Other leaders should be so lucky as Kim Jong-un. The Supreme Leader of North Korea, according to (unreliable) reports by state-controlled media, has declared “victory… in the war against the malignant pandemic disease”. North Korea is known to have a crumbling health infrastructure. But the isolationist and authoritarian country also lacks the testing capacity to accurately measure the spread of the disease. Kim’s “victory” over Covid-19, therefore, is difficult to prove or to deny.
Kim isn’t the only leader to have declared premature victory against the “malignant pandemic disease”. Strongmen, democratically elected or otherwise, have taken the pulpit and claimed they had vanquished the microscopic enemy as early as 2020, after the first wave. Then came the devastation of the Delta variant, and the leaders had to either expound the necessity of “living with the virus” or simply pretend they had never declared victory in the first place. Kim, though, has taken a different tack and his “victory” could be permanent. Covid patients have simply been reclassified as “fever patients”. This sleight-of-hand with nomenclature is a work of authoritarian wizardry that democratic leaders will find difficult to mimic.
Imagine the possibilities of all the problems that plague a government — the ones they are held to account for — being taken care of with a simple act of renaming. Too many poor people? They are just ferociously frugal. Prices too high? That’s just pro-business policy. And there is no malnutrition, just people becoming calorie conscious. The renaming does not, of course, change the fate of those who are suffering. But if you never have to face a vote or political adversaries, what’s the difference?