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PUBLISHED ARTICLE: Kim Jong Il & Vaclav Havel: Two Very Different Leaders, writes Larry Chao
29-Jan-12 [ by Larry Chao ] 27240 Read and 3 Comment

Last month‚ the coincidental passing of North Korea's Kim Jong Il and the Czech Republic's Vaclav Havel reminded us of the sharp contrast between two very different types of world leaders: The objectives styles and results they achieved could not be further apart.


On one hand‚ Kim Jong Il‚ 69‚ was a brutal ruler‚ infamous for being a power hungry‚ oppressive tyrant.  He put his personal interests ahead of North Korea's.  During his nearly two decades rule‚ he adopted a "Military-First" policy and built up North Korea's military might and nuclear capability to feed his ego and protect his power base.

On the other hand‚ Vaclav Havel‚ 75‚ was famous as a dissident playwright and poet‚ who spurned authoritative power and believed in humanity and progress.  Democracy was Havel's priority.  He was best known for having participated in the Velvet Revolution‚ which toppled the totalitarian communist regime in Czechoslovakia in 1989‚ and subsequently replaced Czech Stalinism with capitalism.

Many articles have been written about both men since their death‚ juxtaposing them as moral opposites with different objectives and beliefs.  One author referred to Havel as a victim of communist dictatorship while Kim Jong Il was a communist dictator.  Another called Havel "good" and Kim "evil."

Not only were their objectives different‚ but so were their leadership styles.  Each of them used influence in a different manner.  Kim's source of influence was military force that he inherited from his father‚ Kim Il Sung.

With military backing‚ Kim Jong Il ruled with an iron fist‚ intimidating people into submission.  The testimony of thousands of North Korean refugees paints a picture of Kim as a reclusive despot‚ who enjoyed a lavish lifestyle‚ replete with sushi chefs‚ expensive cognac and Hollywood movies‚ while subjecting his people to starvation and other atrocities.  It was reported that he imprisoned over 200‚000 people in concentration camps for either real or imagined crimes.

Kim was also a master of propaganda.  He controlled information‚ expression‚ and all important decision-making.  In fact‚ Under Kim Jong Il's rule‚ North Korea was dubbed "the Hermit Kingdom‚" isolated from the rest of the world. 

With his goal to keep power and privilege for himself with no concern for human rights or democracy‚ Kim stunted North Korea's growth.  As a result‚ today‚ North Korea continues on the brink of economic collapse.  Although North Koreans were brainwashed to believe he was their "Dear Leader‚" looking out for their best interests‚ in reality his lack of empathy for their well being resulted in enormous suffering.

Vaclav Havel's influence came not from military might or inheritance‚ but from his ability to make ideas such as democracy and human rights resonate deeply with people.  Through his powers of persuasion and courage‚ he challenged the authority of the state and lauded the benefits of democracy.  

In doing so‚ he exposed the fallibility of oppressive Czech Stalinism‚ which led to its eventual collapse.  He also demonstrated how to overcome totalitarian rule peacefully with insightful ideas instead of guns and violence.

Vaclav Havel symbolized not his own power‚ but the power of the people.  In fact‚  when communist rule ended in Czechoslovakia‚ it was reported that he was reluctant to seize the limelight as its first president‚ but eventually he did.

During his presidency‚ it was clear that Czechoslovakia was heading for a split.  In 1993 he presided over the peaceful break-up of his country into the Czech Republic and Slovakia.  Then, as president of the Czech Republic, Havel ushered in democracy, supported free-market economy and promoted human rights.


When referring to the struggle between democracy and totalitarianism, Havel wrote, "truth and love must prevail over lies and hatred."

As a result of his leadership and devotion to his country, Vaclav Havel transformed Czechoslovakia, bringing peace, stability and democracy to its people.  Kim Jong Il's devotion to himself and ruthless style kept North Korea in a state of isolated misery, with no prospects for a better future.


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