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JLeslie's avatar

What do you think it will be like for North Koreans if the country is finally free from its dictator?

Asked by JLeslie (59781points) February 19th, 2017 from iPhone

What if Kim Jung Un is dethroned and North Korea becomes an open democratic country? What would the transition be like for the citizens of North Korea?

Let’s assume other countries bring in rations where necessary, and the people have food and water, I’m more interested in if you think the people would finally feel free, or would they want the status quo? Do you think they will trust outsiders? How do you picture the days, weeks, and months when North Koreans learn more about the outside world.

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34 Answers

elbanditoroso's avatar

Awful. Death, starvation, and so on.

The problem is that N Korea has no tradition of creativity, independent thinking, initiative. The population simply hasn’t been educated to solve problems.

So if Un leaves (or dies) there is no guarantee at all of a democracy. Probably another strongman will take over.

A country doesn’t become democratic overnight; (look at Iraq!). Democracy takes education, nation building, education, and most importantly, a common goal to succeed. That takes years, or decades, not months or days.

So I see huge chaos for years if N Korea loses Un, unless there is someone there who is both strong and enlightened.

RedDeerGuy1's avatar

Then they can call a beef burger a hamburger. Hamburgers don’t have ham in them. It really irked un’s father.

Mimishu1995's avatar

@elbanditoroso Came here to say similar things. North Korean people may hate Un, but honestly they can’t do any better if Un disappears. It takes much more than just a strong need for freedom to rule a nation.

Not to mention much of the North Korean population do believe every word of Un’s propaganda. A new leader could very much use the same ideology and subsequently bring the country down the same way Un does.

MrGrimm888's avatar

Many will attempt to flee to China. Not sure what China will do about that. Bad situation for the people of North Korea either way.

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

They would be another US puppet.

CWOTUS's avatar

Depending on how it plays out, I would also expect a great paroxysm of widespread violence, retribution killings of anyone associated with or perceived to be associated with the leadership, and very likely an assault – or at least attempted military assault – on Seoul, in South Korea. (One of the primary “defense” doctrines of the North is to have most of its military focus on quick strikes against Seoul, with missiles, armor and ground assault troops dedicated to that aim, which is intended to prevent intervention against the North by South Korea, the US or even China or Russia. This is why everyone treads so lightly in diplomatic terms when speaking about “options in dealing with North Korea”, and most of the local military forces are very circumspect about acting near North Korea, lest any activity be viewed as a threat. That way they essentially hold Seoul hostage to any external threat perceived in the North. Diabolical, but it has worked so far.)

So even if Kim Jong Un is “dethroned”, as you put it, he does not exist in a one-man-show. He is propped up by a lot of people – who hold all of the military, economic and political power in the country – who think more or less as he does. If he goes, the whole show has to go, and that’s not going to happen because people all of a sudden decide to retire and move to the South.

And all of this is going to happen – when it does (because it will happen) – with one of the worst humanitarian crises we’ve seen since the Boxing Day tsunami or the relatively recent earthquake in Haiti … with the added fillip of deliberate, targeted and widespread revenge killings. Oh, and Seoul might be in flames, too.

As for the refugees who attempt to flee to China, those folks will very likely be killed en masse as they attempt to cross the Yalu River, as China is quite worried about the destabilizing influence that such a mass of desperately poor and starving people pouring into Manchuria would create for them.

It won’t be a good time.

Patty_Melt's avatar

Psy could move north, teach people to dance Gangham Style.
The confused public could binge watch youtube and netflix, and learn “How to be very rich, just like me.”
It would be a nation of college freshman types. Free at last.. but to do what? There would be lots of keggers, wet t shirt contests, and 250 Starbucks built within a week.

kritiper's avatar

Serious lengthy withdrawals. These people have been programmed from birth to hate and kill Americans.

Patty_Melt's avatar

Why are you limiting? They have been taught to hate more than just Americans.

kritiper's avatar

I stand corrected.

Jeruba's avatar

First there will be terrible chaos and bloodshed, and people who are suffering now will suffer much more. And the Chinese don’t want a flood of refugees across their border. So they will try to prevent that.

Also they have been indoctrinated from birth to adore their leaders as if they were gods and to hate and fear Americans, their worst enemy, who have caused all their problems. They’ve also been taught that they are better off than people anywhere else (“nothing to envy”) and that the rest of the world looks to them as a model. So it will be a long while before they begin to see or experience it as anything but a catastrophe.

Plenty of them, especially young people, do know or guess something about the outside world, especially those who can get hold of broadcasts and CDs and other media from South Korea. But that’s not enough to provide infrastructure and resources when the whole thing falls apart.

Cruiser's avatar

Just look back at what happened when we took out Saddam in Iraq…Gaddafi in Libya and the only reason and IMHO the ONLY reason Assad is still in power is because we are finally smartening up that dictators in power is a whole hell of a lot more predictable than taking them out and letting even crazier clowns climb into the ivory tower.

Zaku's avatar

I think North Korea is so firmly organized as it is, that one leader will tend to be replaced by another. I think much more needs to happen to change the system, which will be a complex and very painful unraveling followed by very difficult times. Then again, it’s already in one sort of very difficult times.

stanleybmanly's avatar

The distance between the dethroning of the current regime and an open democratic North Korea is so huge, that even entertaining such a thought is beyond naive. There is absolutely nothing in or about North korea that would render democracy possible in the near or medium term other than having representative government imposed on the place through conquest by a foreign power. @Zaku is closer to the indisputable reality, but “very painful unraveling followed by very difficult times” is understatement and almost certainly overly optimistic.

MrGrimm888's avatar

@Cruiser . I don’t like your opinion in these regards.

However, I think you’re on the right, well, lesser of two evils side again.

Assad is a terrible person (I think most would agree) but may be less than the evil his “leadership” vacuum would create. This almost explains Putin’s strategy in the region.

Dictator /tyrant types are “easier” to deal with, in regards to the M.E. and Asia. Well, from a western point of view.
Unfortunately, those leaders are very bad for the general population.

In the case of North Korea, I imagine China will go to great lengths to prevent a regime change there. It would only further destabilize a region (Southeast Asia )that’s getting to be as bad as the Middle East, in terms of peace…

I’m not sure what lengths China will go to, but they aren’t going to just take in all those refugees, no doubt riddled with malnutrition, and disease.

Poor bastards(North Koreans)...

ucme's avatar

I’d imagine they’d be frozen in abject grief due to the adoration they bestow on their sainted leaders, a population suspended in some sort of gross, incomprehensible, hypnotic state.

Sneki95's avatar

I depends. If there is no one competent enough to take Un’s place to rule the country, they’re in for a lot of trouble.
They’ll end up in a poor, chaotic state with no one to protect people’s interests and needs. In other words, a new piece of land to be taken over by someone way stronger and more organized, and they’ll have no means to defend.
If they don’t have anyone to provide stability and security, the country will quickly become someone else’s colony, and what is the worth of that freedom anyways?

You can’t switch from one system to another so fast. It will take decades for the government to stabilize, and people themselves to adapt too.

flutherother's avatar

If Kim Jong-un’s regime were to suddenly disappear it would leave a huge gaping void with nothing to fill it. There would be chaos without outside support and the big question is would that support come from China or the west? The Chinese model of government would probably work better at least in the short term as there is nothing in North Korea that can support a democracy.

Espiritus_Corvus's avatar

You are all forgetting that Korea was one united country up to 1945. Before that, it had been one empire under which one strong, unique, homogenous culture existed , a people that have shared a language, philosophy, literature and religion since the early 600s A.C.E. This has not been forgotten by the people of either side of the 38th parallel. Korea as a divided country is merely an eyeblink in time to them.

There is a recent precedent for the situation if the people of N. Korea were to be left to decide their own fate. Like the two Germanys, the people of the north and south would want to unite and it would be a struggle, like it was in Germany.

It took twenty years before the people of former West Germany stopped complaining about the cost and trouble of taking in their “poor Eastern cousins”, but it worked and a new generation with a renewed work ethic, creativity—and all those things elbanditoroso says that North Korea lacks right now— are now at a par with their “wealthy Western cousins.”

South Korea is an economic powerhouse in that region. They could do this just as the Germanys did. It would be one of the best things that ever happened in modern times. A Korean Miracle.

JLeslie's avatar

I saw a little bit of 60 Minutes last night, and it had a North Korean (NK) ambassador who had defected. It reminded me of an employee of mine who had a brother in Cuba. When the brother came to visit in America he was not allowed to bring his family with him. This ambassador said whenever he left North Korea he always had to leave at least one child in the country. Then, fairly recently, NK changed the policy. So, on a trip the ambassador took his whole family and defected.

A few years ago I saw an interview with a young person who had escaped NK, and I wished the interview had gone on for two hours; it was way too short. She described her escape, which I don’t remember well, but I wanted to know more about her experience and perceptions in her new surroundings, and I wanted to know what she thought would happen if NK as a country was freed from the rule it is under, and had more access to the rest of the world.

When I wrote the Q I assumed there would be terrible hardships, and it’s why I mentioned food and water being supplied. I also think the road to democracy would be incredibly rough, so the suggestions above regarding a better dictator, or a China style government, makes sense to me, but Russia has moved from communism to capitalism and democracy, so who knows. Plus, as @Espiritus_Corvus pointed out there is South Korea right there. They are all Koreans. Probably some families have been divided for all of these years.

I also think the world would want to help, because NK is such a crazy threat at this point. When the wall came down in Germany I don’t think the world ran in to help. I might be wrong about that.

Espiritus_Corvus's avatar

Yes, Leslie, the world did run to help as much as was needed to assist West Germany to unite with East Germany. It was in everyone’s interest, as a united Korea is in everyone’s interest.

Remember this: A Communist dictatorship was superimposed on these people by China under Mao Zedong. It was a land grab. The people have never had anything to say about it and they have been silenced ever since. Tens of thousands of families have been divided. Talk to the South Koreans who’ve come here. The stories of the protions of their famileis that they lost to the North are endless.

Even the most apolitical North Korean wants a better life—that which they see in the smuggled magazines from the south. Microwave ovens. Home computers. A decent washer and dryer for mom. Better quality healthcare. Those are the things that I heard people talking about in Soviet Poland in the 80s—not Capitalism vs. Communism. And that is why the government censored all media from the West. It not only riled the people that their system couldn’t provide the things that they’d heard about on the other side, but the success, upward mobility and easy life with modern conveniences in the West was an embarrassment to the Communist system.

Like water always seeking it’s own level, so too will the people of the North seek equanimity with their cousins in the South.

JLeslie's avatar

^^What did we do to help East Germans and Germany overall with the transition?

Espiritus_Corvus's avatar

Our role was diplomatic. The US government was involved early in clearing the diplomatic way for the two Germanys to unite. As Gorbachev weakened after the Iceland conference, the diplomatic corp under James Baker III began talks between the UK, France, the USSR and the two Germanys concerning the unification which eventually resulting in the Two Plus Four Agreement in 1990.

I was in Europe at that time and at the Wall when it went down. It was like every person from every country in the West was there and on board with the agreement. Very little foreign aid was required to bring East Germany in. Instead, German corporations bought and rebuilt factories and put hem into production again. The world threw business into East Germany because it was a bargain basement for everything. And the money flowed..

Leslie, in 1987, I bicycled through the city of Leipzig. I swear to God, in many parts it looked like the pictures of Berlin immediately after the war. Mountains of rubble and broken brick piled high into city blocks. Dangerous metal structures, the skeletons of buildings bombed 42 years before, still standing untouched amongst the debris. I was shocked. It was like nothing had been done since the war. And nobody had the ambition to do anything about it. It was bad. They were a broken, hopeless people in the East.

This is what the West Germans willingly inherited and today cities like Leipzig are rebuilt, brand new with brand new facilites and transit, and the old, tired, ambitionless workers under Communism were soon pensioned off and replaced by a fresh, hungry generation with hope for the future.

It wasn’t easy for anyone on either side, but they did it and it worked. I have no doubt that the two Koreas can do the same. The model is there.

Jaxk's avatar

There is no way China would allow Korea to unite. That would put a western style democracy on their border and they won’t let that happen. N.Korea only survives because China helps them. China helps them because they need a buffer protecting their border. If Un falls for any reason, you can bet China will be the one setting up a new government and it won’t be a western style democracy.

Espiritus_Corvus's avatar

@Jaxk I prefaced that by saying “If the people of N. Korea were to be left to decide their own fate ” But you nor I know what is going on between China and the US right now. In 1989 no American outside of tight Washington circles knew that Gorbachev would ever entertain allowing E. Germany leave the Soviet realm. You don’t know.

Ha. Korea survives because everybody helps them, @Jaxk. Since 1995, we’ve sent them over 1.27 billion dollars in aid, mostly in wheat and rice to keep them from starving every winter. See pdf CRS Report to Congress

LOL. They fire off evermore powerful missiles, we send them grain, and they quiet down until the next round.

JLeslie's avatar

@Espiritus_Corvus I was really asking about once the wall came down, not how we participated in getting it down. If we helped with money for Germany, or reconstructing East Germany.

I was in Germany a couple of years before the wall came down. I was a teen. My father and I wound up in Germany on a military flight for a vacation. I was hoping to go to Spain, but we missed the Spanish connection by ten minutes, and nothing else was leaving that day to a country we were interested in, so we stayed in Germany and took a train to Bavaria. You just hop on the flights if there is space, and some flights are unscheduled. Germany is a big hub for military flights, so basically even if you don’t plan to stay in Germany you often go into Germany from the US to get to Europe.

My dad had information that American military could cross into east Germany, and I know he was very curious to do it, but I think what kept him from doing it was that I was with him. He was nervous about something going wrong, plus we were way down in Bavaria, as I mentioned, for most of the vacation. It was weird enough for us being in Germany, a place my parents never would have planned a trip to back then, let alone to go over to East Germany.

Cruiser's avatar

@JLeslie I think your dad was right to be a little cautious about traveling to East Germany. I got to visit West Berlin in 1977 as a student exchange. To get there was a couple hour bus ride through the East German Countryside. Our escorts were super serious about our conduct during the entire trip…they cautioned us kids that one giggle or smile from anyone would guarantee us to be detained for hours even days. Our bus was repeatedly boarded by armed EG Soldiers and dogs as they inspected our bus and passports. All along the highway you would see what looked like abandoned buildings but you could see a soldier with binoculars.
Looking over the wall was an incredible sight to behold. Everything for 300 meters was removed. Tank traps, barbed wire, supposedly land mines. Armed guard towers everywhere. Buildings still bearing the scars of battle. Everything was gray, cars, peoples clothes it was like being in a black and white movie.

We had to spend I believe around $2.50 cents in West German money as that is the only way E Germany got money that had value as E German money was worthless outside their borders. We did a day trip to E Berlin and scary and depressing hardly begins to describe that experience. The hopelessness in the eyes of those people was stunning to see. I can honestly say I empathize with N Korean citizens as they have to be living in hell.

Jaxk's avatar

@Espiritus_Corvus – You’re right in that I don’t know for a certainty what China would do, it is however my opinion. The US is tied way too closely with S.Korea for China to let them take over the north and have a US ally on their border. IMHO.

Espiritus_Corvus's avatar

It appears so, yes. But this thing about pulling out of the Trans Pacific Partnership and our chess match with China’s aggression toward SE Asia, especially Vietnam—one of our MFNs—their recent occupation of the Vietnamese Paracel islands, control of nearly all the water that feeds the Mekong with seven new dams on the Chinese side, and the massive buildup of the Yulin Naval Base at Sanya, Hainan (only 175 miles from Mimishu1995) is quickly changing the game. It could also leave Australia in a lurch. Deals are going to be made. They just parked a brand new aircraft carrier at Latakia, Syria—the first ever in the Med. I just hope this president is up for this.

Also, keep in mind, China’s significant experiments with a capitalistic “middle way” in recent years. They aren’t necessarily married to the Maoist plan anymore, especially the Chinese GenXers and Millenials, the junior varsity. There is a whole lotta shit going on over there right now that isn’t in the Trump-obsessed nooz America has been fed for the past eighteen months.

My point is this: It could go either way. All this is new stuff, including the strange new ideology being tested in China and their aggression in the past fifteen years.

flutherother's avatar

China must be getting worried about North Korea’s military ambitions and it has suspended all coal imports from the country following the recent ballistic missile test. For now, I think China is trying to get the North Korean leader to see sense while not destabilising the regime too much. If the regime collapses it will create a void not just in Korea but within the wider region and how it is filled will affect the strategic interests of the US and China. I don’t think this will lead to another Korean war but at the least it will take a lot of high powered diplomacy to sort out. In the meantime life is hell for most North Koreans.

Cruiser's avatar

@flutherother I think N. Korea becoming destabilized is the least of their concerns as Kim Jong Un is handling things his own way. Having his Uncle executed along with a few of his close cronies and then putting out a hit on his half brother, it appears he has things under control..

flutherother's avatar

@Cruiser Kim Jong-un has things under control but the point is China could really wreck the North Korean economy if it put its mind to it and that would destabilise the regime. I don’t think that is in China’s interest for now but there may come a time when it is.

CWOTUS's avatar

I don’t know if anyone here has noticed the related news story about “China wrecking the NK economy” … but they have recently decided to sharply limit or even cut off imports of coal from NK. That’s one of the few things that the country could actually produce in some abundance and reliability, and now they’ll be hurting even more.

Not that anyone here would acknowledge or admit it, but this is a huge foreign policy win for the Trump administration, as China did it explicitly to acquiesce to his insistence that they do something to control or corral the Norks.

Zaku's avatar

@stanleybmanly I quite agree that the way I worded the prospect as “a complex and very painful unraveling followed by very difficult times” was understatement and may come across as optimistic. I meant I think it will be almost unavoidably very dire indeed, but it’s regular state has been dire for decades.

In addition to the problem of how awful it will likely be when it falls apart, I think the main thing preventing intervention is the stalemate situation with South Korea supported by the West, versus China. China wouldn’t tolerate SK or the West intervening aggressively with NK. The West wouldn’t like China invading NK, and my impression is China isn’t humanitarian-oriented or otherwise interested enough to want to invade NK, and SK and the West would probably make a stink if they did.

The most optimistic fantasy scenario I see, would be if the rest of the world could sufficiently agree that it were best to “fix” NK. In that case, I’d think perhaps the easiest way to handle it would be to mess with the leader. NK is organized to give utter support one leader. So if no other nation is going to become irate about it, quietly threaten that one leader personally until he either agrees to lead a transformation of the way things work in NK, or you kill him off and do the same thing to the next leader. Of course, that could/might also backfire if you couldn’t pull that off. You might well just end up with a military coup and a tougher group of leaders doing the same thing. It also might not work at all if even the leader trying to lead a new way would result in the people just below him killing him and replacing him. It could be that an entire group of high leadership is really the effective power structure.

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