Archive for the ‘Juche’ Category

Pyongyang changes official narrative on South

Monday, December 1st, 2008

In a recent Korea Times article, Andrei Lankov (citing Brian Myers) highlights how the DPRK has changed the narrative of its raison d’être in response to the growing realization among its people that South Korea is not the poor, exploited US colony the propaganda portrays it to be. 

Quoting from the article:

Until some time a decade ago, the North Korean populace was expected and required to believe in a very simple world picture.

The North, led by the glorious dynasty of omniscient and benevolent rulers, was the best society on the face of the Earth, much envied and glorified by the less fortunate peoples of other countries.

The rest of the world was inferior, though people in the socialist countries admittedly fared better than the helpless inhabitants of the capitalist hell.

But worst of all was South Korea, the colony of the U.S. imperialists who exploited it with unparalleled brutality.

However, around 2000 the North Korean watchers (well, actually a handful of them with the time and ability to read the official press systematically) began to notice a new image of the South emerge.

Brian Myers, the ever observant reader of North Korean press and fiction first noticed the signs of this quiet transformation when it was only beginning.

Soon it became clear that he was right. A new propaganda line was being born. Interestingly, this time the new line was introduced not through newspapers, but in a more subtle way, through works of fiction, which also have to be approved by the supreme ideological authorities.

The new South Korea which emerged in these writings wasn’t so poor. Actually, it was not poor at all. The characters in recent North Korean novels, which deal with the imaginary life of the South, enjoy a lifestyle far superior to that of the average North Korean. They drive cars, dine out easily and live in expensive houses.

As Myers pointed out, the North Korean authors have poor ideas of how expensive Seoul real estate has become, so they sometimes overestimate South Korean’s income levels. In one novel, a young South Korean journalist buys a house in a very expensive neighborhood after merely a few years of work.

Does this mean that the new image of the South is positive? Of course not! South Korean society might be rich, the propaganda operators say, but it is still inferior to the North.

The South Koreans had to pay a terrible price for their success: they were deprived of their precious national identity.

The cultural uniqueness and racial purity of the great Korean nation has become endangered. Mixed marriages are mentioned frequently and in a way that makes readers believe they are between the same lusty Americans and young Korean women.

However, the propaganda insists, the South Koreans themselves are not happy about this situation. They dream about liberation and purification, and their hopes are pinned on Pyongyang and, above all, the Dear Leader himself. In recent years, North Korean propaganda has insisted that Kim Jong -il is worshipped in the South. Similar statements were made earlier as well.

According to this new logic, the North is a torchbearer, a proud protector of nationhood and racial purity. South Korean prosperity is tainted and hence should not be envied.

The North must fight for the ultimate salvation of the South, and such salvation can be achieved only through unification under the North Korean auspices, so all South Koreans will be able to enjoy the loving care of the Dear Leader. Only American troops and a handful of national traitors prevent this dream from coming true.

Lankov (and Myers) speculate that the North Korean government changed the narrative in response to unauthorized information permeating the country.  In a related note, the overt propaganda in many North Korean films has also been reduced in recent decades.

Most importantly, Lankov reminds us that nationalism is not a viable long-term political strategy—even in North Korea.  North Korean Juche was supposed to liberate the Korean people and deliver on material progress, but it has not succeeded.  From top to bottom, many North Koreans already know this.


Intellectuals and Marxism in North Korea

Monday, November 17th, 2008

An interesting quote from the Daily NK:

Until the late 1960s Das Capital, the selected works of Engels and books and publications related to the dialectical materialism and metaphysics were set on my father’s bookshelf.

However, in 1968 or 1969 the authorities took away every book claiming, “Let’s establish Juche.” Since 1970, there was no house where books related to Marx and Engels remained. The only books with regard to an ideology were the analects and selected writings of Kim Il Sung.

The generations that learned Marxism are those who took lectures in universities from 1950 to early 1960s. Since 1967, there have been no lectures on Marxism and no professors who used the publications of Marx.

Since 1970, theories of philosophy or even dialectical materialism have been fabricated as Kim Il Sung’s analects, and theses of Marx and Engels have been revealed as Kim Il Sung’s ones, placing at the forefront the words, “According to the Supreme Leader, Kim Il Sung.”

Finally, later Kim Jong Il even got rid of such things. He made people study only the Juche Ideology as he took away the dialectic. Even the issue on productive forces and their relation to the means of production in the Marxist theory were dealt with in the Juche Ideology. They didn’t teach cadres the dialectical materialism in the Communist College.

The Party omitted the line, “the Chosun Workers’ Party struggles to practice Marxism-Leninism,” replacing it with “the Kim Il Sung Ideology,” at the 6th Party Convention in October, 1980.

Read the full article here:
North Korean Intellectuals Oppressed and Watched
Daily NK
Kim Seo Yeol


North Korea dragged back to the past

Tuesday, January 29th, 2008

In the article below, Dr. Lankov makes a compelling argument that the North Korean government is now attempting to to re-stalinize the economy because the system cannot survive liberal economic reforms.

Altough the trend seems depressing, optimists should take note that Pyongyang’s efforts to reassert control over the economy parallel a decline in belief in the official ideology.  With a deterioration of this ideology, people’s acquiescence to the DPRK’s political leaders declines, and power dynamics are all that hold the system together.  Efforts to control the general population are increasingly seen by the people as self-interested behavior on the part of their leaders, calling their legitimacy into question.

Additionally, efforts to reassert control over the economy are bound to fail because the system has already collapsed, their capital has been stripped, and there are insufficient funds to rescue the system.

In other words, efforts to re-stalinize the economy are bound to fail from both an economic and ideological perspective.

North Korea dragged back to the past
Asia Times

Andrei Lankov

When people talk about North Korea these days, they tend to focus on the never-ending saga of the six-party talks and the country’s supposed de-nuclearization. Domestic changes in the North, often ignored or overlooked, should attract more attention.

These changes are considerable and should not encourage those optimists who spent years predicting that given favorable circumstances the North Korean regime would mend its ways and follow the beneficial development line of China and Vietnam. Alas, the recent trend is clear: the North Korean regime is maintaining its counter-offensive against market forces.

Merely five years ago things looked differently. The decade that followed Kim Il-sung’s death in 1994 was the time of unprecedented social disruption and economic disaster culminating in the Great Famine of 1996-99, with its 1 million dead. The old Stalinist economy of steel mills and coal mines collapsed once the Soviets discontinued the aid that alone kept it afloat in earlier decades.

All meaningful economic activity moved to the booming private markets. The food rationing system, once unique in its thoroughness and ubiquity, collapsed, and populace survived through market activities as well as the “second”, or non-official, economy. The explosive growth of official corruption meant that many old restrictions, including a ban on unauthorized domestic travel, were not enforced any more. Border control collapsed and a few hundred thousand refugees fled to China. In other words, the old Stalinist system imploded, and a new grassroots capitalism took over.

The regime, however, did not approve the changes – obviously on assumption that these trends would eventually undermine the government’s control. Authorities staged occasional crackdowns on market activities, though those crackdowns seldom had any lasting impact: people had to survive somehow, and officials were only too willing to ignore the deviations if they were paid sufficient bribes.

By 2002 it seemed as if the government itself decided to bow to the pressure. In July that year, the Industrial Management Improvement Measures (never called “reforms”, since the word has always been a term of abuse in Pyongyang’s official vocabulary) decriminalized much market activity and introduced some changes in the industrial management system – very moderate and somewhat akin to the half-hearted Soviet “reforms” of the 1960s and 1970s.

The 2002 measures were widely hailed overseas as a sign of welcome changes: many Pyongyang sympathizers, especially from among the South Korean Left, still believe that only pressure from the “US imperialists” prevents Kim Jong-il and his entourage from embracing Chinese-style reforms. In fact, the 2002 measures were not that revolutionary: with few exceptions, the government simply gave belated approval to activities that had been going on for years and which the regime could not eradicate (even though it had tried a number of times). Nonetheless, this was clearly a sign of government’s willingness to accept what it could not redo.

However, around 2004 observers began to notice signs of policy reversal: the regime began to crack down on the new, dangerously liberal, activities of its subjects. By 2005, it became clear: the government wanted to turn the clock back, restoring the system that existed before the collapse of the 1990s. In other words, Kim Jong-il’s government spent the recent three of four years attempting to re-Stalinize the country.

This policy might be ruinous economically, but politically it makes perfect sense. It seems that North Korean leaders believe that their system cannot survive major liberalization. They might be correct in their pessimism. The country faces a choice that is unknown to China or Vietnam, two model nations of the post-Communist reform. It is the existence of South Korea that creates the major difference.

Unlike China or Vietnam, North Korea borders a rich and free country that speaks the same language and shares the same culture. The people of China and Vietnam, though well aware of the West’s affluence, do not see it as directly relevant to their problems: the United States and Japan surely are rich, but they are also foreign so their experiences are not directly relevant. But for the North Koreans, the comparison with South Korea hurts. Even according conservative estimates, per capita gross national income in the South is 17 times the level it is in the North; to put things in comparison, just before the Germany’s unification, per capita GNI in West Germany was roughly double that in East Germany.

Were North Korea to reform, the disparities with South Korea would become only starker to its population. This might produce a grave political crisis, so the North Korean government seemingly believes that in order to stay in control it should avoid any tampering with the system. Maintaining the information blockade is of special importance, since access to the overseas information might easily show the North Koreans both the backwardness of their country and the ineptitude of their government.

At the same time, from around 2002 the amount of foreign aid began to increase. The South Korean government, following the so-called Sunshine policy, began to provide generous and essentially unmonitored aid to Pyongyang. China did this as well. Both countries cited humanitarian concerns, even though it seems that the major driving force was the desire to avoid a dramatic and perhaps violent collapse of the North Korean state.

Whatever the reasons, North Korea’s leaders came to assume that their neighbors’ aid would save the country from the worst of famine. They also assumed that this aid, being delivered more or less unconditionally, could be quietly diverted for distribution among the politically valuable parts of the population – such as the military or the police, and this would further increase regime’s internal security.

So, backward movement began. In October 2005, Pyongyang stated that the Public Distribution System would be fully re-started, and it outlawed the sale of grain on the market (the ban has not been thoroughly enforced, thanks to endemic police corruption). Soon afterwards, came regulations prohibited males from trading at markets: the activities should be left only to the women or handicapped. The message was clear: able-bodied people should now go back to where they belong, to the factories of the old-style Stalinist economy.

There have been crackdowns on mobiles phones, and the border control was stepped up. There have been efforts to re-enforce the old prohibition of unauthorized travel. In short, using newly available resources, North Korea’s leaders do not rush to reform themselves, but rather try to turn clock back, restoring the social structure of the 1980s.

The recent changes indicate that this policy continues. From December only sufficiently old ladies are allowed to trade: in order to sell goods at the market a woman has to be at least 50 years old. This means that young and middle-aged women are pushed back to the government factories. Unlike earlier ban on commercial activity on men, this might have grave social consequences: since the revival of the markets in the mid-1990s, women constituted the vast number of vendors, and in most cases it was their earnings that made a family’s survival possible while men still chose to attend the idle factories and other official workplaces.

Other measures aim at reducing opportunities for market trade. In December, the amount of grain that can be moved by an individual was limited to ten kilograms. To facilitate control, some markets were ordered to close all but one gate and make sure that fences are high enough to prevent scaling.

Vendors do what they can to counter these measures. One trick is to use a sufficiently old woman as a figurehead for a family business. The real work is done by a younger woman, usually daughter or daughter-in-law of the nominal vendor, but in case of a police check the actual vendor can always argue that she is merely helping her old mother. Another trick is to trade outside the marketplace, on the streets. This uncontrolled trade often attracts police crackdowns, so vendors avoid times when they can be seen by officials going to their offices.

This autumn in Pyongyang there was an attempt, the first of this kind in years, to prescribe maximum prices of items sold in markets. Large price tables were displayed, and vendors were forbidden to sell goods (largely fish) at an “excessive price”. It was also reported that new regulations limit to 15 the number of items to be sold at one stall.

The government does not forget about other kinds of commercial activities. In recent years, private inns, eateries, and even bus companies began to appear in large numbers. In many cases these companies are thinly disguised as “government enterprises” or, more frequently, as “joint ventures” (many North Korean entrepreneurs have relatives in China and can easily persuade them to pose as investors and sign necessary papers).

Recently a number of such businesses were closed down by police. People were told that the roots of evil capitalism had to be destroyed, so every North Korean can enjoy a happy life working at a proper factory for the common good.

Yet even as the government pushes people back to the state sector of the economy, These new restrictions have little to do with attempts to revive production. A majority of North Korean factories have effectively died and in many cases cannot be re-started without massive investment – which is unlikely to arrive; investors are not much interested in factories where technology and equipment has sometimes remained unchanged since the 1930s.

However, in North Korea the surveillance and indoctrination system has always been centered around work units. Society used to operate on the assumption that every adult Korean male (and most females as well) had a “proper” job with some state-run facility. So, people are now sent back not so much to the production lines than to indoctrination sessions and the watchful eyes of police informers, and away from subversive rumors and dangerous temptations of the marketplace.

At the same time, border security has been stepped up. This has led to a dramatic decline in numbers of North Korean refugees crossing to China (from some 200,000 in 2000 to merely 30,000-40,000 at present). The authorities have said they will treat the border-crossers with greater severity, reviving the harsh approach that was quietly abandoned around 1996. In the 1970s and 1980s under Kim Il-sung, any North Korean trying to cross to China or who was extradited by the Chinese police would be sent to prison for few years.

More recently, the majority of caught border-crossers spent only few weeks in detention. The government says such leniency will soon end. Obviously, this combination of threats, improved surveillance and tighter border control has been effective.

The government is also trying to restore its control of information. Police recently raided and closed a number of video shops and karaoke clubs. Authorities are worried that these outlets can be used to propagate foreign (especially South Korean) pop culture. Selling, copying and watching South Korean video tapes or DVDs remain a serious crime, even though such “subversive materials” still can be obtained easily.

It is clear that North Korean leaders, seeking to resume control that slipped from them in the 1990s and early 2000s, are not concerned if the new measures damage the economy or people’s living standards when set against the threat to their own political domination and perhaps even their own physical survival.

Manifold obstacles nevertheless stand in the way of a revival of North Korean Stalinism.

First, large investment is needed to restart the economy and also – an important if underestimated factor – a sufficient number of true believers ready to make a sacrifice for the ideal. When the North Korean regime was developed in the 1940s and 1950s it had Soviet grants, an economic base left from the days of Japanese investment and a number of devoted zealots. The regime now has none of these. Foreign aid is barely enough to feed the population, and the country’s bureaucrats are extremely cynical about the official ideology.

Second, North Korea society is much changed. Common people have learned that they can survive without relying on rations and giveaways from the government. It will be a gross oversimplification to believe that all North Koreans prefer the relative freedoms of recent years to the grotesquely regimented but stable and predictable existence of the bygone era, but it seems that socially active people do feel that way and do not want to go back. Endemic corruption also constitutes a major obstacle: officials will be willing to ignore all regulations if they see a chance to enrich themselves.

It is telling that government could not carry out its 2005 promise to fully restart the public distribution (rationing) system. Now full rations are given only to residents of major cities while others receive reduced rations that are below the survival level. A related attempt to ban trade in grain at markets also failed: both popular pressure and police inclination to take bribes undermined the policy, so that grain is still traded openly at markets.

Even so, whether the government will succeed in re-Stalinizing society, its true intent remains the revival of the old system. North Korean leaders do not want reforms, assuming that these reforms will undermine their power. They are probably correct in this assumption.


North Korea Google Earth (Version 7)

Friday, December 14th, 2007

The most authoritative map of North Korea on Google Earth
North Korea Uncovered v.7
Download it here

koreaisland.JPGThis map covers North Korea’s agriculture, aviation, cultural locations, manufacturing facilities, railroad, energy infrastructure, politics, sports venues, military establishments, religious facilities, leisure destinations, and national parks. It is continually expanding and undergoing revisions. This is the sixth version.

Additions to the latest version of “North Korea Uncovered” include: A Korean War folder featuring overlays of US attacks on the Sui Ho Dam, Yalu Bridge, and Nakwon Munitians Plant (before/after), plus other locations such as the Hoeryong Revolutionary Site, Ponghwa Revolutionary Site, Taechon reactor (overlay), Pyongyang Railway Museum, Kwangmyong Salt Works, Woljong Temple, Sansong Revolutionary Site, Jongbansan Fort and park, Jangsan Cape, Yongbyon House of Culture, Chongsokjong, Lake Yonpung, Nortern Limit Line (NLL), Sinuiju Old Fort Walls, Pyongyang open air market, and confirmed Pyongyang Intranet nodes.

Disclaimer: I cannot vouch for the authenticity of many locations since I have not seen or been to them, but great efforts have been made to check for authenticity. These efforts include pouring over books, maps, conducting interviews, and keeping up with other peoples’ discoveries. In many cases, I have posted sources, though not for all. This is a thorough compilation of lots of material, but I will leave it up to the reader to make up their own minds as to what they see. I cannot catch everything and I welcome contributions.


Juche: Idea for All Times

Tuesday, November 27th, 2007

Korea Times
Andrei Lankov

The great and immortal idea of Juche, the most advanced social theory the world has ever known, was created by Kim Il-sung in 1930 when the ever-victorious general was 18 years old. Since then, the theory has been embraced by political and intellectual leaders across the world.

This is what North Koreans are required to believe. The idea of a high school graduate developing such a breakthrough social theory might sound strange, but after all the official line is that Kim Il-sung became a leader of the entire Communist movement at the tender age of 14 when in 1926 he allegedly founded the first truly communist group in the country.

However, early references to Juche are almost certain to be faked. The text of the speech which Kim Il-sung allegedly delivered in Manchuria in 1930 was first published in the 1960s, when Juche featured prominently in North Korean propaganda. There are good reasons to think that the entire text of the speech was actually written around the same time, to suit the political situation of the 1960s.

Actually, nothing was known about Juche until December 1955 when Kim Il-sung first used the word in a long speech, addressing a group of high-level party officials. In those days, Pyongyang was waging its first anti-Soviet campaign, still very mild by later standards. Nonetheless, in the mid-1950s the Soviet Union was liberalizing itself, so Kim Il-sung decided to move away from his erstwhile ally and patron. He did not want to be ousted and disgraced by local Korean reformers.

In his attempts to counter the liberal trends, Kim Il-sung decided to use nationalism as his preferred weapon. After all, the liberal wind was blowing from the north, from Russia, and hence it made sense to remind officials about their “Koreanness.” If we have a more careful look though the 1955 speech and other early references to Juche we will see that this was what Kim Il Song meant: not a coherent ideology, not even the idea of “self-reliance,” but rather need to emphasize one’s national identity as a Korean, a need to see Korea’s national interests as the top priority.

I have spent a long time reading through the pages of the Nodong sinmun of the 1950s, and it is clear that references to Juche remained rare until 1960. In the “Popular Dictionary of Political Terms,” published in Pyongyang in 1959, the term Juche is conspicuous in its absence, while in the large Dictionary of the Korean Language (1961-1962) the present-day ideological meaning of the term as a name for a political ideology is featured, but still occupies a modest place as a secondary interpretation. It took a large and concerted effort on the part of the Pyongyang ideologues in the mid and late 1960s to re-define Juche as a coherent ideology and the official philosophy of the DPRK.

Things began to really change in 1965 when the Juche promotion campaign was cranked up. While visiting Indonesia in April 1965, then still under a left-leaning nationalist dictatorship, Kim Il-sung delivered a speech which can be seen as the first Juche speech (the 1955 statement used the word in a different meaning). It was when Juche was first posited as the basic ideological principle of North Korean politics. This happened when the Sino-Soviet quarrel had reached its greatest intensity, and North Korea strove to stay neutral in the noisy feud of its two major sponsors. Nationalism in this situation had to promoted. So Kim Il-sung observed that the leading principles in North Korea were “independence in politics, self-reliance in the economy, and Juche as the ideology.”

Only in 1970 was Juche officially promoted as the leading ideology of the ruling Korean Workers Party. The KWP’s Fifth Congress stated that the Party would be guided by Marxism-Leninism and Juche. Judged by the standards of the Communist bloc, this was heresy. The local ideology was put on an equal footing with Marxism! However, by that time it did not really matter. The statement did raise eyebrows in the ideological departments of some ruling Communist parties, above all, in Moscow. However, nobody had either the will or the means to enforce orthodoxy, and everybody knew about the rampant nationalism of North Korea.

The next step came in 1980, when the Sixth KWP congress deleted references to Marxism-Leninism, leaving Juche as the sole official ideology of the Party. Thus the KWP became the only part of the Communist bloc which did not actually claim itself to be an adherent of Marxism-Leninism, even though its practical policy was still perfectly in line with the Stalinist tradition. This was the clearest possible declaration of ideological independence, a break with the official traditions of the Communist camp.

Nowadays, Juche is considered to be not only the girding principle of the KWP, but also the state ideology of the DPRK. The North Korean Constitution makes this clear in Article 3.

It is quite common to say that one has to understand Juche in order to understand North Korea. Well, I would not subscribe to that opinion. Juche is simply too vague to be taken seriously, and the interpretation of its philosophy has changed countless times. In a sense, Juche is an empty shell, a term which includes everything the North Korean leadership considers “correct” at any given moment in time, but hardly anything else.


DPRK Economic Revival Campaign Redefined

Tuesday, November 6th, 2007

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)
NK Brief No. 07-11-6-1

Following the economic turmoil of the early 1990’s, the North Korean Workers’ Party adopted the slogan of ‘salvation through our own efforts’ for its economic revival campaign. Recently, signs of change in that campaign have been apparent.

On October 30, the Rodong Sinmun, the DPRK socialist party’s newspaper, printed an editorial headlined, “Let’s hold the ‘salvation through our own efforts’ banner even higher and go forward,” in which it explained, “Our strengthening of the [campaign] in no way means building the economy while ignoring the relationship with the international economy.”

In the past, the economic campaign encouraged the mobilization of outdated technology and methods in areas that were seen as lacking, but without fail, to do so independently. Now, the campaign has shifted toward being based on ‘modern science and technology’ and ‘utility’.

The article emphasized, ‘turning our back to science and technology and not relying on science is tantamount to not revolutionizing,” and “if you make world-wide vanguard technology your own and actively use it, that is ‘salvation through our own efforts.”

The newspaper highlighted childrearing, excavation, and mobilization as the three most important areas in which science and technology would play a role as the foundation the newly defined economic revival campaign. The latest twist came when the article purported that utility would be the new foundation for the campaign. “The future [campaign] for the 21st century is a [campaign] based on utility,” and, “economic projects in which the people can see no virtue, and which can give no benefits to the nation are absolutely meaningless.”

In particular, “It is easy to rely on capitalist elements in the economic sector,” and, “if we do not have the will to overcome obstacles and move forward, strange, non-socialist factors will enter [our society] and shake the physical foundation of socialism.”

The article portrays the idea that even if, through inter-Korean economic exchange and transactions with the international community, capitalist elements of the outside world enter the North, ultimately they would not get in the way of bracing up the socialist system, and the current regime could be maintained by adopting a utilitarian economic revival campaign.

It would be difficult to interpret this Rodong Sinmun editorial as a green light for opening up North Korea. However, it does appear to indicate a decision to redefine the campaign to reach ‘salvation through our own efforts’ due to the recognition that the North cannot survive in isolation, and that outside assistance is necessary in order to revive the economy.


DPRK Economic Policy One Year after Nuclear Test

Thursday, October 18th, 2007

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)
NK Brief No. 07-10-18-1

One year after the DPRK nuclear test, North Korea is still focusing all of their policy efforts on restoring their economy. North Korean leaders are convinced that an economic revival is crucial for the survival and stability of their regime.

The DPRK stated in this year’s New Year Joint Editorial, a publication that presents the regime’s policy direction for the year, that “the founding of a strong national economy is a crucial requirement for the revolution and advancement of our society, and is a historic undertaking toward becoming a fully prosperous and powerful nation.” The emphasis on “focusing all the state’s efforts on solving the economic issue,” was indicative of their sense of imminence regarding economic revival.

The Joint Editorial presenting the DPRK’s national goal of “founding a strong national economy” came out three months after the October nuclear test, which took place just over one year ago. Since its publication, the North Korean media has been stressing that the DPRK already realized powerful military strength and strong political ideology, and must now strive to establish a strong national economy. The military might of the nation was epitomized by the success of the nuclear test.

A copy of the North Korean quarterly publication “Politics & Law Review” obtained on September 14th emphasized the need to establish a strong national economy, stating that “without a strong national economy, it is impossible to strengthen the forces of political ideology and military power,” and, “the only way to block the infiltration of economic imperialism is by strengthening economic power.” It also added that “if we are weaker than South Korea, we will naturally look to them and depend on them.”

North Korean press claims that Kim Jong Il’s decision to carry out a nuclear test was the reason the 6-party talks have been working since January’s meeting between the United States and the DPRK in Berlin, thus easing tensions on the Korean peninsula by ameliorating the U.S.-DPRK relationship and advancing inter-Korean relations. The fact that 18 out of 55 public appearances (a significantly higher proportion than that of last year) made by Kim Jong Il this year were visits to economic bureaus also reflects North Korea’s economic ‘all-in.’ North Korea’s pro-active movement toward ameliorating relations with the United States, and its determination to expand inter-Korean economic cooperation, all stem from its urgency to develop their economy in order to stabilize their regime.


North Korea on Google Earth

Saturday, October 6th, 2007

Version 5: Download it here (on Google Earth) 

This map covers North Korea’s agriculture, aviation, cultural locations, manufacturing facilities, railroad, energy infrastructure, politics, sports venues, military establishments, religious facilities, leisure destinations, and national parks. It is continually expanding and undergoing revisions. This is the fifth version.

Additions to the latest version of “North Korea Uncovered” include updates to new Google Earth overlays of Sinchon, UNESCO sites, Railroads, canals, and the DMZ, in addition to Kim Jong Suk college of eduation (Hyesan), a huge expansion of the electricity grid (with a little help from Martyn Williams) plus a few more parks, antiaircraft sites, dams, mines, canals, etc.

Disclaimer: I cannot vouch for the authenticity of many locations since I have not seen or been to them, but great efforts have been made to check for authenticity. These efforts include pouring over books, maps, conducting interviews, and keeping up with other peoples’ discoveries. In many cases, I have posted sources, though not for all. This is a thorough compilation of lots of material, but I will leave it up to the reader to make up their own minds as to what they see. I cannot catch everything and I welcome contributions.

I hope this map will increase interest in North Korea. There is still plenty more to learn, and I look forward to receiving your additions to this project.


Paul French Discusses North Korea

Tuesday, September 18th, 2007

Frontline Club (h/t Kitten Wars)

frontline2.JPGPaul French, Director of Access Asia–a market research and business intelligence company specialising in China and North Asia’s economics and markets, spoke to the Economist’s Simon Long about what he has witnessed and learned about North Korea.

He focuses mainly on his perceptions of the US/DPRK relationship, but he also talks about the difficulties of bringing investment capital into the DPRK.

Click on “Frontline club” at the top of the picture above to see the video.


Juche (Self-Reliance) on Translation

Sunday, August 26th, 2007

Korea Times
Andrei Lankov

Many people know that the official North Korean ideology is called “juche.” But what exactly does this term mean? Furthermore, when and how did it develop?

If we look at a reference book, we will probably come across a statement like “juche or self-reliance, the official ideology of North Korea, was first promulgated by Kim Il-sung in 1955.” While not completely wrong, this definition needs a lot of qualifications.

Indeed, December 1955 was the first instance of Kim Il-sung mentioning the term “juche.” North Korean publications remain vague to this day in describing exactly who Kim Il-sung addressed with his “juche speech,” but contemporaneous Soviet materials seemingly indicate that this was not just a meeting of “Party propaganda workers”, but a gathering of the KWP high-level functionaries who came to listen to Kim’s denunciations of the country’s excessive dependence on the Soviet models in culture and ideology.

However, the “juche speech” can be seen as a starting point in the history of the term only with some major caveats. The 1955 speech remained secret for the next few years, but it was distributed among party cadres, including journalists. Having scrutinized the North Korean newspapers from that period in depth, and being acquainted with the text of the speech, I have seen a number of hidden quotations circa 1956. However, the word `juche’ did not feature prominently in these quotations. In fact, it was hardly mentioned at all. For the journalists and propagandists, the key words of Kim’s speech were `dogmatism’ and `formalism’ which hinted at the excessive use of foreign, that is to say Soviet and Chinese, methods. In 1956 or 1957 nobody, including probably Kim Il Sung himself, thought that juche was going to become the name of the country’s official secular faith.

And what does `juche’ mean? Contrary to the commonly repeated idea, it has nothing to do with `self-reliance’. Juche is a Sino-Korean word, a combination of two Chinese characters that are used in all languages of the region. It means `subject’ or `one’s own identity’. When it was first used in 1955, Kim Il Sung meant that Koreans must assert their identity more aggressively against foreign pressures.

If so, where did the descriptive pseudo-translation of `self-reliance’ come from? In the early 1960s juche began to be re-defined as North Korea’s (or Kim Il-sung’s) own ideology. This happened against the backdrop of the growing Sino-Soviet split. Facing two quarrelling giants, North Korean began to advance its own brand of Marxism-Leninism, one that was allegedly superior to both the Soviet “revisionist” and Chinese “dogmatist” interpretations. At this stage juche was still interpreted as a local form of Marxism, or as a “creative application of the eternal truth of Marxism-Leninism to the North Korean reality.” Thus, juche began to acquire new dimensions and meanings.

This process culminated in April 1965 when Kim Il Sung delivered a lengthy speech in Indonesia. This speech was the first attempt to present the juche idea as a coherent ideology of worldwide significance. At that stage, it mostly targeted Third World countries. Kim Il Sung stressed that juche implied “independence in politics, self-reliance in the economy, self-defence in the military.” Hence, it was from that broadened understanding that the now commonly used “translation” of juche as “self-reliance” probably originated.

However, juche is more than self-reliance. In fact, it has much greater connotations with nationalism, and in later years when economic self-reliance, once much trumpeted in Pyongyang, went out of fashion, the nationalistic essence of juche became even more visible.

In 1972, juche acquired formal standing as the country’s official ideology. Article 4 of the new Constitution mentioned it alongside Marxism-Leninism as the `guiding ideology’ of the DPRK. Marxism survived _ not least due to diplomatic considerations. An open demotion of Marxism-Leninism would definitely trigger serious friction with fellow Communist countries, and thus Marxism temporarily lived on as an appendix to the North Korean state. Only in 1992, after the demise of the Communist bloc, was the reference to Marxism dropped, and juche remained the sole ideological foundation of the DPRK.

Frankly, I am sceptical when my colleagues try to explain North Korea’s actual policies as reflections of juche ideas. The definition of juche has changed so many times that it has essentially become a meaningless label encompassing everything the Kims’ considered useful or praiseworthy at any given stage of the country’s history. Perhaps, only the nationalist component has remained unchanged. But that is another story altogether.