Constitutional Reform and
Inter-Korean Relations: Part 2
— B.R. Myers

During the election campaign in spring 2017 the main presidential candidates agreed on the need to curtail the “royal presidency.” All made the same pledge: If elected they would work towards seeing some form of revised constitution through the National Assembly, so that South Koreans could vote on it during the local elections in June 2018.

Here’s what the constitution (1987) says about amendments:

Article 128

(1) A proposal to amend the Constitution shall be introduced either by a majority of the total members of the National Assembly or by the President.

(2) Amendments to the Constitution for the extension of the term of office of the President or for a change allowing for the reelection of the President shall not be effective for the President in office at the time of the proposal for such amendments to the Constitution.

Article 129

Proposed amendments to the Constitution shall be put before the public by the President for twenty days or more.

Article 130

(1) The National Assembly shall decide upon the proposed amendments within sixty days of the public announcement, and passage by the National Assembly shall require the concurrent vote of two thirds or more of the total members of the National Assembly.

(2) The proposed amendments to the Constitution shall be submitted to a national referendum not later than thirty days after passage by the National Assembly, and shall be determined by more than one half of all votes cast by more than one half of voters eligible to vote in elections for members of the National Assembly.

(3) When the proposed amendments to the Constitution receive the concurrence prescribed in paragraph (2), the amendments to the Constitution shall be finalized, and the President shall promulgate it without delay.

In early 2017 a year seemed enough time to wrap up the relevant public discussion and see a draft through the National Assembly to a referendum, in accordance with the stipulations above. But no sooner had Moon been elected than the opposition began telling him not to rush things. In fact it fears the symbiotic effects of holding the referendum and local elections on the same day, June 13; the more important the day’s voting appears, the more young people will turn out. It also wants to postpone the public discussion until Moon’s approval ratings go in the direction all his predecessors’ have.

The opposition has thus ignored requests to present its own proposed amendments to the National Assembly, which may leave Moon with no choice but to introduce his own proposal (as Article 128 allows him to). The conservative press has criticized the opposition for giving the impression of blocking all constitutional reform.

As for the Minjoo, its interest in weakening the Blue House has declined markedly since its own man moved in. Its proposal to have the constitution stipulate American-type term limits (4+4) may enjoy strong public support, but it wouldn’t necessarily make the presidency less “royal.” Moon’s term would not be affected anyway; see the second clause of Article 128.

The ruling party’s push for constitutional revision now presents itself mainly as an effort to decentralize the republic, so as to give the provinces and special cities more power over their own affairs. By calling for decentralization Moon conveys at least the superficial impression of a readiness to curtail his own powers, but his main interest in this change is in facilitating North-South confederation, which could be put over more easily as a coming together of provinces than of states.

Ever since the Pyongyang summit of 2000 the left has sporadically called for a “unification-preparatory” (t’ongil taebi) constitution, and extolled the benefits of greater provincial autonomy in this context. Last year saw an increase in press editorials and public discussions conveying the same message.

For example, at a conference in Daegu in July 2017 one presenter spoke on how constitutional revision could expedite unification.

The greatest ill in South Korean society is the extreme concentration of power…[It] must be spread out among provinces and special cities at the level of a federation if North Korean authorities and intellectuals are to be given the latitude to be able to think about unification. The most realistic proposal for unification is for North and South to create a unified state out of multiple regional governments with a high degree of autonomy.

Naturally the ruling party doesn’t try to sell decentralization to the general public in those terms, but the above is not a fringe opinion in intellectual circles. Our journalists pay too much attention to South Korean polls indicating widespread aversion to unification, or even to aiding the North; they seem to think Moon has to heed them. Does our own government heed the polls on gun control? More attention should be paid to the perhaps disproportionate influence wielded inside the candlelight camp by people who want unification sooner rather than later.

Across the country, town-hall meetings are now taking place to drum up support for the “decentralizing” reform, mainly with arguments of an economic nature. The goal at the moment is to get 10 million citizens to sign a petition urging the National Assembly to vote for it. That may seem a lot, but in one month alone last fall, 10 million signatures were rounded up in favor of enshrining “agricultural values.”

At this point I should warn against assuming that the forces for constitutional reform are neatly divided between a) left-wing supporters of “unification-preparatory” amendments and b) right-wing supporters of assembly-empowering amendments. The situation is more complex.

Many lawmakers and commentators on the left have long supported the shift to a parliamentary system, which — as Yi Hae-ch’an made clear in 2006 when he was premier — is compatible with a “unification-preparatory” constitution. They may intend to push for a second, more substantial constitutional revision at the time of parliamentary elections in spring 2020, in the hope that power can then be more safely shared between Moon and a National Assembly under left control.

By the same token, many conservative advocates of a parliamentary system also support decentralization. The prospect of greater regional autonomy and thousands more civil-service jobs exerts such a strong appeal on the right-leaning southeast that it might overlook even the distinctly left-wing amendments the ruling party is now proposing.

A spokesperson made these public on February 1 at a gathering of Minjoo lawmakers, among whom they had already been discussed. Most conformed to proposals made a month earlier by a (left-stacked) citizens’ advisory committee.

What made headlines on both occasions was the one regarding Article 4.

The original version:

The Republic of Korea shall seek national unification, and shall formulate and carry out a peaceful unification policy based on the free and democratic basic order.

Just as the advisory committee had recommended, the Minjoo spokesperson announced a proposal to amend this to:

The Republic of Korea shall seek national unification, and shall formulate and carry out a peaceful unification policy based on the democratic basic order.

Article 1 has always defined South Korea simply as a “democratic republic,” so the deletion of the word free/liberal (chayu) from Article 4 would not be as dramatic an assault on the nature of the state as all that. Besides, in South Korea as in many other countries the term free/liberal democracy has more distinctly right-leaning or capitalist connotations than it does in the US.

Still, the proposed deletion changes the whole meaning of Article 4. The original version appears to call on the South to seek the extension of its own “free and democratic” order over the whole peninsula. In contrast, the amended version can be read simply as a call to pursue peaceful unification with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the word democracy on its own being open to the loosest interpretations.

Announcing the proposed amendment at 6:45 pm on February 1, the Minjoo’s spokesperson explained that the goal was to broaden the sense of democracy. Having complained for weeks about the advisory committee’s proposed deletion of the same word, the right rushed to make its indignation public.

Almost four hours later, at 10:30 pm, the Minjoo Party released a statement saying that “because there are many articles” the spokesperson had erred. The draft for a new constitution would retain the current wording for Article 4.

More interesting than the excuse for that volte-face was the would-be reassuring information that of 120 Minjoo lawmakers polled, about 70 had expressed opposition to the deletion of “free.” Meaning about 50 had been fine with it.

On the other hand, the ruling party held firm to its proposal to change the preamble. The current version starts off as follows.

We, the people of Korea, proud of a resplendent history and traditions dating from time immemorial, upholding the cause of the Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea born of the March First Independence Movement of 1919 and the democratic ideals of the April Revolution of 1960….

The Minjoo proposes extending that last bit to include the Busan-Masan uprising against Park Chung Hee’s rule in 1979, the Gwangju uprising of 1980 and the candlelight movement of 2016-2017.

The challenge for me here is to help other Americans understand the discussion without digressing into history. Let’s imagine that the preamble to our constitution explicitly committed the USA to the ideals of the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Few of us would find that hugely problematic, the civil rights movement having long since ceased to be identified with any one political camp.

Enshrining the protests against the Vietnam War would be another matter. Even the many Americans (probably a majority) who now agree the war was wrong would not want the constitution taking a side in what is still a lively debate between legitimate political camps.

This is how South Korean conservatives feel about the proposed change to the preamble, and all the more so because the left-wing jealously guards the Gwangju uprising as its very own tragic-heroic hour. (Even center-right politicians have been made to feel unwelcome at the annual ceremonies.) The candlelight protests too – which an important legal document would surely have to admit were LED-light protests – are already remembered as an anti-right movement. The conservative journalists and lawmakers who did so much to oust Park have been written out of the official history.

Other proposed amendments commit the state to do more for equality, workers’ rights, social welfare, etc; the right opposes these as well, claiming that a socialist state is being planned, although they don’t seem to me all that radical, or necessarily relevant to inter-Korean relations.

Also controversial is the proposal to change the word citizen to person throughout the text. Considering how quickly Moon cracked down on illegal  immigrants, there’s probably more to it than the party’s professed commitment to a more inclusive society. Critics trace it back to the protest movement’s hostility to the state. They also note that the constitution put out by the self-described “people-centric” regime in Pyongyang also refers to saram and not kungmin.

In short, many conservatives see the ruling party’s proposed amendments as an effort not to make the presidency less “royal,” but rather to identify the constitution with the left, de-legitimize conservatism, and lay the groundwork for North-South confederation. Their fears are easier to understand in view of calls by prominent Minjoo Party members to “wipe out” the conservatives, or at least to ensure that the left stays in power for 20 more years.

Considering that the main opposition party alone has more than enough seats to block any constitutional revision, it’s remarkable how little effort the ruling party is making to win it over. At the very least one would expect less polarizing rhetoric and more emphasis on the benefits of decentralization for all South Koreans.

Instead Kim Min-seok, the chairman of a Minjoo think tank, told a gathering of journalists on February 18 that the constitution must be changed so as to align it with the values represented by “legitimate forces” such as Kim Dae Jung and Roh Moo Hyun. This as opposed to the line and values of “Syngman Rhee, Park Chung Hee, Chun Doo Hwan, Roh Tae-woo, Park Geun-hye and … Lee Myung Bak,” who together represent “anti-democracy, treason, collaboration with Japan, [North-South] division and the Cold War.”

In other words, the only legitimate South Korean president not distinctly on the left of the spectrum was Kim Young Sam. Note also the familiar insinuation that only progressives carry on the tradition of the anti-colonial struggle. Make that: only progressives and the regime in Pyongyang.

The contrast to divided Germany is thought-provoking. For all the differences between the two West German camps, the social democrats generally felt ideologically closer to the Christian democrats than to East Germany. In contrast, South Korea’s nationalist left has always felt more ideological affinity with ultra-nationalist North Korea than with the “traitorous” right.

The implications for the US-ROK alliance become more obvious and troubling when one keeps in mind that conservatism now boils down here to pro-American security-mindedness.

The in-your-face nature of some of the left’s proposed amendments has had the effect of not only uniting conservatives behind the drive for a parliamentary system, but also inducing them to speed things up. Influential commentators and “non-Lee”/pro-Park lawmakers who had hitherto opposed it are now going with the flow. Their reasoning is that the left’s proposal cannot be effectively countered so long as the right is squabbling over its own vision for change.

There has been much speculation as to whether Moon really wants to get the constitution changed on June 13 or merely to trap conservatives into playing the villains. It’s very hard to tell, especially now that the Minjoo has just announced proposals for giving the National Assembly more say over things like cabinet appointments and the budget. Perhaps it will keep adding proposals in piecemeal fashion to the president’s draft until it feels confident of getting 2/3 of the assembly behind it. The draft is expected to come out in full in mid-March.

If a compromise cannot be reached and the draft is rejected in the National Assembly, a public backlash against the conservative opposition may well ensue, carrying the ruling party to a solid victory in the mid-June local elections. Moon could then present this as a mandate for all his policies.

The danger for him, however, is that supporters of a parliamentary system, perhaps including some Minjoo lawmakers, would continue to push for it regardless. If 2/3 of the National Assembly were to vote later on for the relevant amendments, Moon would become a lame duck at once. Were a majority of citizens to vote for them in the ensuing referendum, the new constitution would go into immediate effect. Some experts go so far as to say the current president would then lose all right to rule, on the grounds that he was elected in 2017 to lead a different system. (With the same logic one could argue that the members of the current, “weak” National Assembly should run again for election before exercising different functions.) At the very least there would be a new and more powerful premier.

Such a turn of events seems unlikely now, but should Moon’s approval rating drop below 50%, there’s no telling what might happen.

Kim Jong Un knows all this as well as Moon does, which is another reason why inter-Korean talks have gone so smoothly. (An Asahi report seems to confirm my earlier assumption that the Olympic activities were agreed upon last year.) Kim Jong Il’s ostentatiously cold reception of Roh Moo Hyun in October 2007 in Pyongyang indicated that he expected the South Korean left to win the ensuing election anyway. Kim Jong Un, whose rule is under greater pressure from sanctions, seems unlikely to make that sort of mistake. Whatever Pyongyang can get from Seoul, it will try to get as fast as sanctions, the alliance, and Moon’s approval ratings permit.

Constitutional Reform and
Inter-Korean Relations: Part 1
— B.R. Myers

[The rapid pace at which the two governments on the peninsula are now pursuing rapprochement has much to do with the looming struggle in the South over constitutional reform, an issue to which the foreign press has so far paid little attention. In this part I will introduce the right’s push for a parliamentary system and the role it played in the impeachment of Park Geun-hye. In the next part I will explain the left’s push for a “unification-preparatory” constitution.]

When the former US senator and presidential candidate Mike Gravel talked to my class in Busan several years ago, he praised South Korea’s constitution for allowing more room for direct democracy than the American one. My students nodded benignly enough, but were unmoved. People here feel no great love for their constitution, which was promulgated in 1948 and revised in 1987, under Chun Doo Hwan’s rule. Not that average people can put their finger on what they don’t like about the actual text. At most you tend to hear calls for an American-style system of two four-year terms for presidents, instead of limiting them to one five-year stretch.

In the political elite, on the other hand, there has long been support for changing the presidential system to a parliamentary one, in which most executive power resides in a premier chosen by the National Assembly, while a president elected by direct popular vote handles foreign policy and exercises a symbolic unifying function. This change is necessary, advocates say, in order to end the chronic abuse of power attendant upon the “royal presidency.”

Perhaps some lawmakers really do want the constitution revised for that noble reason. Although there is less disgusting outward pomp to the office here than in the USA, the South Korean president has some powers broader than our own — in regard to the budget, cabinet appointments, pardons and so on. Still, it must be kept in mind that the majority of advocates of the parliamentary system are now on the right side of the aisle, and revere the memory of the very “royal” Park Chung Hee.

The cynic in the street is probably right in assuming that the idea of such a set-up appeals to many in the National Assembly because it would mean a widening of the trough, or at least of opportunities to play premier or minister for several months. Despite the unpopularity of the current system, most South Koreans would rather have to keep a close eye on one president than on hundreds of lawmakers. Older folk also remember the dismal experiment with the parliamentary system in 1960-1961. Opinion polls have thus shown consistent opposition to the restoration of it. This was Kim Dae Jung’s reason (or excuse) for not fulfilling his campaign pledge to make the presidency less “royal” if elected.

Not until Park Geun-hye’s presidency (2013-2017) did the issue make a strong comeback. Conservatives in the National Assembly were then roughly divisible into a faction loyal to Park and one loyal to her predecessor Lee Myung Bak. Naturally his followers had learned to like the presidential system during his occupancy of the Blue House (2008-2013), only to find it inherently despotic again the moment Park took over. What really worried them was the likelihood that she would take revenge for the “nomination massacres” that had occurred during Lee’s rule, when he had excluded many of her followers from candidacies in parliamentary elections.

Sure enough, there ensued the “nomination massacre” of spring 2016, in which even some of the most popular pro-Lee or “non-Park” politicians were bypassed for nominations in favor of the president’s people. From then on calls for a parliamentary system grew in intensity until the Lee-conservative press broke the story of the Choi Soon-sil scandal in the autumn of 2016.

It was just what many pols had been waiting for: a chance to get the public so angry about the status quo that it would finally sign off on a whole new system of government. Conservatives were confident they could remove Park with left-wing help without losing the presidency altogether. They would simply make the returning hero Ban Ki-moon their candidate while pushing hard for constitutional revision, then trounce Moon in the election. What could go wrong?

The bipartisan nature of the push to impeach Park was what led most South Koreans and foreign journalists to assume that either a) the political scene was finally cleaning up its act or b) she had abused power to a particularly heinous extent.

The evidence has turned out to be thinner than was initially believed. The tablet PC on which Choi allegedly edited Park’s Dresden speech had so obviously been tampered with that the court did not consider it in Choi’s trial. It is still unclear how Park’s pressuring of businesses to contribute to this or that national team or foundation differed to a criminal degree from established presidential practices. We have to wait and see, but the recent decision to charge her even with meddling in her own party’s nominations suggests a desperation to find things that will stick. While she may well have deserved impeachment by absolute standards, she was probably less deserving of it than a few of her predecessors.

Someday the role sexism played in the grass-roots fury will be acknowledged. Average people intuited from the start that Park had not been out to enrich herself. What bothered them more than the allegations of corruption was the thought of her being incompetent enough to rely for political and foreign-policy advice on another woman, and a mere housewife at that. This is reflected in many of the jeering songs, pictures and performances that were thought hilariously funny during the candlelight protests. (A “satirical” painting of Park with legs splayed in a gynecological chair had come out in 2012.) As Americans will realize very soon, these aren’t liberals in our sense of the word.

But however the South Korean public was strung along is beside the point. It was conservatives who provided the votes needed to oust Park (and then some), thereby demonstrating, ironically enough, how far from royal the presidency really is. I’m guessing this was the first time in history that the right carried out the wishes of the North’s Rodong Sinmun, which was already demanding and predicting Park’s impeachment in the spring of 2016.

Naturally Park followers and security-minded right-wingers now feel animosity for the “traitors” whom they see as having handed the republic to the left on a platter. What went wrong? The constitutional court upheld Park’s impeachment after a much shorter review than expected, leaving no time for a discussion of constitutional reform; Ban Ki-moon withdrew from contention, for reasons I needn’t go into; the main conservative party nominated a man repellent to most people under 60; and Moon sailed to victory in May 2017 if not to a majority of votes.

The once bipartisan pretense that removing Park was a non-ideological response to her abuses of power is now upheld only by the right-wing impeachers and the foreign press. Upon his election Moon appointed several Gangnam leftists with records of tax avoidance, real-estate speculation, and the Choi-like pulling of strings on relatives’ behalf. This prompted much use of the crypto-Sinitic compound naero nambul, short for “When I cheat, it’s romance, when others do, it’s adultery.”

The left has since boldly reinvented the 2016 candlelight protests as a revolutionary outpouring of mass support for its whole ideological package. Accordingly the trendy pejorative “accumulated ill” (chŏkp’ye), which in 2016 referred to a manifestation of deep-seated corruption, cronyism, etc, is now used in formulations such as: “The closure of the Kaesong Industrial Zone was an accumulated ill.”

On the February 8 Parade
and the Olympics — B.R. Myers

The Unification Minister and several other Pyongyang watchers in Seoul have come up with various reasons why the regime’s decision to stage a military parade on the eve of the “Peace Olympics” should not be seen as a sign of bad faith. The consensus is that the two events are unrelated.

Yang Mu-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies, said it would be “preposterous” to assume the Olympics are the reason for holding a military parade, saying Pyongyang has its own political calendar.  The professor noted that the decision to change the military anniversary was made by North Korea’s supreme decision-making body, the Political Bureau of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea Central Committee. “However much reclusive North Korea has been, it is still a country run by its own rules and organizations,” the professor said. (Korea Herald, 24 January 2018)

I don’t know Professor Yang, but I’m wary of assuming he was properly quoted or summarized here. Needless to say, the actual supreme decision-making body in North Korea is Kim Jong Un. Yet I have a feeling we’ll be seeing more journalism and commentary in this vein in the months ahead.

By having so many officials killed on his own orders, Kim has made it impossible even for the most fanatical softliners to go on presenting him as a reform-minded dove constrained by military hawks. We are now to believe something different: that while he can abandon his hawkishness at short notice if treated right, the one-party state will need more time to come around. All encouraging developments are thus to be credited to Kim, all unpleasant ones blamed on the System (unless blamable on Washington).

Still, there’s more at work here than just apologetics. The tendency to overestimate the importance of formal hierarchy and procedure in dictatorships has long been common in the West. (See for example the focus on party congresses in Soviet studies, which Boris Groys has complained about.) While this face-value approach makes research much easier, it also reflects an honest misperception of the total-minded dictatorship of the left or right as an all-controlling, inflexible, total state, “run by its own rules and regulations.”

In vain have political thinkers tried to disabuse people of this fallacy. Although Hannah Arendt is better known, the best writer on this subject was Hans Buchheim, who passed away in 2016. Since his classic work Totalitäre Herrschaft (Munich 1962) and the English version Totalitarian Rule (which I don’t own) have been out of print for many years, I can perhaps get away with translating a few key excerpts relevant to North Korea:

True totalitarian thinking is anti-state in the most general sense of the word, because it represents the antithesis of the state form of the exercise of power…. The totalitarian movement … claims to represent only the will of the people or the class, and divests the state of its essence as a sovereign legal institution. (p.110)

The totalitarian movement enslaves the state…. The state’s function is essentially of a regulative or normative nature: It gives order to political life…. The aim of the totalitarian movement is diametrically opposed to this … every norm appears to it as the hindrance of its own leeway and freedom of decision. (p.113-114)

It is a dangerous error to regard totalitarian rule as an excess of state power, when in reality the state, and political life if rightly understood, belong to the most important preconditions for protection from the danger of totalitarianism. (p.118)

These points are all valid for the regime in Pyongyang too, even though it was installed more or less whole instead of attaining power through a movement.

Granted, the Workers’ Party is a step above the republic in the hierarchy, but in such dictatorships the ruling party — as Buchheim points out (p.112) — is but another of the external forms that the totalitarian leadership assumes and discards at will. How little the WP’s statutes matter in North Korea can be seen by the infrequency of its ostensibly quinquennial congresses, as well as by the unorthodox way Kim Jong Il became General Secretary in 1997. Even the word “became” is too suggestive of something higher than him. Better to say “began calling himself.”

The idea of any party body in North Korea even attempting on its own initiative to change a military holiday, let alone call a massive number of troops and weapons into the capital city, is far-fetched enough. That it would succeed in overriding the Supreme Commander’s own wishes, however mildly he might have expressed them, is out of the question.

We have also been hearing that the parade of February 8 has nothing to do with the Olympics because a) the restoration of this day for commemorating the KPA’s founding took place in 2015, after a 37-year interval, and b) 2018 marks a “round” year in special need of a big splash. The obvious retort is to ask why the Kim Jong Il regime, for all its militarism, saw no reason to restore the holiday in time for the much “rounder” anniversary in 1998. Besides, in 2015 everyone already knew when and where the 2018 Winter Olympics would take place.

In line with an older tradition of South Korean apologism is the effort of the Unification Minister and other Pyongyang watchers to argue that the parade is no cause for alarm because these displays of resolve and might are merely for “domestic propaganda use,” for “unifying the North Korean people,” or for “maintaining the system.”

This recalls the wishful approach to propaganda with which many foreigners and even German Jews deceived themselves in the first years of the Third Reich. “Anti-Semitism,” they argued, “is too central to the legitimacy and popularity of Nazism for the regime not to profess it constantly in the strongest terms. Were Hitler to give the Judenhetze a rest even for a month or two, the public backlash would be swift and harsh. Yet we aren’t to worry too much, because he can’t possibly intend to act on that nonsense.”

If anything, the South Korean variant is even more irrational. After all, what the Nazis were planning was without precedent, whereas that same North Korean military whose founding is to be celebrated on February 8 once came very close to destroying the Republic of Korea.

All the same, I welcome the Moon camp’s recognition of the fact that the communication of ideology is no mere sideline or diversion for the Kim regime, but rather is crucial to its efforts to maintain mass support. If it is to survive, it has to keep putting out bellicose anti-American rhetoric, calling for unification as soon as possible, and routinely displaying its growing military strength.

Must the North do so even at times like this? Yes, especially at times like this. Kim cannot afford to let his people think that either inter-Korean talks or joint Olympic activities will undermine his commitment to routing the Yankees and unifying the homeland. Domestic political realities leave him no choice but to stay on the military-first road to “final victory.” No other way of “system maintenance” is possible over the long term.

Where I differ with South Korean softliners is in seeing in all this a very obvious and insuperable obstacle to peaceful co-existence. A regime that cannot afford to let its people think it’s warming to the rival state cannot afford to warm to it in “the real world” either. The same political realities that prevent the one thing prevent the other.

I suspect that the Moon administration’s special envoy Moon Chung-in is yet again speaking for the president, despite avowals to the contrary, when he says that if Pyongyang wants to exploit the Games for propaganda ends, the South should just let it, while making better use of them itself. Such complacency shows up the self-contradiction in the softliners’ thinking: We must acknowledge that ultra-nationalist militarism is indispensable to the Kim regime’s survival — yet we mustn’t consider the frightening implications of that indispensability.

“Long Live the Unified Korean Nation!” On the vertical banner: “Long Live General Kim Jong Il, the Sun of Unification”

By forbearing to march behind the yin-yang flag at the opening ceremony of the Olympics, the South Korean athletes are making a bigger sacrifice than the North Koreans, in whose iconography the banner of the DPRK ranks lower than the party standard, which in turn ranks much lower than the Supreme Commander’s standard, the flag of the personality cult — something to which the North Korean athletes may end up paying homage anyway by wearing their leader badges.

More importantly: the peninsula flag means two very different things to the two Koreas. In the South it symbolizes a desire for peaceful co-existence, or at most for a unification of equal partners in the reassuringly remote future. In wall posters above the DMZ it has always symbolized the southern masses’ yearning for “autonomous unification,” meaning absorption by the North. It’s worrying to think how inner-track propaganda is certain to misrepresent the South Koreans’ eschewal of their state flag for this of all symbols — and at this of all events.

UPDATE: 8 February 2017

In the above posting I should have pointed out what Ha Tae-gyung, Yi Ae-ran and others have noted, namely, that North Korean calendars printed for 2018 identify April 25 as Military Foundation Day (kŏn’gunjŏl) and not February 8.