Monthly Archives: December 2011

Kim Jong-il’s Death Leaves An Uncertain North Korea

The news was revealed on December 17th. Kim Jong Il was dead. At first, people thought it was a hoax. Later it became official news. Even images of his body lying in state while North Koreans mourn him have made it official. His successor is his third and youngest son, 28 year-old Kim Jong Un. He has officially assumed the office on December 24th just days before his father’s funeral. The big question is will Kim Jong Un be able to rule the tiny, private, separatist country the way his father has or will North Korea find its grip succumbing to the times?

The nation of North Korea has existed since 1948. Korea was under Japanese occupation for decades before World War II and existed as a nation after World War II ended. However it was divided at the 38th parallel under a United Nations agreement with the Soviet Union occupying the north part and the democratized world occupying the south part. It was the communist North’s refusal to participate in a 1948 UN-supervised election that led to the two Koreas being separate and Kim Il Sung being the leader of what established as the Democratic People’s Republic.

North Korea is not only unique for having only three heads of state in its existence but also from the same family: first Kim Il Sung, then Kim Jong Il and now Kim Jong Un. During Kim Il Sung’s reign, he wreaked havoc of his own. The two Koreas tried to control each other during the first few years of existence. Its escalating border conflicts led the North to invade the South which kicked off the Korean War: a civil war that lasted three years, included support for the south from UN-backed countries like the US, the UK and Canada, and left a total of over 2,000,000 soldiers and civilians dead and the borders restructured as originally planned with a heavily-armed Korean Demilitarized Zone protecting the borders. Despite the peace, relations between the North and South have been tense as was common during the Cold War times and still remain tense to this day. The North has attempted many times to assassinate leaders of the South, North Korea boycotted the 1988 Summer Olympics as Seoul was the host city, and has even attempted to develop its own nuclear weaponry. Even as the South adopted a Sunshine Policy in 1998 to moderate for peace, that hasn’t stopped the North from uttering threats and causing international tension.

During the time of Kim Il Sung, he developed a ‘cult of personality’ status that would even make some of the heads of state of most other Communist countries envious. He adopted the title of the ‘Great Leader’: a title repeated constantly amongst the citizens of North Korea of all three Kims. Glorification of him replaced all religion in North  Korea. Even after his death in 1994, he’s still referred to as the ‘Eternal President’ and his birthday is a national holiday in North Korea. As a ruler, he came across as the familiar tyrant we know Kim Jong Il to have been through his own methods. During the first years of his reign, he issued a command economy with all industry owned by the state and all agriculture collectivized. His economy was focused on peasants and workers and was aimed at eliminating class differences. Heavy industry and arms production were also predominant as was a large army. While the USSR and China were moving away from de-Stalinization, Kim was infuriated and began distancing North Korea from the two countries, even denouncing any reconciliation or peace attempts with the United States. The times from 1979 onward were very hard for North Korea as China moved towards economic reform and the European Communist countries including the USSR were exercising political reforms that led to the eventual overthrow of Communism. This led Kim Il Sung to make North Korea even more isolated: an isolation that still exists to this day. Its economy was soon hurting and Kim Il Sung was investing in nuclear arms production: a process Kim was fiercely protective of up until a month before his sudden death in July of 1994.

Kim Jong Il was named by Kim Il Sung back in 1980 to be his successor and eventually succeeded his father after his death. Kim Jong Il would wreak the havoc most people are currently familiar with during his reign from his father’s death up until his own death on the 17th. He would keep the heated ‘cold war’ between South Korea alive and well with constant condemnation and threats of war. He too was heavy on developing nuclear military prowess, resisting UN demands to inspect facilities and even threatening a war if North Korea was imposed sanctions. His military prowess kept on growing by number of soldiers and weaponry the Military First policy he adopted. The policy would continue in existence even as the people in North Korea had to deal with flooding in the 1990’s which lead to a huge reduction in arable land and eventually a famine that left anywhere from 1 million to 3 1/2 million North Koreans dead. Relationships with the United States weren’t any nicer either as Kim would still portray the US as the bad guy and George W. Bush referring to North Korea as part of the ‘axis of evil’. Even as relationships appeared to be improving one moment, things appeared to go wrong the next.

Now Kim Jong Un assumes the role as the ‘great leader’ of North Korea. Over the past two weeks, we’ve learned more about him. He attended school in Switzerland as a child, has a degree in computer science and has a military rank as general. He has two older half-brothers but it was believed by many through his personal character that he was most likely to be Kim Jong Il’s successor. In 2009, it was made official by Kim Jong Il. Since Kim Jong Il’s death, it has become a reality as title after title from North Korea’s government is now being bestowed on the younger Kim. Since the funeral and transition, the media has kept a watchful eye on North Korea and Kim Jong Un. There have been countless headlines leaving one to question the state where North Korea is going:

  • 24th – North Korea To Be Center Of Japan – China Talks
  • 26th – Kim Jong Un Meets With South Korean Delegation
  • 27th – North Asks South Korea For Money At Kim Jong Il’s Funeral
  • 27th – North Calls For Enactment of Investment Pact
  • 30th – Military Says South Korea Will ‘Pay For Hideous Crimes’

Once again, headline after headline that differ, confuse and even make people question about what the North will do next. Also in question is Kim Jong Un’s reign as the new leader. Does a dictator that’s not even 30 have what it takes to run a nation with a Stalinist style governing? Will North Korea still be a fierce hermit to the rest of the world? Will North Korea’s relations continue to be fiery and even lead to the ‘war’ North Korea keeps on talking about? Or will things open up and lead to progress and improvements in North Korea, especially its citizens’ way of life? Those are answers that can only be made as time moves on. Nevertheless it’s important for all to keep a watchful eye on events that unfold.

WORKS CITED:

WIKIPEDIA: North Korea. Wikipedia.com. 2011. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/North_Korea>

WIKIPEDIA: Kim Il Sung. Wikipedia.com. 2011. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kim_Il-sung>

WIKIPEDIA: Kim Jong Il. Wikipedia.com. 2011. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kim_Jong-il>

2011 Corruption Perceptions Index Shows Many Surprises – Including For Canada

The annual Corruption Percentage Index has been released which ranks the most corrupt countries to the least corrupt. If there are two points one would most get from this list, it would be that Canada is slipping and that this is a very corrupt world.

Since three years ago, I’ve taken an interest in a certain annual chart. It’s called the Corruption Perceptions Index and it’s released by Transparency International. Transparency International is an international watchdog association headquartered in Berlin with 70 international chapters that monitors the corruption levels in countries around the world. Every year since 2002, they publish what they call a Corruption Perception Index which shows the annual corruption ranking of each country. They rank the countries based on a scale they give from 0 to 10. 0 is completely corrupt while 10 is not corrupt at all.

Many welcome their results while others question the validity and accuracy of the results. Some question whether Transparency International really has all their facts together when they make their list. The thing we shouldn’t forget about the list is that it’s about perceived corruption: the people’s ability to sense or notice corruption in their own country. This is based on poll questions ranging from “Do you trust the government?” to “Is corruption a big problem in your country?” Without a doubt, the results are rather surprising. Plus we shouldn’t forget that most governments do a good job of hiding their corruption so it’s hard to sense.

In the past, Canada has done very well ever since the Index has been published. Canada ranked an impressive 10th-least corrupt in 2011 with a score of 8.7. However the rank becomes less impressive knowing that last year, Canada ranked 6th with a score of 8.9. Also making it less impressive is the fact that it’s Canada’s lowest ranking on the list since 2006. The lowest Canada ever ranked on that list was 14th back in 2006 and 2005, and what was around the time the Gomery Scandal was fresh in the mind of most Canadians. The most recent government scandal–the Harper government’s contempt of parliament which led to a national election–had a lot to do with Canada’s slip of four spots.

For the record, here are the Top 10 least corrupt countries, according to this year’s Corruption Perceptions Index with score in brackets:

1)New Zealand (9.5)

2)Denmark (9.4)

2)Finland (9.4)

4)Sweden (9.3)

5)Singapore (9.2)

6)Norway (9.0)

7)Netherlands (8.9)

8)Australia (8.8)

8)Switzerland (8.8)

10)Canada (8.7)

Viewing the overall results can give some interesting facts and figures. Interesting how the Scandinavian countries and the major countries of Oceania had the highest rankings. The only Scandinavian country not to make the Top 10 was Iceland at 13th with 8.3. It’s a shame because they used to rank #1 in 2005 and 2006 with as high as a 9.7. Hong Kong ranked 12th. Many countries which has some of the most established democracies ranked lower than most people would expect like Germany and Japan ties for 14th, United Kingdom in 16th, the United States in 24th and France in 25th and Italy in 69th. The highest ranking country under a dictatorship was Qatar in 22nd. The highest ranking African country was Botswana in 32nd.

An interesting find is that 49 of the 183 countries ranked received a 5.0 or higher, sending a message about how this is quite a corrupt world. The country at #49 is Rwanda with a 5.0. That’s especially surprising since many people could remember the bloody civil war they went through back in 1994. The list is as good at monitoring improvements as it is in monitoring weakenings. Rwanda had the highest jump up from 4.0 from last year. For the record, the biggest drop in pointage came from Slovenia which went from 6.4 last year to 5.8 this year. The dictatorship of Cuba ranked a surprisingly high 62nd, outranking such democracies like Italy, South Africa and Greece. Syria and Yemen, which made bad news this year for its constant clashes with people marching for freedom, ranked 129th and 164th respectively. Also Venezuela, which continuously makes bad news with its dictator Hugo Chavez, ranked 172th. Since we’re on the topic of Venezuela, here’s the ten most corrupt countries on the list, the ‘Bottom 10’:

182)Somalia (1.0)

182)North Korea (1.0)

180)Myanmar (1.5)

180)Afghanistan (1.5)

177)Uzbekistan (1.6)

177)Turkmenistan (1.6)

177)Sudan (1.6)

175)Iraq (1.8)

175)Haiti (1.8)

172)Venezuela (1.9)

172)Equatorial Guinea (1.9)

172)Burundi (1.9)

Most of the bottom countries are already well-known for their governments continuously making bad news. They remind us that when things seem to be going wrong in our country, there are countries where corruption is not only very present but sometimes part of daily life.

So there you have it: a brief summary of the 2011 Corruption Perception Index and its interesting finds. With the politics of the world changing frequently and varying from country to country, there should be many interesting finds for 2012. The politics in Canada will determine if we can improve on our 10th-place ranking. The nation of South Sudan should make its debut next year. Also Arabic countries which had successful fights for freedom this year could see interesting results for next year. If you want to keep track, Libya ranked 168th, Tunisia ranked 73rd and Egypt ranked 112th for 2011. Stay tuned for next year’s rakings.

If you want to learn more about Transparency International and the Corruption Perceptions Index, which I have used in my article here, here are the links to go to:

Transparency International: http://www.transparency.org/

2011 Corruption Perceptions Index (with link to list): http://cpi.transparency.org/cpi2011/