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North Korea: Witness to Transformation

Bulldozer Jr.?

by | May 30th, 2012 | 06:37 am

Twelve years ago Kim Jong-il delivered a truly extraordinary speech, “Improving the Layout of the Field is a Transformation of Nature for the Prosperity of the Country, a Pacific Work of Lasting Significance.” Subtitled, “Talk to Officials during Field Guidance to the Development of the layout of Field in North Phyongan Province” (sic), it praises the work of officials in flattening the Handure Plain “beyond recognition” and leveling the fields of Phyongan Province “into regular shapes like a checkerboard and in a sweeping manner.” The project’s purposes were two-fold. The first was geological engineering: to create large fields more suitable for large-scale mechanization of farming. The second was social engineering:  to sever traditional links between cultivators and the land, or, as Kim put it, “repartitioning the small patches of the fields handed down through the generations from the feudal age into large, standardized sizes and shapes is a revolution to liquidate once and for all even the last trace of the remnants of the feudal ownership in the rural areas and improve the features of this land as the genuine territory of a socialist Korea.” He concludes the speech by urging officials to do to South Hwanghae (incidentally now the reputed location of starvation-related deaths) what they did to North Phyongan. Aidan Foster-Carter bestowed on Kim the sobriquet “the Great Bulldozer.”

More recently his son, Kim Jong-un, has issued his own guidance on land management, in a speech, “On Effecting a Drastic Turn in Land management to Meet the Requirements for Building a Thriving Socialist Nation,” delivered 27 April, and reproduced in Rodong Sinmun 8 May in Korean, and 9 May in English.  In it he observes that both his father and grandfather, Kim Jong-il and Kim Il-sung, paid “deep attention” to land management, and then singles out for praise “The epoch-making changes in land management” as “a brilliant fruition of the wise guidance provided by Kim Jong-il who set forth a far-reaching plan and unique policy on land management…”

Kim Jong-un then calls for urban revitalization, the rehabilitation of forest land, improving water management, including coastal areas. The speech culminates in a call for a scientific and realistic long-term master plan for land management and environmental protection, including stepped up joint studies and scientific and academic exchange with foreign institutions.

There are at least three ways to interpret this speech:

  • As meaningless hortatory blather,
  • As consistent with his father’s maniacal topological and social engineering,
  • As an attempt to legitimate a new and relatively progressive line on environmental protection by situating it as in continuity with past policies.

One can only hope it is the last.