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View more articles by Chad O'Carroll
Chad O'Carroll has written on North Korea since 2010 and writes between London and Seoul.
North Korean state media called President Obama a “wicked black monkey” and South Korean President Park Geun-hye an “old prostitute” in a duo of articles and highly inflammatory commentaries published last Friday.
The condemnations, which included unprecedented levels of extremely racist and offensive rhetoric, were published following a speech made by President Obama during a visit to South Korea in April and spotted by North Korea watcher Josuha Stanton of the One Free Korea blog, several days after publication.
But while an English language article published by the Korea Central News Agency (KCNA) contained just one reference to the terms “monkey” and “prostitute”, a separate Korean language article – published 90 mins later – contained far stronger language, representing previously unseen level of unfiltered racism towards the U.S. President.
The Korean only article, comprising the direct opinions of four local North Koreans, said Obama resembled a “monkey“ and that Park, who hosted him during his recent visit to Seoul, was a “whore”.
“How Obama looks like makes me disgusted,” Kang Hyuk, a worker at the Chollima Ironworks Factory said when translated into English.
“As I watch him more closely, I realize that he looks like an African native monkey with a black face, gaunt grey eyes, cavate nostrils, plump mouth and hairy rough ears.
“He acts just like a monkey with a red bum irrationally eating everything – not only from the floor but also from trees here and there…Africa’s national zoo will be the perfect place for Obama to live with licking bread crumbs thrown by visitors,” Kang concluded.
Jung Young Guk of the DPRK Ocean Management Office said the timing of Obama’s visit – so soon after the sinking of the Sewol ferry – was difficult to understand, adding that Obama had a “disgusting monkey look even though he is wearing a fancy suit like a gentleman”.
National People’s Congress Instructor Choi Yang Sun took offense at the U.S. decision to indefinitely extend the transfer of wartime operational control (OPCON) to South Korea, arguing that President Park had welcomed false promises from Obama by “taking off her underwear”.
Another citizen quoted in the piece said that South Korean citizens were talking “shit’ about Obama “behind his back,” pointing out that he was nothing more than a “paper tiger”.
“BEYOND THE PALE”
“There is no similar instance of this sort of language in the recent KCNA history,” said Frank Feinstein, who runs the North Korean propaganda monitoring KCNA Watch service.
“I think you can read a lot into the fact this article has been released in Korean only, given it’s then less likely to be commented on by international media,” Feinstein added.
Despite the racial outburst, KCNA often reports on issues of race and social justice within the U.S., and often writes about the use of such derogatory terms if they appear in foreign media outlets.
However, observers such as B.R. Myers have long argued that North Korea practices a culture of racist ethnocentrism and xenophobia, which promotes the superiority of the Korean race above all others.
Reacting to the latest commentary North Korea watcher Christopher Green, who is the International Editor at the Daily NK, said that the article was “beyond the pale” and that he had sympathy for the journalist who had been tasked with writing it.
“It’s contemptible, and I have nothing but sympathy for the ‘journalist’ tasked with authoring it, for I doubt very much that this is how he or she would wish to spend the working day. I also struggle to envision a political framework within which it was felt to be necessary to publish such a thing,” Green said.
But Green added that focusing on the article risked ignoring documented human rights abuses going on day-by-day in North Korea. “Can we please recall that such vitriolic, abusive rhetoric is just that: abusive rhetoric.”
“Needless to say, I’d still far rather be Barack Obama or Park Geun-hye than any one of the many thousands of people suffering very real abuses in North Korea today, and I’d rather people work on changing that reality than focusing their ire on the kind of boilerplate junk that North Korea passes off as news,” Green added.
Dr. Andrei Lankov, a North Korea watcher based at Kookmin University in Seoul, said North Korea’s racist tone may have been inherited from the Soviet Union.
“While theoretically the Soviet bloc strove to present itself as the natural protector of the blacks against the imperialists, the actual popular attitude to the Africans in the Soviet Union has been at least patronizing or even disparaging. North Koreans borrowed this to some extent, and also they might have been influenced with the ‘scientific racism’ which was extremely popular in both Japan and China until the Second World War.
“The Africans were seen as an inferior race in this hierarchy. The emphasis on race is important in the North Korean world view, and races are seen as forming a natural hierarchy where the blacks occupy a lower position,” Lankov said.
The KCNA Watch data tool shows that North Korean media has mentioned both Obama and Park more frequently in recent months. Both charts (pictured below) show an upswing in the number of times the two leaders are mentioned in KCNA articles starting around mid-February. This is despite North Korea proposing a no-slander agreement in January 2014.
North Korea first referred to Park as a “bitch” and “prostitute” in April, following a speech Pyongyang objected to that she made in Dresden, Germany, on the topic of North Korea and reunification policy.
The North frequently levels harsh criticism at South Korea’s presidents, having labeled Park’s predecessor Lee Myung-bak a “traitor” and “scum.” Lee was also depicted as a rat by North Korean media in a series of cartoons showing a variety of bloody deaths.
But while the insults towards the South Korean President dropped significantly after Parks inauguration in February 2012, following a deterioration in inter-Korean relations they have been sharply rising.
Kang Tae-jun, JH Ahn and Leo Byrne contributed to this report
Featured Image: Becky F, Creative Commons