NORTH KOREA/ Former Consul: The removal of the army chief is a step towards change
North Korea Army (Infophoto)
Six months after the death of Kim Il Sung, North Korea has aroused surprise with the sudden replacement of army chief Ri Yong-ho. This was done by Kim Jong-un, the young leader, 27, who succeeded his father. Officially, there is talk that Ri Yong-ho is sick, but this does not appear very convincing. Ilsussidiario.net asked Massimo Urbani, the last Italian consul in North Korea and one of the few foreigners who lived there for ten years, for his opinion on the matter, and on what opportunities he sees for a change in the country and in its relations with others.
There is already talk in the media about the struggle for power in the country, with some even speaking of “Stalinist purges in North Korea”. What do you think about what has happened?
Allow me to begin with a premise. It is extremely difficult to know what is happening in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea even if you are living there, not to mention if you are sitting on your couch in Rome, Brussels or New York. This is not an economic or political issue, but a cultural one. Since North Korea is a country of the Far East, we must be able to read the events according to the culture of the country. As I have explained many times, it is very difficult to speak about this “Hermit Kingdom”. I say this not uncritically. In fact, I say it as an expert in humanitarian cooperation. In my opinion, three years are not enough to begin, not even to judge, but just to talk about what happens there.
That said, what do you think about what happened?
Regarding this piece of news, it is my personal opinion that it is beyond doubt and can be verified with one’s own eyes (de visu, as the Romans would say) that the country has begun a slow but progressive and unstoppable development, contrary to everything that people say and think about North Korea, which are often negative things. I see, therefore, Ri Yong-ho’s replacement, not in positive or negative terms, but as something constructive.
According to sources from the Ministry of the Interior in Seoul (South Korea), the decision was “unexpected and unusual” and “shakes the rigid authoritarian structure of the communist country”. The military officer has also appeared in good shape in recent public occasions, despite official statements about his “illness”.
I think that the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, at 27 years of age, has an open mind. I am not either praising or rewarding him. I only say that there is no doubt that a person at that age, whether Korean, Peruvian, Dutch or Chinese, has, I would almost say physiologically, a broader mindset. I am not talking about decisions on burgers and fries (the reference is to the recent decision of the young leader to authorize the consumption of hamburgers and fries, previously prohibited, ed.) A world that no longer exists is often built up around him…
Are you saying that something is changing in North Korea?