Andrei Lankov on the fall of Jang Song-taek, Kim Jong-un’s uncle and the man assumed in some quarters to be the real power behind the Kimist dispensation. Until last week, that is:
While Jang Song Thaek’s removal has been expected for some time, the North Korean public has been treated to a most unusual piece of political stagecraft. After several days of rumors, on early morning of the 9th December 2013, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), North Korea’s official wire agency, issued a lengthy report about the alleged crimes of Jang Song Thaek. On the same day, the entire first page of Rodong Sinmun was dedicated to the same topic.
Finally, in the afternoon of the same day, North Korean television broadcast dramatic pictures of Jang being arrested at the extended meeting of the Korean Workers Party politburo. While the arrest itself is reminiscent of Beria’s downfall in 1953 – Stalin’s right-hand man was also arrested at a politburo meeting – it might be the first incident of this kind to ever be shown on TV.
It was also reminiscent of the orchestrated purge of the Baath Party by Saddam Hussein in 1979, when about a third of the delegates at a party plenum were dragged outside and shot. There’s no indication of Jang’s ultimate fate yet, though it’s worth noting that he’s the only man to have been purged by all three Kims and to successfully stage two comebacks.
Jang’s downfall also revealed an interesting use of the airbrush. The classical meaning behind airbrushing was to delete the history of the purged individual and make a serious statement that he never existed. That’s not really possible with JST, whose ouster was conducted live on TV amid blaring condemnation from other branches of state media. Nonetheless he has been very publicly vanished from the official visual record since his passing. On this occasion the message seems to be that he most definitely did exist, and, perhaps, that this time he isn’t coming back.
Another must read on the same topic by Adam Cathcart is over here:
When accompanying the effervescent young despot, Jang would dutifully take notes as Kim Jong-un babbled on about such vital matters as shrubbery at theme parks, but when the older man went abroad, he was less mindful of the need to inflate Kim Jong-un’s ego than he might have been.
And finally, NK New Focus argues that JST’s purge is not down to Kim Jong-un asserting his power but to the wider praetorian politics of the regime.