a guitar, a gun, etc. Indeed there is an entire blog dedicated to this pastime (http://kimjongunlookingatthings.com/) leaving us in no doubt that Kim really likes looking at things.
Undoubtedly however Kim Jong-un’s biggest success this year was the international mega-hit, Gangnam Style. Very soon the portly Kim was everywhere, singing and doing his special horse dance on the Ellen DeGeneres show, in Las Vegas, Australia and beyond. He even showed up on the American Music Awards where he danced alongside MC Hammer. With his humility, charm, warmth and keen sense of humor, Kim did wonders for the reputation of North Korea. Indeed, as I write this he has racked up over 880 million views of the video on Youtube.
What, that was somebody else? Oh, well- never mind. It’s still a great track.