The Patrimony

In politics, everything is relatives

Tag: legacy

One (or more) question(s) about North Korea

by AiteVer

It’s been trending like crazy that Kim Jong-un, the current Supreme Leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (aka the North one) has been out of sight for more than a month. The mystery that surrounds the case has sparked mountainous debate and, strangely, all we can do is wait and see the events unfold.

Kim Jong-un came to power in 2011, following the death of his father Kim Jong-il who had earlier succeeded his father Kim Il-sung, in 1994. The latter was the first leader of the independent North Korea and was canonized as the ‘Eternal Leader’ by the country’s constitution. The respect for the Kim lineage derives from this constitutional arrangement, heavily supported by an all-enhancing state-led personality cult. In short, the Supreme Leader has all the decision-making power and his rule is unquestionable. Well, at least that’s how it looks.

1024px-The_statues_of_Kim_Il_Sung_and_Kim_Jong_Il_on_Mansu_Hill_in_Pyongyang_(april_2012)The ancestors (Source)

Following the disappearance of the latest Kim, there are multiple scenarios on what could have happened and what is expected to happen next. It stems from the nature of the North Korean system that at least some elements of these scenarios are only guesswork:

  • The widely popular view is that Kim Jong-un lost political control and was toppled by his government’s officials. This article describes the decision-making system as highly hierarchical and puts the Central Committee in the strongest position while underlining that the Party is not even mentioned in the constitution. As a result, most interactions ‘stem from habit, custom and established pattern’. No wonder most of the speculation involves a close examination of recent appointments in this strict structure.  This other piece provides a table that shows recent movements in the main governmental bodies.
  • Hwang Pyong-so’s fresh (and highly anticipated) promotion as the vice-chairman of the National Defense Commission and his visit last week to South Korea (on Kim Jong-un’s plane with Kim Jong-un’s bodyguards) suggested that he has become the second strongest person in the country.
  • Then, in another account, a former top official claims that the Leader already lost power to the government’s Organization and Guidance Department back in 2013, which was signaled by the public humiliation and execution of Jang Song-taek, a member of the previously untouchable Kim family.
  • The Diplomat writes that it’s likely that Kim Jong-un’s sister Kim Yo-jong temporarily took over the leadership while he recovers from his mysterious illness. By the way, officially it’s been denied that he’s suffering from any illness.

The above are just some of the speculations that circulate in international media. According to an expert cited by Time magazine

“These episodes [like Kim’s absence] reveal as much about us as them—our own assumptions, even obsessions, when it comes to North Korea. We assume North Korea must be on the brink of collapse, so when the young leader suspends his relentless ‘onsite guidance visits’ for a few weeks, we assume he’s been overthrown. Precisely because we have fewer sources of reliable, direct information about North Korea, it pays not to rush to judgment. “

Either way, there is another alluring question related to the issue: what happens if Kim Jong-un is really out? Interestingly, only a few articles delve into this kind of speculation. It is an exciting one. Living with such a huge legacy and their vividly praised ancestry, certainly no Kim could ever be pushed aside in total silence. Or is this a mistaken assumption? In a personalized de facto monarchy the next Supreme Leader will surely have to be another Kim, right?

A key challenge related to this is that there are very few options left on the table: there’s the sister (who is a ‘senior official’ apart from being sister), there’s that guy who lost his chances by visiting Disneyland on a fake passport, too, and the other brother who was deemed unable to rule by his father and is assumed uncontrollable. It would be easier if Kim Jong-un had an adult heir but he is only reported to have a young daughter. Or is it perhaps time for reconciliation and a new era of North Korean politics? Well…


kim family treeThe Kim Family Tree (Source)

The next major event in the DPRK’s life will be held on October 10. The country will celebrate Party Foundation Day, the celebration of the foundation of the DPRK Workers’ Party, and we will – or we will not – see the Supreme Leader cheering with his people.

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Propaganda, from dawn till Tusk

by fpman

In the context of some serious political campaign struggles in Poland in 2005 it came to be revealed, upon much dirtier allegations, that Donald Tusk, who was then leader of the Polish opposition, did have a bit of a skeleton in the closet problem. His grandfather briefly served in the ranks of the German Wehrmacht during WWII. Even this much could have hurt Tusk, given how Germany treated Poland during the world war. But a deeper look into the matter uncovered that his grandfather was forcibly recruited by the Germans in mid-1944 after serving as a (forced) railway laborer first. Mitigating circumstances, surely.

Tusk says he only learned of all this after he came under attack related to this from political forces to the right of him on the political spectrum in Poland (the camp behind the Kaczyński brothers’ Law and Justice party). This is how he spoke of this:

“I have nothing to regret, it’s my family’s biography. As a historian and as a man, I prefer to know the painful truth over a pleasant lie.”

Tusk went on to become Polish Prime Minister (2007-2014) and eventually President of the European Council – he will only take office in December, but his selection was announced at an August 30 European Council meeting.

On various, by all appearances Russia-friendly, English-language sites (see here [niver85.tumblr.com, September 2] and here [tigr.net, September 5]) that effectively function in this context as echo chambers for a propaganda machinery, there very quickly appeared a different version of Tusk’s past, however, accompanied by what was claimed to be photo proof of that version being the truth (with no references as to where the information regarding this was coming from).

According to the “creative” version, Tusk’s grandfather was even happy to serve in, well, not simply the Wehrmacht but the SS rather… To back up the allegation, even a photo was provided showing a young man in the driver’s seat of a car full of SS officers – and the young man appears remarkably similar to Donald Tusk. The similarity cannot be denied, that is for sure.

One Russian-language source spreading the SS narrative is this livejournal user who is referencing a 2005 report by Novye Izvestia that, as part of legitimate reporting of political developments in Poland, cited allegations of grandpa Józef’s SS past that came from Polish sources at the time and which were eventually discredited – though the livejournal post in question is from September 6 and thus cannot have constituted the basis for the above quoted English-language pieces on the subject. Seemingly independently from this, one chain of sources that can be followed backwards is this string of pages, from here [Zarya Novorossii/Dawn of Novorossiya, September 5] to here [Ridus.ru, September 3]. The text in this case is the one that appeared at tigr.net in English, cited above. And finally, independently of these, there is a post here, from 2011 [oper.ru] that already uses the photo purportedly showing Józef Tusk.

As it often happens, even some fringe media in Central-Eastern Europe who are otherwise interested mostly in the chance of breaking through to masses of random readers with a sudden scoop off somewhere, anywhere, transmitted the story. So did the proudly “politically incorrect” Czech news portal Stalo se, at the URL http://www.stalo-se.cz/?=21028 (no longer taking you to their original article), on September 4.

Here are the manipulative pairs of photos disseminated through the above mentioned echo chambers.

The one from Stalo Se:

ManipulativePairingOfPhotos_TuskAndAnSDmember

The one from this Tumblr page:

ManipulativePairingOfPhotos_TuskAndAnSDmember2

And where this gets really interesting is if you, seeing the SD insignia on the uniform of the officer sitting in the back, go to Wikipedia’s page on the World War Two German Sichereitsdienst (SD). There it is that you find the original of the WWII photo used against Donald Tusk and his grandfather. Here’s a screenshot of the Wikipedia image as it appears there once you click on it:

Tusk_WikiSDimage

The caption says: “Bundesarchiv Bild 101I-380-0069-37, Polen, Verhaftung von Juden, SD-Männer.” It is also added that “This image was provided to Wikimedia Commons by the German Federal Archive (Deutsches Bundesarchiv)” and “Created: September 1939.” Nowhere does it mention who these people are.

So how does one stumble upon a photo like that, showing a man, apparently from 1939, who would accidentally – and rather perfectly from the point of view of propaganda needs – resemble Donald Tusk himself so much? This is a great mystery from the magical world of Eastern Europe where devoted propagandists operating in the shadows often invest a significant number of working hours in such projects.

The one source to which I was able to eventually trace back the association-by-allegation of the above photo, showing unnamed individuals, and Donald Tusk’s grandfather is… a bunch of unknown individuals in the town of Wrocław who handed out flyers to people there some time in May 2010. Their flyer had the above photo on it, and the question of whether the person in the driver’s seat is Józef Tusk. The same flyer was also spreading conspiracy theories related to the Smolensk crash of April 2010, targeting Poland’s current president (since August 2010), Bronisław Komorowski. Komorowski is from Tusk’s party – Platforma Obywatelska or Civic Platform – and any propaganda targeting him as well as Tusk at the same time must have been spread by the political rivals of Civic Platform. Which most likely implies circles close to the Law and Justice Party that lost its leader, President Lech Kaczyński, a month earlier – in the Smolensk crash.

Ironic, isn’t it? Some Russian sources are now spreading a lie that was once spread by some of the most anti-Russian political forces in Poland.

The burden of legacy: Aung San Suu Kyi’s presidential hopes

by AiteVer

Aung San Suu Kyi’s story may be a prime example of why we created this blog. A person with global outreach and immense political capital – a beneficiary as well as a sufferer of her family connections. ‘The Lady,’ as she’s known by many, once again seems headed towards political deadlock in her struggle with the regime ruling Myanmar/Burma, in part because of her family ties. We’re tuning into this at a moment when not much seems to be going forward – to provide the context now so we can refer back to it when keeping you posted on developments later on.

AungSanSuuKyiAn iconic image of Aung San Suu Kyi from her Wikipedia file

The Nobel laureate leader of the National League for Democracy (the main opposition party in Myanmar) was born in Rangoon (today: Yangon) in 1945 and was only two years old when her father was assassinated by his rivals. Bogyoke (meaning General) Aung San was the founder of the modern Burmese army as well as the main negotiator of the country’s independence in 1947. After years of attempts to erase his memory by the present rulers of the country, he is today again celebrated as a national hero.

Suu Kyi inherited this legacy but had no ambitions to enter Burmese politics. She followed her mother to Nepal and India when she was appointed ambassador to the two countries in 1960, and afterwards went on to study in the UK, and then live in the US and work for the UN for a while. She returned home eventually to be at her mother’s bed after she had suffered a stroke. It was at this point when she joined the pro-democracy movement that originated in what seemed transitional times but culminated in the failed “8888 uprising” – so named after its starting date of August 8, 1988.

Still in that August, standing under a giant picture of her father, she told a massive gathering that ‘I could not, as my father’s daughter, remain indifferent to all that was going on’. Events, however, led to the military once again taking the reins, in September, cracking down on opposition protests.

Suu Kyi may have lost an important battle at that point, but her image as a global defender of human rights had only just begun to take off, in great part thanks to her husband, Michael Aris, a scholar of Tibet, author of many studies, among them this one.

ArisFamilyMichael Aris, Aung San Suu Kyi, and son Alexander in 1973 (source: Aris family collection)

Their marriage was a symbol of voluntary sacrifice, as Suu Kyi remained under solitary house arrest right up till her ultimate release in 2010. In the meantime, Aris and their two children were rejected visas by Burmese authorities on most occasions and they could only meet with Suu Kyi a couple of times. The relationship carried the air of tragedy about it. It ended in 1999, when Aris died in the UK of prostate cancer, on his 53rd birthday. He patiently promoted his wife’s cause around the world and collected the awards she received, on her behalf – including the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991. His death must have been a shattering loss to Suu Kyi.

Myanmar has, since, taken steps towards a more democratic form of government. After she had been released in 2010, Suu Kyi was even elected to the parliament in 2012. But the current constitution still bars her from running in next year’s presidential elections – related to her family ties…

The Constitution – proposed, and subsequently accepted in a referendum, under military rule in 2008 – says that the president cannot be directly related to a foreigner.  As Suu Kyi’s late husband was a British national, and so are her two sons, too, it is hard to see this provision as anything but targeted at her in the present context.

Earlier this year, there were signs of hope that this may change, and a parliamentary committee began to review the constitution. At the same time a petition to amend it was signed reportedly by over 5 million people. However, as of today it seems that the clause in question is going to stay. And this leaves the strongest opposition candidate with less than a fair chance to contest the elections.

Characteristically, she relates to this with a stoic’s optimism (if there is such a thing). Speaking to a group of artists a couple of days ago she promised:

“As I often say, 2015 will not decide which way our country will go forward—it is 2014 that will decide it. If we can progress the right way in 2014, we can get what we want in 2015.”

Unfortunately, she will be 70 by the time of the election next year. Even if the ultimate constitutional hurdle is removed, she will have a long life of struggle to look back to before she can realise her ambition.

Manmohan Singh: A bookworm in the crossfire of a book war

by fpman

“Strictly Personal: Manmohan and Gursharan” is a freshly published book by the former Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s daughter, Daman Singh. Its promise is avowedly modest — you can read an interview with the author here, and another brief introduction here, to learn a few details about what you can expect from it.

DamanSingh_StrictlyPersonalCover of the new book by Daman Singh

Focused on the human side of Manmohan Singh’s political career it builds on the strengths of the former PM at a time when he might just need this, to shape perceptions of his legacy to his advantage. Being a nice, smart and humble person is what is generally regarded to have been his strength, and the book may as well be a reminder of that.

ManmohanSinghManmohan Singh’s Wikipedia profile pic

The father of major liberal economic reforms during his time as Minister of Finance (1991-1996), and later premier (2004-2014), no matter how much he was attacked for his policies, Manmohan Singh has always been respected for his personal qualities which even opponents did not usually deny.

A case in point is Sanjaya Baru, media advisor to the former PM from 2004 to 2008, who, while otherwise criticizing rampant corruption during Manmohan Singh’s time, goes only so far as to argue:

“Dr Singh’s general attitude towards corruption in public life, which he adopted through his career in government, seemed to me to be that he would himself maintain the highest standards of probity in public life, but would not impose this on others … In practice, this meant that he turned a blind eye to the misdeeds of his ministers.”

Baru is nevertheless one of those former team members from Singh’s cabinet who have published books dealing with his tenure that have done some damage to his reputation. Baru’s book has the telling title of The Accidental Prime Minister (referring to Singh himself there).

Meanwhile, the memoirs of a former Minister of External Affairs, Natwar Singh (in office: 2004-2005; no relation to Manmohan Singh) are also out since the beginning of this month, and copies of both that book (‘One Life Is Not Enough’) and Baru’s are selling fast — in record numbers in Indian terms.

Based on what we know from the press accounts so far, both books paint a picture of Manmohan Singh’s government (2004-2014) as one where Sonia Gandhi and the Indian National Congress party were really pulling the strings. See samples of what Natwar Singh had to say here and here. He even says Manmohan Singh considered himself “a very lonely man” in the “dyarchy” that left the most power in Sonia Gandhi’s hands.

This will once again reinforce allegations that as the frontman in said arrangement, the former PM may have been complicit — in a half-knowing sort of way, and in spite of his personal merits — in some corrupt wheeling and dealing going on behind his back. Such allegations include the undervalued sale of coal mining rights to investors under his government. “Undervaluing,” resulting in this case in lost revenues in the order of $210 billion dollars according to an estimate mentioned here, would imply informal kickbacks paid by the investors to certain beneficiaries in return, in what is a fairly typical form of corruption. That, if true, is certainly a bit too much to overlook without getting at least a part of the blame, even if Manmohan Singh’s approach to this may have reflected his understanding of pragmatism at the time and he may have seen no workable way to stop this from happening.

Coming several months after the publication of The Accidental Prime Minister, and a week or two after the launch of One Life Is Not Enough, Daman Singh’s book now is not the kind of book that would spend much time discussing such issues, however. Of Baru’s and Natwar Singh’s memoirs the author has this to say:

“I haven’t read either of the two books. They’re not the sort of books I normally read. As far as I can tell Natwar’s book is about politics which is not the kind of book am normally interested in reading … I wrote this book because I wanted to discover my parents as individuals.”

In her story, Indians can, for instance, sympathize with the young Manmohan, the former Cambridge guest student who, during his time in Britain, did not have much money and had to skip meals and get by on sixpence chocolate bars. They may get useful reaffirmation of Manmohan Singh’s generally positive image as a bookworm — as a man of constant contemplation. In Daman’s words:

“He worked in bed where he sat cross-legged with a pillow on his lap, a stack of files beside him. As he hunched over his papers, inscribing neat squiggles, he would tug his beard and mutter to himself. When he was not working, he was usually preoccupied with a book or else with his thoughts.”

Even the pratfall effect (i.e. that our respect for someone we already hold in high regard may increase after we witness the person in question commit a small, non-consequential mistake, or display weakness in some irrelevant area) may come — in consonance with the image above — to Manmohan Singh’s advantage. Quoting Daman again, on her father:

“He was completely helpless about the house and could neither boil an egg, nor switch on the television.”

Boiling eggs may be tough, but politics can be even tougher.  And politics at the helm of a country of 1.2 billion people can be… even tougherer. To say the least, under such circumstances, one may benefit from books written by empathizing family members. This is even more so in the wake of a wave of semi-accusing accounts by frenemies — people on your side who were always part team members and friends, part fellow travelers and opportunistic exploiters, as is the norm in politics.

Having said all this, these are of course only initial impressions from my part, in lieu of having read the book itself — to which I am looking forward.