The Right Coast
November 23, 2004
Not A Good Picture For Kim Jong Il
By Maimon Schwarzschild
If pictures of "Dear Leader" Kim Jong Il really are coming down in North Korea, it's difficult to imagine that he is still in charge, dictator-wise. The Communist tradition is that leader-icons disappear only when a leader falls.
In one of his books, Arkady Vaksberg tells a story of his mother going to the Central Post Office in Moscow in the early 1950s and seeing a patch of walpaper where Lavrenti Beria's framed photograph had been: she understood immediately that Beria had fallen from power. (Khrushchev and Co. had arranged for Beria to be arrested, "tried", and -- in very short order -- shot.) Subscribers to the Great Soviet Encyclopaedia soon afterward received a package with a covering letter instructing the recipient to cut out pages such-and-such from the Encyclopaedia, and to paste in the enclosed new pages instead. It turned out that the pages to be excised were the Encyclopaedia's fawning entry on Beria; the substitute pages were photographs of the Bering Sea...
The story, apparently being offered by North Korean officials, that Kim's portraits are down so that the frames can be refurbished, would be laughable in just about any context. In the Communist context it is even more laughable.
UPDATE: The New York Times has this interesting background story on possible "cracks" in the North Kroean regime.
And Peter Connolly, of Washington DC, recalls this passage from Milan Kundera's Book of Laughter and Forgetting, on Communists and photos:
In February 1948, Communist leader Klement Gottwald stepped out on the balcony of a Baroque palace in Prague to address hundreds of thousands of his fellow citizens packed into Old Town Square. It was a crucial moment in Czech history - a fateful moment of the kind that occurs once or twice in a millennium.