“Until the day I met Kim Jung Il,” North Korean defector Jang Jin-Sung says, “I truly considered him divine, as someone more holy, like a sage – someone to be revered, someone who was better than us, who was sacrificing his own life for the people.”
Jang, a poet, caught the dictator’s eye, and was invited for a private audience with him.
Unti then, so effective was the regime propaganda machine, Jang told CNN’s Christine Amanpour, that he did not even believe that Kim the elder used the toilet. “The man I saw standing in front of me was a man, he was a human being. He was not a holy man; he was not a saint; he was not a god. He was a man just like me, who did use the toilet.”
In propaganda, Kim had used “perfectly composed, flowery language,” Jang said, and was deeply reverential of the people. “But when I met him, he just spoke in slang like in a kind of commanding colloquial, working-class slang, even to his most senior men. …. And that was shocking to me.”
From that highest perch of North Korean society, Jang could clearly see for the first time all the lies he had been told. The truth became even starker when he went back to visit his hometown of Sairwon, in the southwest of the country. “That was when I really witnessed the devastating effects of the famine. That’s where I saw the corpses in the station area just piling up and being taken away.”
As many as 3.5 million people are estimated to have died during North Korea’s severe famine of the 1990s, according to the South Korean NGO Good Friends. (Official North Korean numbers estimate that 220,000 people died.)
Jang also witnessed a public execution [in his hometown]. “It’s considered a method of moral education … So that’s why these executions happen in public places, such as market squares, where people watch it. It becomes a theater.”
A decade ago Jang decided to flee the country. Not even his family knew he was planning to leave.
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