CHARLES GRAHAM - Two figureheads, different outcomes

IT was ironic that two international figures so diametrically different in almost every way should die within hours of each other.

First the world lost the benign presence that was Vaclav Havel. The peace-loving dissident author had been a reluctant figurehead but led the bloodless Velvet Revolution in 1989 which liberated Czechoslovakia from autocratic communism and paved the way for democracy.

World leaders have queued up to pay homage to the 75-year-old who also oversaw the peaceful break-up of his country into the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

There have been few dissenting voices and he leaves a fine legacy.

Which is more than can be said for Kim Jong Il, whose demise after 17 years of iron fist rule in North Korea has led only to a flurry of foreign office statements about global stability.

Following in his father’s footsteps, this Cold War relic let millions of his brainwashed and terrorised populace starve while he held self-worshipping military pageants on a scale which made Stalin’s May Day rallies look like village fetes.

The world would probably have taken less notice of this anachronistic loon if he hadn’t also sought to destabilise the Far East so much with his nuclear threats and talk of war with South Korea.

Now power is being passed onto playboy son Kim Jong-un, who has been groomed for the job but at the age of just 27 must still be pretty wet behind the ears. That isn’t too much of a short-term problem because North Korea is really run by a military junta rather than one dictator.

But if they collectively feel he needs to prove his strength then things could turn nasty.

Politicians talk about Kim’s death as an opportunity for change, but there are few signs that such a down-trodden and isolated people are going to do anything other than accept more of the horrible same.