SEOUL – There was a time, not long after the Cold War’s end, when almost everyone assumed that North Korea would soon collapse. The sudden death in 1994 of Kim Il-sung, the founder of the tyrannical, economically disastrous North Korean experiment, reinforced this belief. That was then.
Today, no one can credibly say that North Korea’s dynastic regime, now led by “Dear Leader” Kim Jong-il, a son of the late “Great Leader” Kim Il-sung, is certain to fall. From insistence that the end of the Kim dynasty was approaching, consensus is emerging on the continued existence of their regime.
Immediately after the stroke that killed his father at an exclusive summer resort villa on a remote mountain, Kim Jong-il consolidated political power by concentrating it in the hands of a very few diehard loyalists – and jailing, torturing, and killing anyone he viewed as a political opponent.
Nevertheless, despite his long tenure, the Dear Leader’s hold on power sometimes has been threatened by a small group of dissidents. And now that poor health has forced him to prepare to hand power to his third and youngest son, Kim Jong-un (the so-called “Young General”), opposition has become more visible.