Last week, after meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore, U.S. President Donald Trump told ABC News reporter George Stephanopoulos his thoughts on the DPRK in an interview. Trump said, “His country does love him (Kim Jong Un). His people, you see the fervor. They have a great fervor.” Trump added, “They’re gonna put it together, and I think they’re going to end up with a very strong country, and a country which has people — that they’re so hard-working, so industrious.”
Trump privately praised North Korea’s state-run television and later said on the television show Fox and Friends that Kim Jong Un “speaks and his people sit up in attention. I want my people to do the same.”
As a historian who wrote his PhD dissertation on the various ways in which the DPRK appealed to Third World governments (many of whom were led by dictators), I naturally compared Trump’s comments with the ways in which other Cold War-era leaders previously praised North Korea’s system.
In many respects, Trump’s comments on North Korea matched and sometimes even exceeded what tyrants such as Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu, Zimbabwean autocrat Robert Mugabe, and Cambodian tyrant Pol Pot thought of the DPRK’s political system.
In June 1971, Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu visited North Korea on an official state visit. He came away from the visit deeply impressed by Kim Il Sung’s personality cult, the government’s mobilization of the masses, and the state-run media.
He later told other members of the Politburo that Romania needed to reform its media in accordance to what he saw in the DPRK. Ceaușescu said, “What I have seen in China and Korea, however, is living proof that the conclusion we have reached [on reforming the state propaganda system] is just.”
Ceaușescu particularly admired North Korea’s ability to mobilize its people for events, such as welcoming him on the streets of Pyongyang. The Romanian dictator later tried to replicate these types of militaristic mass rallies back in Bucharest to no avail. Members of his military executed him and his wife on state-run television in 1989.
Ceaușescu wanted a personal dictatorship in the same style as Kim Il Sung’s regime. Thus, Ceaușescu laid out the July Theses when he returned to Romania after his trip to Asia. This campaign to mobilize his countrymen in a neo-Stalinist fashion and build a personality cult was heavily influenced by what he saw in North Korea.
In his bid to avoid dependence on the Soviet Union, Ceausescu naturally found North Korea’s Juche philosophy endearing as it promoted self-reliance. North Korea’s autarky, autonomy, and nationalism allured the Romanian dictator. Books on Juche were later translated into the Romanian language during the early 1970s. Unlike Ceaușescu, the tariff-loving and closed borders-promoting Trump luckily never heard of Juche.
After visiting North Korea in 1981, Zimbabwean despot Robert Mugabe returned to Harare lauding the DPRK’s land reform program, the Kim family personality cult, and mass rallies. A former supporter of Mugabe said that the leader “came back almost a different man” after touring the DPRK in 1980.
Mugabe “was tremendously impressed by the stadiums full of people doing mass calisthenics. He came back wanting to become president, like Kim. There was no more primus inter pares about him after that.” Mugabe singled out North Korea’s re-distribution of land to the peasants after Japanese colonization as a model for future land reform in Zimbabwe.
Like Ceaușescu, Mugabe admired the Juche philosophy with its attitude of anti-imperialism, self-sufficiency, and anti-foreignism. In 2007, reports came out of Zimbabwe noting, “Visitors to the offices of high-ranking officials in Robert Mugabe’s beleaguered government in recent weeks have noticed the same book open for study: Juche! The Speeches and Writings of Kim Il Sung.” A source said, “Some may actually believe this stuff, but it’s more that they want to understand where the President is coming from.”
A North Korean influence can still be felt in present-day Zimbabwe as primary and secondary students must take a “mass display” exam. Like their counterparts in North Korea, Zimbabwean schoolchildren are required to learn choreography and mass gymnastic maneuvers in an attempt to foster collectivism. “The method behind [Minister] Dokora’s Mass Display madness is born from Chinese/North Korean mass indoctrination strategies,” An angry Zimbabwean tweeted out after this exam was implemented in 2016.
In addition to Ceaușescu and Mugabe, numerous other unsavory figures have praised North Korea’s political system. Cambodian genocidal despot Pol Pot admired North Korea’s self-reliance, while Alexander Dugin, a prominent Russian ultra-nationalist philosopher and current ideological advisor to Vladimir Putin, said, “I don’t think that Juche ideas are any weaker than the ideas of globalization.”
Dugin also said, “We have plenty to learn from [North] Korea – like having a sense of the greatness of one’s motherland.” Meanwhile, neo-Nazi Matthew Heimbach of the Traditional Workers’ Party told NK News in January 2017, “As nations like Iraq, Afghanistan, Egypt and Libya have all fallen to globalist ‘regime changes’ in recent years, the DPRK has remained free and independent.”
Trump has joined the infamous ranks of communist despots, Third World dictators, and neo-Nazis that have praised North Korea’s political system.
Unfortunately, Trump’s admiration for the DPRK may exponentially grow if he ever travels to Pyongyang. The U.S President would most likely be enchanted with Kim’s personality cult and want one for himself back in DC. Luckily, U.S-North Korea’s speedy normalization of relations has not reached that point just yet.
Edited by Colin Zwirko
Featured image: Kevin Lim/THE STRAITS TIMES
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