My double world, analysing Iran and North Korea
Korean Watch: covering Communist Fairytale
One year ago, I started to write articles about one of the most secretive states of the world — North Korea, as a journalist, later — as an analyst. My specialisation are still Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs and their development. But as time went by, politics and human stories added to my research. Korean Peninsula, USA, China, Japan… East Asia was opening to me piece by piece in all its complexity and flood of traditions, old conlficts and, the most important — unbreakable will for unification between divided Koreas and Korean people. We’ve seen this during the Olympic Games in South Korea: athletes under one Korea banner, united women’s hockey team and tears before North Korea bus was ready to depart home.
I love this region very much, despite I don’t know the language. Even though now we don’t have a pleasure to observe fascinating but scary missile launches, diplomatic and summitry showdown between USA, Japan on one side and DPRK and China on the other are very interesting to analyse. And of course, all is centered around one person — Kim The Third, or Kim Jong Un. Still young leader, believed to be in his thirties, trying to remake country, inherited fron his father and grandfather. Trying to copy Kim Il-Sung, the founder of DPRK, young Kim is very public and outspoken person, despite being with no doubt bloody dictator, not hesistating to kill close relatives. But in his watch DPRK got a queue of official meetings with powerful leaders with a Singapore Summit with a Donald Trump at top of them. North Korea no more in full international isolation and its economy is slighlty improving (despite falling on 3,5% , black market, illicit trade and coal shenanigans gave Kim some money to survive). With Kim at the spotlight, it can’t be boring! He is millenial, after all ©.
But covering fully Communist world, mostly closed to the outside world never was easy. It can’t be easy in society where Kims are living Gods even after death and Bible is banned (but still accessible illegally as the Korean doramas and music, even cheap smarthones and PC). KCNA is unsleepy eye of propaganda against the West. It looks like a classical uthopia with a empty streets, houses where nobody lives and dark nights without lights. At the outskirts of the capital and further to the north Middle Ages are restored, because people forced to do hard manual labor and many thousand are at concentration capms. Yes, DPRK is still brutal tyrannical state, we should always remember this simple truth. Regime killed American student Otto Warmbier for a stolen poster, for example, arrested american pastors and teachers. Before that, North Koreas kidnapped Japanese citizens, especially singers and actors for Kim Jong Il movies. And they shelled South Korean ship and island, what caused deaths and leaving countries one step short of new war. Most recently, DPRK threatened USA to bomb Guam with ballistic missiles and developed ICBM’s in theory able to reach continental USA.
The closest description of the North Korea critical infrastructure is LEGO: poligons, missile test grounds and places for launches can be dismantled and reestablished within monts anywhere in Nortk Korea, and production of TEL’s (Transport Erector Launchers) are intensifying to make missile force of DPRK fully mobile. Full denuclearisation? Haha, good joke, Not in country as DPRK. Sorry, guys it is impossible! And we still said nothing about underground uranium enrichment facilities and fabrics! More a hunt for a windmills, I think.
Yes, today we have many experts and journalists, covering every Korean aspects, from trade, sanctions to missile and nuclear programs fully in English, so no problem to analyse the content. So I diversified my research. Interest to nuclear programs in Asia took my hand and dived with me in another world, where God is literally everything. In Jumhuri Eslami Iran or Islamic Republic of Iran.
Iran: Sanctions, Mullas and Great Satan
So, how happened, that an analyst about Koreas ended up writing and falling in love with Iran? Funny, but I can’t give you a precise answer to this question. Because transition was in my mind natural. Why? Before DPRK and Iran I’ve covered Tehran nemesis — Saudi Arabia. I’m still watching Kingdom by one eye. So, I’v written about Saudi ecomony and politics during low oil prices, rise of Mohammad bin Salman and his efforts to modernize the country, even more restrictive and brutal than Iran itself, ruled by severe Wahhabi branch of Sunni Islam. But more infuential, no doubts. If in Korea you have an exaple of democratic, hi-tech state — South Korea, in Iran’s story you have only Saudis across the the Hormuz Strait.
Wars in Yemen, Syria and Iraq and money system thurmoil caused in economic crisis. Saudis are creative people to survive in the desert, constructing first class milk farms and cinemas there but with reactionary diplomacy in cases of Qatar and Canada and two European states previously.
After some period of time, Saudis left my attention as economy mostly stabilized. MbS continue to reshape the country allowing women to drive, restricting clerics and even arresting the most rich people in the Kingdom. In other news: arresting human rights activists, women rights defenders and forcing others into exile for minor offenses. Not very different from Tehran, you know. But if Saudi Arabia was formed only in 1932, Iran is descendant of two great empires — Persians and Sasanids and has a culture rooted in two thousand years ago. Iran was secular monarchy until 1979, when Islamic revolution changed all. Now despite the liberal president, only Ayatollah has a last word at any problem, political or religious. Despite Saudi Arabia experience, intertwining in my head Korea’s Communism and Middle East Theocracy is great challenge, blowing it out)))
All in all, after adding Iran to my list of research, I’ve stopped and looked at my situation. Despite North Korea case, I knew very few about Iranian history, culture, and the most crucial — their nuclear history and capabilities when started. Shame on me, but at this time I’ve tried to stop my Middle East coverage. Not fully successful, as you see:) So it was On the Job Training, still in effect now. At the first time and I was overwhelmed by facts, stories and news. I was seeking in Twitter whom to read about Iran ( and found!).
Finally, at my Facebook page I’ve started to analyse USA exit from JCPOA (commonly known as a Iran Nuclear Deal) and immediate Tehran response in form of modest reactivation of the program. After this, one Ukrainian media proposed to write them an article and I agreed. Journey with IRI started officially.
After USA left the Deal, EU reached to in wish to save JCPOA. But Iranians already played they own game in light of coming USA sanctions. Economy was already deteriorating and national currency — rial — was in free fall. And it will be even worse for ordinary Iranians and Iraqis after oil sanctions in November.
Of course Tehran feeled betrayed but they never fully trusted USA. Every Friday hardliners at the mosques of Tehran called America “Great Satan” and cried “Death to America, Israel and Britain” (Britain and USA organised coup-d’etat in 1950-x ousting democratic prime-minister Mohammed Mossadegh and reinstating repressive Shah regime). But in the city of millions they’re minority. But loud and powerful because close to Ayatollah. Unfortunately scheme “better talks than war”, which worked in Korea is impossible in Iran. Instead in last speech, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei told us that “neither war nor negotiations with US” in observing future. We will see how situation develop. At the meantime I have opportunity to learn more about Iranian people, history and rich poetic heritage.
At the end I want to tell that with Korea it is much more technical experience and little to nothing about culture and ordinary life of Koreans. With Iran I have more religious politic story to tell how country is ruled by Supreme Leader who is God’s deputy at Earth ( such as a Pope in Catholic Church). Combining this two worlds is very interesting but not easy. Nevertheless I’m feeling blessed to write and comment on radio and TV about both of them as professionally and with passion as I can.