North Korea’s iconic statues of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il, two of the most powerful symbols of the country’s regime, will remain standing even if the country collapses and it is re-unifed with the South, according to a foremost expert in North Korean current affairs.
B.R. Myers, author of The Cleanest Race, recently conducted an interview where he touched upon what a unified Korea might look like, suggesting that the situation experienced in Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein would be an unlikely outcome upon reunification. While some suggest that it will be essential to mirror the de-Baathification process in order to move the Koreas forward along the same path, Myers makes the case that because South Korea still has statues of its own former dictators, the same should be expected in the North:
Let me go on the record as being the first person to predict this – I believe that after reunification North Koreans are not only going to hold on to those statues but will also say “Hey you guys, you’ve got your statues of Park Chun-hee and so on…we want to keep our statue of this guy.” But Kim Il-sung’s stock is also going to rise in South Korea as well, because Korean nationalism depends on nothing so much as the perception that the colonial period was the worst period in Korean history.
Moving on, Myers suggests that due to increasing nostalgia for the former North Korean leaders, revisionism will set in and a new narrative explaining the fall of the Kim’s in a positive light will emerge – circulating amongst both citizens of the south and former north. He maintains that hatred of the Japanese will remain the core issue for Koreans to overcome and that this issue will help unite people and make such historical revisionism possible.
From his book “The Cleanest Race”, Myers stands out from the rest for arguing that North Korea’s political system is based neither on Communism or Stalinism and that attempts to understand North Korea as a Confucian patriarchy operating within a Cold War framework are misguided. His views have received mixed opinions from the think-tank orthodoxy. While some regard his outlook as a fresh approach to the topic, others have rebutted his interpretation of North Korea as a national socialist country and continue to view it through the lens of cold war politics.
In the interview Myers also talks about the North Korea watcher community’s somewhat muted reaction to his book, saying:
“[Since publication] I encountered a sort of a strange ambivalence because on the one hand I received almost exclusively positive remarks about the book from journalist and diplomats and so on. And yet at the same time I have noticed no difference at all, either in press reporting … or in academic work on North Korea, which continues to act not only as if my own book had never been published but as if North Korea had never really proclaimed its military-first policy.”
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