Jay Tharappel is a Sydney Uni academic (a tutor in human rights apparently) whom TDC readers might remember from last year when I wrote about some of his sterling political opinions, such as that “most of the claims against against him [Stalin] are exaggerated or false”. At the time, he was receiving some media attention as a result of his attacks on journalists who were rude enough to portray Syria’s Assad as a dictator and chemical weapons user. Tharappel called one a “the traitorous scum” and proclaimed that “If people like him wage war on our post-colonial homeland then I will wage war against them.”
Tharappel is in the news again, thanks to his joyous travelogue to North Korea, published by the Sydney Uni student newspaper Honi Soit. Jay’s reflections include gems like this about another one of his “post-colonial homelands”:
You get the impression that the so-called ‘elite’ in North Korea are different to the elite of capitalist societies, consisting of school teachers, scientists, architects, doctors and engineers, people whose ingenuity plays a role in providing the brain power for the state’s drive towards economic self-sufficiency. Are these people paid more? Yes, but this inequality pales in comparison to the inequality you see in the capitalist world.
A friendly reminder that North Korea is a country where only twenty years ago people were eating grass and several hundred thousand people, possibly over a million, starved in another one of those mass famines, which seem to happen quite often under communism. Nature might cause bad harvests but only politics causes mass starvation. Not to mention prison camps, totalitarianism, and complete brainwashing of the whole population on a scale that has exceeded even Mao’s efforts.
The state believes that it has a civilisational mission to complete, one that began with resistance to Japanese colonial occupation, and should end with the reunification of Korea, which both sides are enthusiastic about. Their slogan is, “we envy nothing in this world,” and that seems to make perfect sense when you look around. They don’t smear their public spaces with advertising telling their citizens they’re inadequate, instead they paint murals intended to inspire their people to build a better society. All they ask of us is to be left alone, and for the US military to leave their homeland.
Yes, our time there was limited, but honestly, what I saw was a highly organised, egalitarian and energised society, with good reason to believe that they’re now reaping the fruits of past sacrifices.
Jay’s tour doesn’t seem to have included visiting any of the many camps in North Korean gulag where hundreds of thousands of people labour and die in conditions that would make Stalin smile. And really, who doesn’t prefer inspirational socialist murals to advertising billboards?
Tharappel is merely the latest in a very long line of political pilgrims (Paul Hollander wrote an excellent book of that title), sometimes naive, sometimes malicious, but always idiots who have travelled from the degenerate and oppressive West to every latest workers’ paradise, from the Soviet Union and China to Vietnam and Cuba, searching for – and always finding – a wonderful new society and a “new man” (these were sexist times) being created; all “highly organised, egalitarian and energised” societies that Jay waxes about so lyrically. Out of sight and out of mind the actual misery, mass repression, and complete lack of freedom and human rights. Thankfully, there are only a very few socialist paradises left to entrance the 21st century’s political pilgrims – Cuba and North Korea, Venezuela perhaps. But the instinct to think the worst of your own society and to search for the best elsewhere is a strong one, and it will outlive these grotesque communist regimes. Sometimes the grass is indeed greener on the other side of the fence, but more often it’s been eaten by starving peasants.
P.S. As Jay writes:
I cannot address every preconception about the DPRK in a thousand words, what I wrote about is what I saw, because unlike most of my critics…
…I HAVE ACTUALLY BEEN THERE.
That actually makes it worse.