North Korea executes Kim Jong Un's 'traitorous uncle'
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Kim Jong-Un has overseen the purge and execution of his uncle and party power broker Jang Song-Thaek. In a staggeringly public display of ‘strength’, the young Kim went straight to the heart of the Stalinist playbook to bolster his position at the expense of a ‘traitor for all the ages’.
Last week, Jang was announced to have been stripped of his position for building his own factions, drug use, womanising, gambling, counter-revolutionary moves and criminal acts "baffling imagination". It was a highly unusual move by Pyongyang, who have until now always played down any party purges and members of the ‘royal’ family have historically been sent on the North Korean version of gardening leave instead of being formally disgraced.
Following Jang's public humiliation and expulsion from the Workers' party, many observers thought that the episode was closed – not least because of the family connection. And yet state media had gone so far as to release pictures of Jang’s removal from the Politburo while the list of offences kept increasing to include the likes of ‘harbouring dirty political ambition’ and ‘half hearted applause’. It did seem that an unprecendented scene was being set. And sure enough, as state media rang grandiosely out across public spaces in North Korea, news of his execution broke.
In the opaque world of North Korean politics it is of course impossible to tell whether Jang had indeed been planning a bid for power, was a victim of some other faction, or was indeed the sacrifice necessary for the young Kim to consolidate his power. Jang had been Kim Jong Un’s mentor, which in itself awakes Oedipal urges in a young dictator, but as any good totalitarian will tell you, publicly executing one powerful official tends to get the rest of them in line. The tired cliché of ‘showing your strength’ and invoking treason sadly still seems to hold sway.