North Korea Monitor

Archive for the ‘Regime Ideology’ Category

Kim Jong Il Visits the Military

with one comment

Kim Jong Il, who began the year by visiting economic sites and pledging to make economic development his top priority for the year, has decided to pay a visit on a military unit. Kim’s public appearances are often interpreted as indicators of Kim’s priorities. This latest visit comes amidst rising tensions between North and South. Hankyoreh cites unnamed “experts” who believe the rise in tensions were orchestrated by the military:

Seoul experts have said the confrontation was led by the North Korean military.
“He [Kim Jong Il] expressed satisfaction over the fact that all the soldiers of the company have acquired high military technology and combat capacity enough to beat back the enemy’s invasion at a single stroke,” the Korean Central News Agency said in its English report of Kim’s visit to the KPA Unit 350. The KCNA report, monitored in Seoul, was dated April 5 but dispatched on the 6th.

In the latest salvo in the Inter-Korean war of words, the Rodong Shinmun continued to direct bellicose threats at the South:

“It is as clear as noonday that their persistent insistence on the above-said provocative assertion would only lead to a war on this land (KCNA, via AFP)”

Finally, the Associated Press reports on a Rodong Shinmun warning to the South that it’s government “will not last:”

South Korea’s new government will not last if it continues to allow its U.S.-led policy to ruin reconciliation efforts on the Korean peninsula, North Korea said Monday.
The North’s official Rodong Shinmun newspaper criticized President Lee Myung-bak’s government for “following the U.S. imperialists” and driving inter-Korean relations to catastrophe.
Those who “dance to the whistle of outside forces will only suffer a collapse,” it said in a commentary.

UPDATE: From Nightwatch:

Kim regularly visits military units and does so more frequently than civilian facilities because of safety and security considerations. He feels safer among the military than in the general public. The timing of the new report reinforces the image that the nation is prepared for a crisis. It is not, but the propaganda machine operates on its own rules.

Written by nkmonitor

April 8, 2008 at 12:43 am

Posted in Regime Ideology

Nodong Shinmun: Smash Imperialists’ Moves for Ideological and Cultural Poisoning

leave a comment »

In a editorial on January 31, the Nodong Shinmun (via KCNA, 1/31/2008) warned against the infiltration of foreign cultural ideas:

Checking the imperialists’ moves for ideological and cultural poisoning is a basic guarantee for the advance and victory of the popular masses’ cause of independence, the cause of socialism.
    The imperialists are now becoming more crafty and vicious in their moves for ideological and cultural poisoning aimed at achieving their hegemonic purpose.
    It is a trite method employed by the imperialists to invade and dominate other countries to spread bourgeois ideology and culture.
    The imperialists are now perpetrating such act in a craftier manner under the signboard of “cooperation” and “exchange.”
    They are spreading the reactionary ideology and culture in an undisguised manner under all kinds of specious signboards such as “cooperation” and “exchange,” availing themselves of the trend of the change and development of the times.

 Hmm…sounds to me like the people’s faith in the regime is wavering. “Cooperation” and “exchange”? This could refer to any number of things: the upcoming performance by the New York Philharmonic, the influx of South Korean tourists to Kaesong, exposure to capitalism in the Kaesong economic complex, an increasingly porous northern frontier with China… The editorial continues:

    They are leaving no stone unturned to realize their ideological and cultural domination over other countries by infiltrating their reactionary bourgeois ideology and culture into them.
    The historical experience and lesson prove that it is impossible to defend the popular masses’ cause of independence, the cause of socialism, should a country allow the imperialists to infiltrate their ideology and culture into it without any vigilance against their poisoning.
    It is necessary to strictly guard against the imperialists’ ideological and cultural poisoning and decisively foil it in order to defend socialism and ensure its triumphant advance.

Perhaps a crackdown is just around the corner? Or perhaps the regime is preparing its people for the foreign aid shipments that are about to arrive as the country falls headfirst into a second famine? Only time will tell, but one thing is certain: the hermetic seal around the regime is slowly fraying.   Now that the Kim Jong Il’s regime has been disconnected from the artificial respirator that was the Sunshine Policy, North Korea has every reason to worry.

Written by nkmonitor

February 4, 2008 at 12:57 am

Korean People Have Strong Mental Powers

leave a comment »

If you thought South Korean nationalism was bad…

In a laughable “editorial,” the KCNA (Rodong Sinmun on Korean People’s Inexhaustible Mental Power 1/29/2008)  attributes the “strength” of the DPRK to the Korean people’s great “mental powers:”

The invincibility of Songun Korea ushering in the most brilliant era of prosperity in the nation’s history spanning 5,000 years, standing all tests of history under the guidance of Kim Jong Il is based on the strong mental power of its people, says Rodong Sinmun Monday in a signed article.

The “editorial” also includes the first ever documented use of the word “pabulum” in print:

The Juche idea serves as ideological pabulum as it makes the people strongest in faith and will in the world.

This propaganda piece is replete with allusions to the peculiarity and exceptionalism of the (North) Korean people.  As was pointed out in yesterday’s post, a big part of the Juche sell has been the use appeals to super-nationalism to justify the program of self-reliance. This “editorial” aptly demonstrates this principle.

Written by nkmonitor

January 29, 2008 at 2:26 am

Posted in Regime Ideology

Juche: A Primer

with 3 comments

It is a common misconception  that the Sino-Korean word “Juche (주체, 主體)” means “self-reliance.”    “Juche” literally means “the main subject.” This is because the Juche ideological system (sometimes called Kimilsungism) focuses on man as the dominant actor, or main subject, in the world. Man dominates nature and the revolution and not the other way around. Man is the master of everything and decides everything. Although this might sound liberating, Juche is actually a justificatory ideology in that its main purpose is to justify the primacy of the Korean Worker’s Party over politics. The futileness of Juche’s quest is aptly demonstrated in the opening passage of James Church’s A Corpse in the Koryo (see my review here):

“…nothing to see but crumbling highway cutting straight through empty countryside. Laid out straight on a map thirty years ago straight was how it was to be built. The engineers would have preferred to skirt the small hills, that oddly unconnected, sail like boats across the landscape. Straight, rigorously straight, literally straight, meant blasting a dozen tunnels. This meant an extra year of dangerous, unnecessary work for construction troops, but there was no serious thought of deviating from the line of the map, pointing like Truth from the capital down to the border and drawn by a Hand none would challenge. Alas, to their regret, the engineers could not replace the rebellious contours of the land; in places the road curved. For that, the general in change, a morose man of impeccable loyalty, caught hell.

Kim Il Sung first mentioned Juche in 1955, but it wasn’t until the Sino-Soviet split in 1962 that the Juche ideology set off on its path to formalization, as the Kim regime looked for a way to tow a line independent of Moscow and Beijing.  Kim Il Sung’s works were systematically changed to “prove” that Kim mentioned Juche-esque ideas as early as his guerrilla days in Manchuria (see: Kang 2001). Kim Jong Il and his mentor Hwang Jeong Yop (who later defected to the South) are often credited with formulating the system as it stands now.

Juche begins with the Marxist-Leninist premise of capitalist exploitation of the masses and the need to end exploitation and oppression. In their attempt to carve out a completely new and unique niche for themselves, Juche-ists adapted this principle to claim that capitalist exploitation prevents the working classes from fulfilling their role as the masters of society and the revolution. According to Kim Jong Il:

The revolution is the struggle to meet the masses’ desire for independence. It is a struggle for the masses’ to free themselves. When they are armed with the revolutionary idea and organized into a unified political force, the masses can emerge victorious in the revolution (see Kim Jong Il “On the Origin of the Juche IdeaNote: if you’re in South Korea, you’ll need to visit that site from behind a proxy).

The next premise of Juche ideology is man as a social being. Juche theorists claim that man must live and develop in the presence of social relationships. Social relationships imbue man with his essential “human-ness.” Although man can survive physically without social relationships, he will never be able to do those things that are peculiar to man, such as thinking, speaking, etc without existing in a social collective.

Man, as a social being, has independence. Juche theorists define this word to mean the ability to dominate nature and destiny. Independent man doesn’t just adapt to new environments, he makes new environments adapt to him.

Next, man has the attribute of creativity. Creativity is the ability to create things from scratch and to consciously and purposely change the world.

The final aspect of man is consciousness. Consciousness is man’s awareness of his ability to dominate the world. Consciousness is divided into two parts: knowledge and ideological consciousness. Knowledge essentially means knowing how to dominate the world. Ideological consciousness determines what kinds of knowledge to pursue in order to realize man’s destiny. Ideological consciousness must be trained through social education and by thinking only proper thoughts. Because of this, Juche can have no competition. Such ideological education is pervasive in North Korean society. Dr. Andrei Lankov provides some background and insight into these ideological sessions:

1. “Meetings on reading newspapers” starts the working day for many, if not most North Koreans. For half an hour, especially appointed people read out Nodong Sinmun or sometimes Memoirs of the Anti-Japanese Guerrillas.

2. “Meetings on studying from the experience of the Great Leader and the Dear Ruler” are dedicated to stories about Kim Il Song and Kim Chông Il which (mostly from the series Stories about the Love for the People) are also read out aloud and, sometimes, discussed. These stories which we have briefly mentioned above, illustrate how humane, wise and devoted to their subjects both leaders are.

3. “Meetings on analysing slogans” do not need much explanation, their name is self-explanatory.

4. “Meetings of revenge” must nourish the hatred for the enemy. During these sessions, stories about the “bloody atrocities of the eternal enemies of the Korean people – American imperialism, Japanese colonialism and their South Korean puppets” are read and discussed. By the way, among the major villains are Christian missionaries who in these stories are depicted branding Korean children with hot iron, taking their blood to sell overseas and, definitely, spying for their cunning masters in Washington.

5. “Meetings on the ideological struggle” were, perhaps, initially borrowed from Mao’s China. At these meetings, people who have committed “ideological mistakes” or “concessions to revisionism” are criticised. The “mistakes” may include such crimes as long hair and excessive devotion to passion. Everybody has to accuse and denounce the culprit who must also finally deliver a speech of repentance. Nowadays, such meetings normally proceeds relatively peacefully but in the 1960s some victims were routinely beaten up by the “masses”.

6. “Meetings on drawing the results of life” finish the working week. Usually they take place on Saturdays, once or twice a month. These are devoted to self-criticism. All those present are required to confess in turn their sins and misdemeanours over the previous weeks and complete their speeches with an obligatory oath of repentance. These public political confession sessions are a very important part of the daily life of North Korea. After everybody has completed their repentance speeches with the obligatory quotes from Kim Il Song and Kim Chông Il, they turn to a bout of the so-called “mutual criticism”, meaning that each participant must denounce one or another actions of their colleagues. While such behaviour might strike the reader as strange, nevertheless the system has proved to be a remarkably efficient means of cohesion.

7. “Meetings on learning songs” is necessary since a new song in North Korea is a rare event, and each new lyric and tune must be officially approved. Hence, each new work is supposedly a “masterpiece of chuch’e music” and thus must be learned by the whole population. Needless to say, Kim Il Song and Kim Chông Il are mentioned in the text of most songs.

It is worth mentioning the prominence of jingoism in Juche. Juche places the Korean people at the forefront of a global revolution as “chosen people,” with Kim Il Sung as a messianic figure at the top. Juche is even beginning to take on certain mystical qualities as stories of people praying to Kim Il Sung and recieting his works are miraculously saved from danger. For more on this, see Thank You Father Kim Il Sung (PDF link), from the United States Commission on International Religious freedom.

Written by nkmonitor

January 28, 2008 at 1:43 am

Posted in Regime Ideology

KCNA Editorial Stresses “The People.”

leave a comment »

In their latest (1/21/2008) editorial, the Korea Central News Agency (KCNA) mentions “the people” 16 times (out of 365 word total). Meanwhile, “Kim Jong Il” is mentioned only once.

Here’s an except:

The Republic has always made the demand and interests of the people the first consideration and striven for their realization. It has provided them with genuine freedom and rights in all realms of social life. They have been enjoying a worthwhile and happy life as the master of the state and society, revolution and construction. Everything serves the people and they are the masters of all the things.

Notice how they mention “social life.” North Korean propagandists always disdained regular Marxism, believing it to be too deterministic that is, man is at the mercy of the forces of economic relations. Here’s KJI on the definition of social life:

“Since they [Marxists] regarded man as a component of productive forces, as the ensemble of social relations, the phrase social being they used implied man as well. However, they did not use it as one having the particular meaning that defines man’s essential qualities. Systematizing the Juche Philosophy, we used the term social being as one having the particular meaning that defines man’s essential qualities. In the theory of the Juche philosophy man is the only social being in the world.”

 Since man is the master of the world, and not the other way around, man requires some “help” to prevent the relationship from reversing itself. Notice, that the definition of freedom is very different from out version of Freedom. Freedom, to KJI, means making the world serve man. Only through “social education” and the leadership of the monolithic Worker’s Party, can man become “free.” Social education requires having the “correct mindset.”

Written by nkmonitor

January 21, 2008 at 4:13 am

Posted in Regime Ideology

Sports and North Korea

leave a comment »

An article on Guardian Unlimited by Jon Herskovitz discusses the role sports plays in North Korea. Sports, like most every other aspect of daily life in the North, is used a means of strengthening  loyalty and group cohesion.  The basic idea is to inspire awe among the masses. According to the article:

The impoverished North, however, is much happier playing the role of David where its rare victories are attributed to the teachings of pudgy leader Kim Jong-il and its losses are blamed on a playing field made unfair by its foes.

 Dongseo University’s Brian Myers comments on the role North Korean nationalism plays in all this:

 “North Korean nationalism does not boast that North Koreans are physically superior to other races,” Myers explained. The North’s propaganda spreads the message of being morally superior.

The article explains how North Korea’s conception of sports-as-a-means-to-bolster-regime-legitimacy, a concept so foreign to us in the rest of the world, is born and propagated:

Sports are often associated with organs of the ruling communist party, featuring competitions with farming collectives, factory workers and soldiers. Its best athletes are celebrated for upholding “the dignity of the nation”.
“Sports constitutes a powerful driving force in firmly preparing the entire people for national defence and labour,” its official media said, citing the teachings of state founder Kim Il-sung.
The North relishes the role of underdog. When one of its athletes or teams achieves even moderate success, it makes the most of the victory, proclaiming it a result of the state’s military-first policy and its self-reliance ideal called “juche”. 
North Korea won just five medals in 2004. Compared to South Korea’s 30.

Written by nkmonitor

January 16, 2008 at 8:14 am

Posted in Regime Ideology