Human Flower Project

N. Korean Mission: In Lieu of Kim

Former U.S. president Jimmy Carter traveled to North Korea and, with help from flowers, managed the release of an American citizen and, perhaps, much else.


A girl greeted Jimmy Carter at Pyongyang’s airport with

flowers and a salute Wednesday, Aug. 25.

Photo: Reuters

There’s flying under the radar. There’s also flying over the radar – a mode of transportation accessible to a select class of travelers. Ex-U.S.-presidents qualify if, like Jimmy Carter, they’re internationally known human rights advocates who have won the Nobel Peace Prize.

Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, flew to Pyongyang, North Korea, August 25. Their trip was ostensibly to secure the release of a U.S. citizen, Aijalon Mahli Gomes, who had been sentenced to eight years of hard labor for entering the country illegally. That was the Carters’ official purpose. But such a high-profile visit suggests lots more diplomatic knitting: to gain North Korea’s cooperation in nuclear disarmament? to begin normalizing relations with the U.S.? to ease somehow the animosity between the two Koreas since the sinking of a S. Korean ship in March? Who knows? That’s what flying over the radar is all about.

The New York Times reported,  “Gomes is believed to have entered North Korea in support of Robert Park, a fellow Christian activist from the United States, who crossed into the country from China in December to call on [N. Korea’s leader Kim Jong Il] to release all political prisoners. Mr. Park was expelled after some 40 days.”

But Gomes remained in custody and, according to several sources, had attempted suicide since his incarceration in April.

Carter made the trip as a “private citizen” rather than a U.S. official, opening the way for many friendly gestures that would not at present be possible for the Obama Administration. (Even so, South Korean leaders were said to be incensed at the visit).

Ceremonial flowers appeared throughout the Carters’ short stay, maintaining an air of kind formality. Upon his arrival in Pyongyang, the ex-president was welcomed by a young girl, who handed him a bouquet and extended a vivacious salute. Baring his signature smile, he accepted the flowers and “blew her a kiss before getting into a black stretch Mercedes-Benz.”


Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and Kim Yong-nam, North Korea’s second in command, posed with interpreters at the Mansudae Assembly Hall in Pyongyang—before a backdrop of North Korea’s national flower.

Photo: Reuters

In short order, Carter appeared on stage at Mansudae Assembly Hall, alongside Kim Yong-nam, president of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly and North Korea’s second in command. The two dignitaries and a cluster of anonymous interpreters stood before a backdrop of “Mokran,” (we’ve seen it anglicized also as Mongnan) the North Korean national flower.

“According to tradition, President Kim Il Sung,” Kim Jong Il’s father and North Korea’s former leader, “chose the magnolia because of his childhood fondness for the flower. In North Korea, the magnolia tree symbolically represents the sturdiness of the Korean people, and the magnolia flower represents their beauty.” This species, Magnolia sieboldii, is a Korean native.

So, where WAS Kim Jong Il? The mysterious dictator, now rumored to be gravely ill, did not attend Jimmy Carter’s visit, though North Korean officials said he indeed had personally authorized Gomes’s release. Instead, Kim was traveling above the radar himself, off to China with his son Kim Jong-un.


Jimmy Carter, former U.S. President, spoke with Kim Yong Nam before a huge array of flowers, the wordless power and presence of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il.

Photo: Kyodo News, via AP

Gone but not absent. For in North Korea, at least in Pyongyang, the “Supreme Leader” is omnipresent. We were gratified to see him “show up” so boldly at Carter’s public audience with Kim Yong Nam, North Korea’s #2. As the two dignitaries sat a wide distance apart, just behind and between them stood an immense floral arrangement nearly as broad as their generous armchairs. It was a splendid, dominating display of Kimjongilia, the leader’s namesake begonia, arranged with several tall sprays of Kimilsungilia, the purple dendrobium orchid named for the Supreme Leader’s predecessor and father.

The Carters and Mr. Gomes left Pyongyang Friday and landed in Boston this afternoon. “Neither Carter nor Aijalon Mahli Gomes spoke to reporters”—another prerogative of high-flyers.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 08/27 at 07:28 PM


Any suggestions for Georgiagilia?

Posted by Georgia on 08/28 at 06:46 PM
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