Archive for the ‘Juche’ Category

The world according to Pyongyang

Friday, July 13th, 2007

Asia Times
Andrei Lankov

Over the past couple of weeks, the small community of Seoul-based Pyongyang watchers was busy discussing a minor professional sensation. The Wolgan Chungang monthly, widely known for its good insights on all things North Korean, published a lengthy transcript of a speech, allegedly delivered last December, by a high-level Central Committee official. He was obviously talking to a group of prominent academics and engineers. The official’s name is cited as Chang Yong-sun, but he seems to be a complete unknown to the North Korea experts.

The authenticity of the transcript cannot be proved beyond doubt, but the Seoul expert community tends to believe that this tape was indeed secretly recorded somewhere in Pyongyang a few months ago and then smuggled to the South.

Being a former Soviet citizen, this author is inclined to believe this view as well. The tape rings true. This is how a high-level official would talk when lecturing lower layers of elite on the current situation, and such regular lectures were typical for many communist countries.

The semi-privileged met the bigwigs to get instructions on recent events, as well as some alleged insiders’ stories and anecdotes. The semi-privileged cadres felt themselves partaking in the enigmatic world of grand politics, and also learned something about the new trends in their leadership’s thinking about the world.

Most people who deal with “Chang’s lecture” concentrate on those parts of the lengthy presentation that deal with US-North Korea relations and the six-party talks on nuclear disarmament. Indeed, such issues are treated at great length by this document. Many others pay attention to rather unfavorable depictions of the Chinese or outbursts of threats against Japan.

However, I believe that there are more important things in the transcript than merely a North Korean version of what happened during former assistant secretary of state James Kelly’s visit to Pyongyang or during the first rounds of the six-party talks. The tape allows us to have one more glimpse at the world view held by the North Korean elite or, at least, by its lower reaches.

What are the features of the world as seen from Pyongyang? First of all, the significance of North Korea is blown out of all proportion. Somebody would describe this as Pyongyang megalomania, but perhaps author Bruce Cummings found a better term when he talked about “North Korean solipsism”, an assumption that North Korea lies at the center of the world, and that the world itself surely must be aware of this.

The North Korean press now tells its readers that the major international conflict of the modern world is the ongoing struggle between US imperialism and heroic North Korea. Chang Yong-sun even told his audience that the development of North Korean missiles has produced a serious impact on the public-health issues in the US: “Nobody can intercept our missiles now. All the people in the US are aware of this.

“This is why all the people in the United States are completely allergic to missiles of our republic. Once they learn that we test-fired missiles, they become so worried about the rockets changing their directions and exploding over them and killing them, so they develop nervous diseases and nettle rash breaks out all over their bodies. This is what is happening in the United States.”

One should not feel too sorry about the bastards, however. According to the official North Korean world view, once again reiterated by Comrade Chang, the US is responsible for everything that goes badly in Korea, and the constant military threat from the warmongering Washington is the major fact of North Korean life.

The audience was reminded that in 1950 it was the Americans who attacked North Korea, bringing death and destruction to the country (this official version of 1950 events seems to be almost universally believed by North Koreans). This great crime of 1950 has not been avenged yet, Comrade Chang reminded his listeners.

Many people in the US want to believe that such hostility stemmed from President George W Bush’s policies, but Comrade Chang reminded his audience a number of times that there is no real difference between the Republicans and Democrats: both US parties are pathologically hostile to the Country of the Beloved General. The differences between them are of a purely tactical nature, Chang Yong-sun told his audience. He said Republicans rely more on brute force, while Democrats are more canny and more willing to use ideological subversion and economic pressures.

Chang Yong-sun repeated a number of times that the major threat from the US is not that of a sudden military attack. The imperialists are not that simplistic: these days their major weapon is internal subversion. He said: “Although it appears as if the Americans do good things to us, their real nature has not changed at all. Their primary objective is, from start to finish, to undermine us from within and melt us down by disarming us ideologically.”

Chang Yong-sun repeated the message that has been delivered countless times by North Korean leaders big and small: the ideological threat of the outside world constitutes a greater danger than all imaginable military threats. He alleged that the foreign enemies have designed some grand plan of subversion. Chang said specially designated think-tanks work on this issue day and night. If his fantasies are to be believed, one of such centers is somewhere in Washington and employs no fewer than 370 retired generals whose only job is to find ways to undermine North Korea from within.

Being an enthusiastic supporter of soft power, the present author knows perfectly well that there is no coordinated plan of applying soft pressure on Pyongyang. The amount of money and efforts spent on broadcasts aimed at North Korea, on support of refugee groups and other similar activities, is ridiculously small. It is a dream to have a US research center specifically dealing with North Korean issues and stuffed with even, say, five post-doctoral candidates (let alone with 370 ex-generals).

But this raises a question: If this the case, why do Pyongyang politicians keep repeating similar statements? Why do they refer to a non-existent threat? Perhaps because they know what they should be really afraid of. They know only too well how potentially precarious against such a challenge their position is, and they probably cannot even believe that their adversaries fail to appreciate the major vulnerability of Pyongyang and do nothing to exploit the related opportunities. Comrade Chang would be really surprised to learn how weak and disorganized are actual efforts of the “class enemies” in the area that he (perhaps correctly) considers decisive.

Some twists of Pyongyang’s official mindset might come as a surprise to many readers. For example, Comrade Chang found a source of great pride in the North Korean penchant for secrecy. He used one peculiar example to explain why this secretiveness is great. According to him, the Americans defeated the Iraqis because they imitated the voice of Saddam Hussein and then sent fake orders to Iraqi troops in his name.

However, as he proudly reminded everyone, Marshal Kim Jong-il had spoken in public only once, so Americans will never find enough material for their perfidious schemes. The entire secrecy is necessary to keep foreigners at a disadvantage: “A long time ago, the Great General taught us to make sure that our internal things appears to be hazy as if covered by fog when the Americans spy on us. So we have made sure that internal things of our country appear really hazy as if in a fog when our country was viewed from outside.”

It is remarkable that the country’s economic woes are explained in a novel way, which was made possible by the nuclear test. Until 2006, North Koreans were supposed to believe that the only reasons for the recent famine were huge floods that “might happen only once a century”. Now it is admitted that the government needed money for missile and nuclear development, and hence had no other choice but to sacrifice some people to save the nation.

Chang Yong-sun said: “To be frank with you, even if one sells 50 plants as large as Kim Ch’aek Steel Mill, the money is not enough to develop a missile. During the ‘arduous march’ [Pyongyang-speak for the famine of the late 1990s], if there [was] a bit of money, it had to be spent on developing missiles, even though the generals knew that factories did not work and people were starving. This is why we have survived, and were not eaten up by those bastards. Had it not been like this, the bastards would have eaten us a long time ago.”

This line of argument is psychologically more powerful than the earlier version. Nowadays, people’s suffering can be presented not as the result of some blind misfortune caused by nature, but as a part of heroic sacrifice. People died because their country was at war and needed everything to save itself from complete destruction by the brutal enemy. Their deaths were those of heroes.

Such a change of tune is indeed typical of North Korean propaganda during the past few months. However, it might have some political consequences. This propaganda line makes it more difficult to surrender nuclear weapons even if such a notion will ever be seriously entertained by Pyongyang. If North Korea chooses to give up its nuclear arsenal, these sacrifices will be rendered meaningless.

Another propaganda line is that now people should expect a certain improvement of their lot, since the major work has been done: “Now we have conducted a nuclear test and other things, so we have to improve the people’s living standards by concentrating on economic construction.”

Still, Comrade Chang does not want his audience to entertain an excessively optimistic picture of their country’s future. Improvement will be minor and, as one might guess from some other parts of the speech, is likely to be limited to, say, complete reintroduction of Kim Il-sung-era consumer standards, which were not exactly luxurious (550 grams or cereal a day, plus a few pieces of meat on special occasions, four or five times a year).

Chang Yong-sun explained that North Korean industry is surely capable of producing quality consumption goods but cannot do it, because the ever present threat of an imperialist attack deems austerity and sacrifices necessary. He also made clear that his listeners should not await serious improvement of their lot any time soon.

The statement resonates very well with what another life-long analyst of North Korean propaganda, Tatiana Gabroussenko, wrote recently: unlike earlier eras when masses were extolled to make sacrifices for the sake of some identifiable future, nowadays North Korean leaders tell their people that no significant improvement is in sight. Comrade Chang even made a joke of this: “Since the end of the Korean War, we have lived with our belts tightened … One thing I can assure you: we’ll have to live with our belts tightened until the day our country is unified. If we do not have any more holes in our belts, let us make them.”

However, the audience was reminded that in the final count it is again the foreign forces who are to be blamed for these hardships. To quote Comrade Chang once again: “It is not because we do not know how to live better that we are not well off. Who is responsible for this? The US imperialists are responsible for this. That is why we call the US imperialists our mortal enemy with whom we cannot live under the same sky!”

Most of the speech consisted of US-bashing and Japan-bashing, but what about South Korea? Here Comrade Chang used the new tactics that have become typical for North Korean propagandists since the 2002 inter-Korea summit. Brian Myers, another remarkable specialist on North Korean culture and propaganda (not quite distinguishable areas, actually), recently wrote at length about a change of tune in Pyongyang propaganda: South Korea ceased to be depicted as the living hell, the land of depravation. The new image of the South is that of the country whose population secretly (or even not so secretly) longs to join its Northern brethren in their happiness under the wise care of the Beloved General.

This society might be relatively affluent, but it is inherently corrupt and lacks integrity, so its population knows that the only way to regain the moral purity is to join the spiritually superior North Korean civilization. The only force that prevents the South from achieving such happiness is the brutal US occupation army and a tiny handful of traitors on the Central Intelligence Agency payroll, but even those perverts are losing control over South Korean society.

Sometimes Chang’s fantasies went positively wild. He said, for example: “A portrait of the General is [respectfully] placed on the wall of the Main Hall on the fourth floor at the [Seoul] Government Building. Right now!” Then the flight of fantasy goes even further: “These days, South Korean publications do not sell in South Korean society if they do not carry the images of the General … 45% of the entire population in South Korea say that in case of a war they will fight on the side of the General.”

The domestic situation did not attract much of Chang Yong-sun’s attention, but he still made some comments on these issues. He admitted that even last December, in spite of all the government’s efforts, it was impossible to provide rations for the entire population, and that most people had to rely on the market for their needs, which is not good but was unavoidable.

He also explicitly stated that growth of the markets is not compatible with the socialist system: “All the people’s talk is money and again money. Is this socialism?” It is remarkable, however, that the virtues of socialism were seldom mentioned in the speech: its rhetoric was overwhelmingly nationalistic.

Chang Yong-sun also admitted that some North Koreans are very rich, and that their fortunes are now measured as a few hundred million North Korean won (100 million won is roughly equivalent to US$50,000). He did not make a secret that under less critical conditions the government would strike these reactionary elements hard, but under the current circumstances such a radical solution is impossible because of ongoing economic difficulties.

In essence, he admitted that government is not capable of controlling society as tightly as it wishes (or as it used to in the good old days of Kim Il-sung’s ultra-Stalinist rule): “Those ideological perverts are no longer counted as our people. Why are we not able to strike [them]? We are not able to strike them because we are not able to provide rations to the entire population.”

So the picture is quite clear. North Korea as depicted by Comrade Chang is a small but proud state that lives under the constant threat of annihilation by brutal enemies, betrayed by money-hungry allies. It fights for a great goal of national unification. There are signs that this goal is getting nearer, but people should not expect too much: life will not become easy any time soon.

Compromise with enemies is impossible since they, especially the Americans, will never change their nature, will never stop dreaming about destroying the small and proud republic led by the Beloved General. However, the country has finally developed military means that make all enemies’ schemes powerless. This project required great sacrifice, but the people who died during famine were in essence soldiers: their deaths saved many more lives.

There are internal problems in this society, largely because the government lacks resources to make sure things move smoothly (and it is assumed that government should be ultimately responsible for everything). However, these problems should not distort the larger view of ongoing heroic struggle and new victories.

Dr Andrei Lankov is an associate professor in Kookmin University, Seoul, and adjunct research fellow at the Research School of Pacifica and Asian Studies, Australian National University. He graduated from Leningrad State University with a PhD in Far Eastern history and China, with emphasis on Korea. He has published books and articles on Korea and North Asia.


Famine: A Disaster Waiting to Happen

Sunday, July 8th, 2007

Korea Times
Andrei Lankov

aid.jpgNowadays, the severity of famine appears to be a thing of the past _ at least outside Africa. Indeed, modern technology makes it possible to feed crowded cities almost effortlessly. Thus, any reports of famine nowadays can be argued to be the direct result of mismanagement and deliberate political decisions. The recent North Korean famine of 1996-2000 vividly demonstrates this and supports such a theory.

Stalinist agriculture has never been very efficient. The lack of incentive makes it sluggish and wasteful. However, in some cases, the heavy investments in machinery and fertilizers did, in fact, help to overcome some of the deficiencies created by the inept social system.

This was the case in North Korea. In the late 1950s all North Korean farmers were herded into the so-called “agricultural co-operatives.’’ While less restrictive than the “people’s communes’’ in Mao’s China, they imposed a harsher control than Stalin’s “kolkhozs.’’

The North Korean government invested heavily in agriculture. Its efforts produced a remarkably energy-intensive agricultural system. Electric pumps were running huge irrigation projects; chemical fertilizers and tractors were used on a grand scale. In attempts to reclaim arable land, steep hills were made into terrace fields. These fields, endorsed by Kim Il-sung himself, remained the poster image of North Korean agriculture until the mid-1990s.

Initially these efforts seemingly paid off. In the 1980s North Korea produced some 5-6 million tons of grain (largely, rice and maize) a year. Its population never enjoyed anything like the present-day South Korean abundance: meat or fruits were rare delicacies. Nonetheless, the 6 million tons of grain was sufficient to feed the country’s population. This was done through the rationing system. Depending on one’s position in the complicated hierarchy of social groups, daily rations varied from 500 to 900 grams per adult _ sufficient to provide enough calories.

But in 1991 the situation changed. The much trumpeted “self-reliance’’ of North Korea proved to be a complete fake. The Soviet decision to discontinue sales of oil and other goods at hugely discounted prices wrought havoc in the country’s economy. The agricultural sector was especially vulnerable, since without the heavy input of energy and resources it stood no chance of survival. Tractors required diesel oil, which was not forthcoming, and electric pumps could not operate when power stations were idle due to a shortage of spare parts.

In 1992-1993 the North Korean media began to argue the benefits of having only two meals a day as opposed to the traditional three, claiming the latter was unhealthy and excessive. By 1994, people in some remote areas could not get food for days at a time. They were issued the usual rationing coupons, but no foodstuffs were available in the shops. Rations were also cut. These were signs of things to come.

However, the North Korean government did not follow the example of China or Vietnam, where the return to private agriculture led to an instant revival in food production. In the early 1990s the Pyongyang leaders saw how the reformist Communist governments of East Europe had been wiped out, and they considered any reform potentially dangerous to their own survival. Thus, no reform was undertaken, and in the years 1992-1995 agricultural production continued its free fall.

And then the real catastrophe came. In July and August 1995 unusually heavy rains led to disastrous floods. The North Korean authorities blamed the floods for all subsequent developments. In the aftermath of the disaster, they even decided to break with the decades-old tradition of covering or playing down all the problems of their country. Pyongyang stated that some 5.4 million people had been displaced by the 1995 floods (the subsequent U.N. survey indicated that the actual figure was much smaller _ probably, by an order of ten). Politically, this was understandable: if the country was hit by a natural disaster of unprecedented proportions, the authorities were not to be held responsible!

There is, however, good reason to doubt these statements. After all, the Korean Peninsular is small, but impact of the very same floods on the South was negligible. However, the contribution of the flood to the disaster is undeniable. The already strained power grid was destroyed, and entire irrigation systems were wiped out. Most of the terrace fields, the pride of the “juche agriculture,’’ were simply washed away.

In 1996, the country harvested some 3 million tons of grain _ just above half the pre-crisis level. This meant famine. It was to last for four years and take between half million and one million lives.


NKorea food crisis complicated by politics: WFP

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2007

Philippe Agret

After being ravaged by famine in the 1990s, North Korea again faces serious food shortages, with a UN official based here saying that politics are making things worse.

On the road from the capital Pyongyang to Kaesong in the south, every hill lot is developed for agriculture, with all farm work done by hand.

But only 17 percent of the land in North Korea is arable, one of the lowest ratios in the world, according to the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP).

“North Korea is suffering a chronic food shortage due to structural problems and limited food imports and food aid,” said Jean-Pierre de Margerie, the WFP’s representative in the communist state.

He lamented the international community’s lack of commitment to North Korea amid the deadlock in six-nation talks on disarming Pyongyang, and what some consider to be “hidden sanctions” linking a large part of aid to politics.

“There is no evidence that holding back food or humanitarian aid destined to civilian populations would have an impact on the government or its behaviour,” he said.

North Korea’s worst period came from 1995 to 1999 when drought, flooding and the disappearance of Soviet aid led to a famine that killed between 800,000 and two million people, according to independent estimates.

The scars of the famine still run deep, with a 2004 United Nations study finding that 37 percent of North Korean children suffered chronic malnutrition.

Some experts use the term “7, 8, 9, 10” — as an adult, a seven-year-old born during the famine will be eight kilograms (18 pounds) lighter, stand nine inches (23 centimeters) shorter and live 10 years less than a South Korean of the same age.

The groups most at risk are young children and women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.

After a record harvest in 2005, 2006 was “very difficult” due to heavy floods in the summer and a dramatic drop in food aid and food imports; 2007 could also be dire, de Margerie warned.

Amid the international furore over Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile tests last year, China reduced its aid by half and        South Korea temporarily halted shipments.

Seoul has since resumed fertiliser aid and promised to provide 400,000 tons of rice to North Korea starting in late May.

But the food aid is linked to political conditions, such as Pyongyang shutting its nuclear reactor in line with a multilateral disarmament deal reached in February.

The impoverished country faces a shortfall of one million tons of food this year, or 20 percent of its needs, according to the WFP and the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation.

Up to one third of North Korea’s 23 million people may need assistance ahead of the next harvest, warns the WFP.

So is there a danger of another famine?

“No, not yet,” said de Margerie. “But if the trend continues, pockets of severe malnutrition could develop.”

In Pyongyang, not everyone is pessimistic as there is a lack of reliable agricultural data. Some observers say the problems lie in the distribution system and access to food, rather than in actual production.

North Korea’s leaders — whose ruling motto is “juche,” or self-reliance — say they have made food security their priority, but Pyongyang has nonetheless relied on foreign help.

The WFP has collected two billion dollars in 10 years, supplying four million tons of food between 1995 and 2005 that assisted one-third of North Korea in its biggest operation at the time.

Since 2001, multilateral aid from the WFP has been gradually replaced by assistance from China and South Korea. While bilateral aid goes to the government and may be distributed to the elite, the WFP says it closely monitors its aid so that it reaches those most in need.

This year, donor countries have promised only 12,000 tons of food.

The WFP has received only 20 percent of the financing for its programme up to March 2008, assisting three percent of the population, or 600,000 people, instead of the initial objective of reaching nearly two million North Koreans.

De Margerie says he hopes the international community will set aside political concerns to focus on the human tragedy unfolding in North Korea.

“You only see negative images of North Korea. But it has a human face,” he stressed.

“An eight-month-old child or pregnant woman does not engage in politics. It’s the most vulnerable in the civilian population who pay the price.”


Taking Pulse of Herbal Medicine

Monday, March 19th, 2007

Korea Times
Andrei Lankov

Herbal medicine occupies a very prominent place in the North Korean health care system.
In fact, it would be but a minor exaggeration to say that nowadays the North Korean health care system is largely built around traditional herbal medicine.

But this was not always the case. In the early years, until the mid-1950s, herbal medicine was looked upon with disapproval.

It did not appear ‘scientific’ enough, and the Soviet educated doctors saw it as a potentially dangerous superstition.

The first signs of the coming change in attitude were in 1954 when the licensing system for herbal doctors was first introduced.

But the revival of herbal medicine began in earnest in April 1956, when the North Korean cabinet of ministers accepted Decree No. 37, which envisioned the incorporation of herbal medicine into the official medical system. At the same time, Kim Il-sung made a very positive reference to herbal medicine in his lengthy speech delivered to the KWP Third Congress. By the end of 1956, there were 10 herbal medicine centers operating across the country, and by 1960 the number had reached 332.

I think it was not without good reason that this sudden revival of the medical tradition took place in 1956. This was when the North began to steer itself away from its Soviet patron, whose new policy of de-Stalinization met with growing disapproval in Pyongyang. It was also the time when nationalist trends began to grow in the North _ partially because nationalism served the interests of Kim Il-sung and his group, but also because it resonated with the feelings and world view of common Koreans. This created a fertile soil for the rejuvenation of hitherto neglected traditions. It is not incidental that in later eras the initial rejection of herbal medicine came to be blamed on the ‘factionalists’ _ that is, people who did not share Kim Il-sung’s nationalism and his drive for heavy industry and a powerful army at all costs.

And there was another dimension as well. We have been accustomed to thinking of herbal medicine as more expensive than its Western counterpart, but back in the 1950s the opposite was the case. Generally, East Asian medicine, which relied on local herbs, tended to be cheaper and this mattered in a poor country with limited resources.

Around the same time, herbal medicine was encouraged by the South Korean authorities as well. They also saw it as a cheap palliative, a substitute for the “real” Western medicine which only a few South Koreans could afford.

And, last but not least, the basic ideas of herbal medicine resonated quite well with Kim Il-sung’s new policy of selfreliance.

In a sense, herbal medicine was an embodiment of self-reliance in health care.

Thus, the 1960s was a period of triumphal advance for Eastern medicine in the North. For a while herbalists were trained in junior colleges, but from 1960, Pyongyang medical college opened a traditional medicine department. A number of research centers were created with the task of fusing the achievements of Western and traditional medicine. From 1960, a state evaluation committee began to operate, and in that year 239 North Korean herbalists became “Eastern medicine doctors, first class,” while 1,495 had to satisfy themselves with their inferior standing of “Eastern medicine doctors, second class.”

Of course, the growth of herbal medicine was accompanied by claims about wonder drugs and miraculous discoveries, to which the Stalinist regimes were so vulnerable (suffice to remind ourselves of the Lysenko affair in the USSR, or the improbable claims of wonder harvests in Mao’s China).

But the domination of Dr. Kim Pong-han, North Korea’s Lysenko, lasted for merely six years. In 1960 he claimed that he had discovered a new principal type of centralized system in the human body, somewhat similar to a nerve system of blood circulation. There was much talk of this alleged discovery and related medical miracles, but from 1966 all references to Professor Kim suddenly disappeared from the Pyongyang press.

The subsequent decades witnessed a continuous growth in the herbal medicine endeavor, which frequently received direct encouragement and approval from the Great Leader himself (after all, Kim Il-sung’s father once was a part-time herbalist himself). The reasons for the policy remained the same, and even some statements by Kim Il-sung were remarkably frank.

In 1988 he said, “If we produce a lot of Koryo medicine drugs, it is good not only for curing diseases, but also for solving the drug problem, since it will reduce the importation of drugs from other countries.” More than a dozen colleges now train herbalists in the North, and from 1985 would-be Western doctors have also been required to take introductory classes in Eastern medicine.

Perhaps, in some post-unification world the North will become a major source of quality herbal doctors, and their presence will help to drive down prices for this service which many Koreans take so seriously. Who knows, but there are already North Korean herbalists working in the South.


In the Name of the Father

Tuesday, February 20th, 2007

Korea Times
Andrei Lankov

In July 1997, the five most important government agencies of North Korea published a joint declaration which informed the North Korea populace and the entire world that the country was introducing a new calendar. The year 1912 became the First Year of Chuche. The reason? This was the year Kim Il-sung was born.

The decision allowed the occasional use of the Christian-era years, but these four-digit numbers would accompany the new official chronological designation only when deemed necessary. Thus 2006 AD is the Year 95 of the Chuche Era. In other words, Kim Il-sung’s birthday replaced that of Christ in the official North Korean calendar.

The world has seen other attempts to break with old calendar traditions. In France of the 1790s, the revolutionaries began to count years from the proclamation of the French Republic. In South Korea of the 1950s, the government tried to implement the so-called ‘Tangun Era.’ None of these attempts succeeded for more than a few decades.

However, the decision to introduce the Chuche Era was just one of the many manifestations of Kim Il-sung’s posthumous “personality cult.”

Indeed, the memory of the North Korea’s founding father is treated in Pyongyang with the utmost respect. Obviously, this was the intention of the dead founder when he chose to transform his country into the first communist monarchy in world history.

He saw what had happened to Stalin and Mao’s posthumous reputations, and arranged the transition of power within his family, so the new leaders have a vested interest in keeping the old man’s memory intact.

First of all, Kim Il-sung is to remain the country’s only president.

After his death, the President’s office was left vacant _ and is meant to remain vacant forever. Kim Il-sung is North Korea’s “eternal president” while Kim Jong-il runs the country not as president, but merely as “chairman of the national defense committee.”

Kim Il-sung’s body has been embalmed and left on public display in a special glass-covered coffin. Actually, in this regard they follow an established _ if bizarre _ communist tradition. Lenin’s body was treated in such a way in 1924 (against his own clearly expressed will), and since then many other communist leaders have had their bodies left on public display _ also often against their will.

However, the sheer size of the North Korean mausoleum is impressive. In other Communist countries, bodies of the dead leaders were held in specially constructed and relatively small _ if impressive _ buildings.

The North decided to transform the entire Presidential Palace into the mausoleum and major center of Kim Ilsung’s posthumous cult.

The construction of Kmsusan Palace began in 1974, and in 1977 it was presented to Kim Il-sung as a present for his 65th birthday. In Kim’s lifetime, the imposing building, with floor area of 35,000 square meters, was strictly off-limits to the public, but in recent years it has become the center of a government- sponsored pilgrimage.

Of course, portraits of Kim Il sung are everywhere, albeit often accompanied by images of Kim Jong-il and his mother Kim Jong-suk. From the late 1960s, the North Korean bureaucracy has developed intricate rules to determine where and how Kim Il-sung’s likeness would be displayed. I’ll probably say more about these rules later, but now it suffices to say that every living room, office, and entrance to every official building, as well as every railway carriage, has been adorned with the portrait of the leader from the 1970s.

After 1980, the portrait of his son has complemented that of the father.

The currently approved portrait of Kim Il-sung is officially known as the ‘sun image’ (taeyangsang in Korean). Here the Great Leader is depicted as smiling kindly at his subjects, and he is dressed in the Western suit and necktie that he actually preferred in the last years of his life (prior to 1984 Kim had worn a Mao suit).

These portraits are mass-produced by the ‘Mansudae Creative Group,’ a special workshop whose sole purpose is to design and manufacture portraits and statues of the Great Leaders.

An important part of Kim Ilsung’s posthumous glorification is the numerous “Yongsaengtap,” or “Towers of Eternal Life.” Their name reflects the official slogan: “Kim Il-sung will live with us forever!” These towers have a shape, slightly reminiscent of ancient Egypt’s obelisks, and they are decorated with slogans on Kim’s alleged “eternal presence” in his realm.

As of 1997, there were 3,150 “Towers of Eternal Life” nationwide. They are normally erected at crossroads, and every major town is required to have one. Most of these structures are relatively cheap and easy to build, but some of them are quite elaborate and expensive.

The tallest of all towers is, of course, located in Pyongyang. It has a height of 92.5 meters _ just a bit lower than the Chuche Tower, one of the city’s major architectural monuments.

However, Kim Il-sung’s cult is now giving way to the cult of his son, who has successfully become the new supreme ruler of the country.


Ideological Center of North

Tuesday, January 30th, 2007

Korea Times
Andrei Lankov

The North Korean press insists that the “great and immortal” juche idea was designed by the “Great Leader,” Kim Il-sung, in the mid-1920s and has remained the guiding principle of the Korean revolution ever since. But do not expect to find references to juche in Korean publications of the 1950s or even early 1960s.

Even if Kim Il-sung first used the term in his speech in December 1955, it took at least five years before the term became widely known in the country _ and five more years for it to become the name of North Korea’s official ideology.

Only in April 1965, while delivering a lengthy lecture in Indonesia, did Kim Il-sung make it clear that from that point on juche would be considered the basic principle of North Korean ideological policy.

The North Korean leadership badly needed a new ideology in 1965. Why? This was the year when the dispute between the Soviet Union and China reached new heights. The two communist powers had been quarrelling for some time, but from 1965 to 1970 the two countries, which had recently vowed “eternal friendship,” were on the brink of war.

North Korea wisely decided to maintain neutrality, allowing it to milk both sponsors. But in the heavily ideological world of oldstyle communism one needed a theoretical justification for one’s position, even if this position was taken exclusively on account of pragmatic considerations (sounds like academia, doesn’t it?).

Nothing could be as handy as a new ideology, especially since the North had been drifting away from Soviet-style Leninism for some time. A locally designed juche was a good solution to the ideological conundrum.

It was easy to say that North Korea had discovered a new truth that was, needless to say, superior to the truth of Sovietstyle Leninism or Chinese-style Leninism-plus-Maoism. Hence, being bearers of the supreme truth, Koreans could not be ordered around.

But what exactly were the relations between juche and Marxism? For our readers this might appear a rather scholastic question, but the world of communism was based on ideology, and ideological disputes mattered. Of course, communist leaders had long learned how to bend their ideology and how to adjust its postulates to any given current political purpose.

In this regard, they were no different from leaders of supposedly religious states, whose actual policy was not too constrained by their loudly professed faith.

Nonetheless, some explanations had to be invented.

Until the late 1960s, juche was presented as a specific form of Marxism-Leninism, which suited the Korean realities and demands of the Korean communist revolution. It was not separated from Marxism. This explanation found its way into the North Korean constitution of 1972. Article 4 described juche as “a creative application of Marxism-Leninism to the conditions of our country.”

The next step in juche’s development took place around 1974 and was perhaps related to the gradual rise of Kim Jong-il. It has been often stated that Kim Jongil introduced new interpretations of juche because he wanted to flatter his father, the founder of juche, and thus demonstrate his loyalty to Kim Il-sung’s cause.

Whatever the reasons, in 1974 some documents signed by Kim Jong-il but actually written by the administration’s chief theoretician, Hwang Jang-yop (currently in Seoul), began to use the term “kimilsungism” as a synonym for juche. In February 1974, Kim Jong-il explained that the works of Marx and Lenin had become outdated.

They described the world as it was 100 or 50 years ago, while juche was suited for the modern world, they argued. Thus, in 1980 the Korean Workers’ Party proclaimed juche the party’s guiding ideology, without mentioning its relationship to Marxism.

That statement doubtless resonated well with the nationalism of Korean cadres because it essentially placed North Korea at the ideological center of the world. Since then, the nationalist element of juche has been increasingly emphasized.

That position was also an open challenge to orthodoxy as understood in Moscow and Beijing. It was as if a local Catholic bishop proclaimed that he had a better grasp of the Holy Scriptures than the pope (or, to take the analogy a bit further, two quarrelling popes) and was able to devise something like a Newest Testament.

These statements made juche-worshipping North Koreans into open heretics within the communist camp, but other “fraternal countries” had to swallow this: Whatever they said, strategic considerations took precedence over ideology. Nobody wanted to alienate Pyongyang, which had been long seen as a strangebehaving sibling of the communist “family.”

However, this family unity did not last. In 1992, the newly amended North Korean constitution completely omitted references to Marxism-Leninism and replaced it with juche as the sole official ideology. Nobody was outraged.

By that time Leninism was patently dead, and even the few countries that still maintained a commitment to that ideology hardly took their own declarations seriously.

However, after the death of Kim Il-sung there were some signs that the significance of the juche idea began to wane.


DPRK joint editorial 2007

Monday, January 1st, 2007

Every January 1, three leading DPRK publications (Rodong Sinmun, Josoninmingun and Chongnyonjonwi ) issue a “joint editorial” that is the North Korean equivalent of the “State of the Union Address”…So here are some excerpts from 2007:

Usher In a Great Heyday of Songun Korea Full of Confidence in Victory


A worthwhile advance has begun in the country at the hope-filled New Year.

Last year, 2006, was adorned as a year of great victory, a year of exciting events, in which the dawn of a great, prosperous and powerful socialist nation was ushered in.

Cheers over the victorious Songun idea and politics resounded all over the land last year.

The invincibility and rosy future of the Korean revolution rest on Songun. The army and people of Korea, under the unfurled banner of Songun, have won victory after victory in the showdown with the United States and in safeguarding socialism, and consolidated their self-defensive capabilities for the supreme interests of their country and the destiny of their nation.

That we have come to possess a nuclear deterrent was an auspicious event in the national history, realization of our people’s centuries-long desire to have a national strength no one could dare challenge. Last year’s victory testifies that our army and people were right out and out to have invariably followed the road of Songun over the past 10-odd years in the face of severest trials.

Last year was a year filled with pride, a year in which an epoch-making phase was opened for the building of a great, prosperous and powerful nation.

Gaining great confidence from the dawn of victory ushered in by the Party, our servicepersons and people waged a heroic struggle and thus achieved brilliant successes in all fields. In the tempest of the general advance of Songun revolution, the single-hearted unity of the servicepersons and people around the leadership of the revolution was consolidated in every way possible, and a springboard for a fresh leap forward in economic construction was secured.

Last year witnessed successes indicative of the resourcefulness and superiority of our nation.

Our scientists and technicians, with burning revolutionary enthusiasm and creative talent, performed exploits noteworthy in history–they broke fresh ground for the cutting-edge science and technology and consolidated the country’s strength. Our proud sportspersons achieved outstanding successes in women’s football and other international sports games, displaying to the full the mettle of the nation and bringing a great joy and encouragement to our servicepersons and people. Masterpieces demonstrating the new looks of art and literature of the Songun era were created, and traditions and customs unique to the nation greeted further efflorescence in all domains of social life.

The fact that 2006 was adorned with successes and exploits worthy of recording in the annals of our revolution and nation is a demonstration of the sagacity of our Party’s leadership.

Our Party steadfastly maintained its independent and principled stand even in the trying situation in which the country’s security faced grave challenges, and led the entire Party, the whole country and all the people confidently to a general advance for a fresh leap forward. The leadership of respected Kim Jong Il, who, by dint of correct strategy and tactics, art of outstanding leadership, and unexcelled courage and pluck, coped with the encountering challenges and turned unfavourable circumstances into favourable ones, was a decisive factor in all successes and miraculous events.

On the road of his tireless Songun-based leadership, the overall strength of our nation was remarkably consolidated and the day of a great, prosperous and powerful nation has dawned. The grand celebration last year of the 80th anniversary of the founding of the Down-with-Imperialism Union was a proud display of the fact that continuity of the Korean revolution is definitely assured by Kim Jong Il.

The true record of revolutionary activities of respected Kim Jong Il and his imperishable historical exploits of having raised the position of socialist Korea to a highest level by braving all manner of difficulties in the van holding aloft the great banner of Songun, and adorned the year 2006 as a most glorious year in the history of the building of a Juche-oriented great, prosperous and powerful country, will be handed down to posterity.

The year 2007 will be a year of great changes, a year which will usher in a new era of prosperity of Songun Korea.

Kim Jong Il said:

“It is an unshakable determination of our Party and unanimous desire of our army and people to demonstrate to the whole world the dignity of the nation by building on this land a great, prosperous and powerful socialist country which embodies the Juche idea in an all-round way.”

This year we are greeting the 95th birthday anniversary of President Kim Il Sung as a grand national event.

Kim Il Sung is the founder of socialist Korea, and the eternal Sun of Juche in the cause of the masses for their independence. The glorious history of victorious advance of our socialist Korea and today’s prosperity of Songun Korea, which is demonstrating its dignity to the whole world, are associated with his august name. We must make this year a year of greater efflorescence of his wish for a prosperous and powerful country, a year of brisk activities across the country.

The sacred revolutionary career of Kim Il Sung is a history of Songun-based leadership in that he devoted his greatest effort to the strengthening of the country’s military capabilities. We must celebrate the 75th anniversary of the founding of the Korean People’s Army as an all-people event that demonstrates the invincibility and bright future of the Songun revolution.

Our revolution which started under the banner of the great Juche idea, Songun idea, has greeted a new historic phase. The present new era is a worthwhile era of ushering in an all-round efflorescence of national prosperity on the basis of the victories and success of the Songun revolution registered in the history of the nation. We have the great guiding ideology, invincible single-hearted unity and powerful war deterrent tempered in the flames of the Songun revolution. The present reality, in which all conditions for leaping higher and faster are created, demands that we launch the revolutionary advance more vigorously to achieve the high objectives of the building of a great, prosperous and powerful socialist nation.

“Usher in a great heyday of Songun Korea full of confidence in victory!”–this is a slogan we should hold in struggle and advance.

We should wage a dynamic offensive campaign to build a socialist economic power.

Building an economic power is an urgent demand of our revolution and social development at present times and a worthwhile and historic cause of perfecting the looks of a great, prosperous and powerful nation. We should concentrate national efforts on solving economic problems, so as to turn Songun Korea into a prospering people’s paradise.

The main task in the present general march is to direct primary effort to rapidly improving the people’s standard of living and at the same time to step up technical reconstruction to put our economy on a modern footing and display its potentials to the full.

We should brilliantly realize the noble intention and plan of our Party, which regards the improvement of the people’s standard of living as the supreme principle in its activities.

We should, as in the past, keep up farming as the great foundation of the country and make an epoch-making advance in solving the problem of food for the people. The officials and working people in the agricultural sector should fully discharge their responsibility and role as masters in implementing the Party’s policy on making a revolution in agriculture, and bend a dynamic effort to doing farm work on their own.

We should decisively improve the production of consumer goods by waging a revolution in light industry. We should run light-industry and local-industry factories at full capacity and steadily increase the variety and quality of consumer goods by tapping to the maximum the latent resources and potentials in all sectors of the national economy. We should ensure that the bases of stockbreeding, fish farming and production of primary seasoning built through much effort prove effective so that the people can enjoy their benefit. We should continuously improve distribution of commodities and service work as required by the intrinsic nature of a socialist society and thus evenly provide the people with essential consumer goods of high quality. The officials of all units should pay close attention to supply service work for their employees. The public health sector should implement the Party’s policy on public health to ensure that the people can enjoy more benefit of the socialist health care system.

Power, coal-mining and metal industries and rail transport, the four vanguards of the national economy, must take the lead in building an economic power. Bearing deep in mind a high sense of responsibility they have assumed in the building of an economic power, the officials in the power and coal-mining industries should decisively ease the strain on electricity and coal. The sector of metal industry should increase the production of iron and steel by consolidating its Juche character and accelerating technical reconstruction. The sector of rail transport should fully meet the ever-growing demand for transport through efficient organization and command and iron discipline and order. National efforts should be geared to bolstering up the four vanguard sectors with the whole country engaged in giving an active assistance to them.

With a foresight into the distant future of economic development, we should give priority to geological prospecting, develop energy and other resources under a long-range programme, and treasure and protect the country’s resources as best as we can. Mining, machine-building, chemical, building-materials and forestry sectors should make steady efforts to revitalize their production.

Monumental edifices and other major projects of the Songun era should be built on the quality-first principle as required by the new century. The building sector should observe technical regulations and apply standard building methods in construction, and make buildings formative and artistic.

Cities, including Pyongyang, and rural villages across the country should be built up as required by the Songun era and land administration should be undertaken efficiently, to turn the country into a socialist fairyland.

The Juche-oriented idea, theory and policy of our Party on the economy are a definite guideline in the construction of an economic power. We should solve all problems arising in improving the economic work and the people’s standard of living on the basis of our Party’s idea and theory on the economy, which reflect the requirements of the Songun era, the IT era.

We should run the economy by our own efforts, our own technology and our own resources with a determination that we must build a socialist paradise by ourselves. We should make the most of the solid foundations of production and potentials existing in all sectors of the national economy. We should smash the imperialists’ despicable schemes for sanctions and blockade by dint of strong self-respect and pluck.

Thoroughgoing implementation of the Party’s policy of attaching importance to science and technology is a sure guarantee for the construction of an economic power. Latest science and technology, combined with the great revolutionary ideas of our Party, will bring about startling changes. All sectors and units should put themselves on a modern footing by drawing on the latest science and technology. Scientists and technicians should develop the cutting-edge science and technology in a short span of time in the revolutionary spirit of soldiers and in their way of work, so as to definitely guarantee the building of a great, prosperous and powerful nation by means of science and technology. All sectors and units should bring science and technology close to production, and unfold a mass drive for technical innovation.

We should undertake technical upgrading of the national economy, production and management activities by the method of motivating competent scientists and technicians. Effort should be channelled to education, so as to train in a great number talented people who will shoulder the building of a great, prosperous and powerful nation.

Holding aloft the banner of Songun, we should continuously exert a great effort to strengthening the defence capabilities.

Songun is the life and soul of our country and people and the dignity of our nation. In the future, too, we must hold fast to the Juche-based Songun idea and line as an invariable guiding principle of the Party and the revolution. We must never forget the trying days when we had to defend the lifeline of socialist Korea with a do-or-die determination, and defend the achievements of the Songun revolution gained at the cost of blood.

The People’s Army that constitutes the key force in the independent defence capabilities should be steadily strengthened politically and ideologically, militarily and technically.

It is the pillar of the socialist military power and the strong vanguard for national prosperity.

It should make a sweeping turn in its efforts for combat readiness and efficiency this year marking the 75th anniversary of its founding, so as to continually brighten its glorious history and tradition as an elite revolutionary army that has won victory after victory under the command of the generals of Mt. Paektu.

The patriotic zeal and militant mettle of the People’s Army should be given full play in the place of the Party’s concern, the forefront of socialist economic construction. The men and officers of the People’s Army must give full scope to their revolutionary soldier spirit, the might of which has been tempered in the crucible of the Songun-based revolution, exalting their honour as the major driving force of the Songun-based revolution in the struggle for national prosperity and people’s welfare.

It is important to develop rock-solid our great army-people unity, the first of its kind in the world. The climate of people supporting the army and the latter helping the former and the oneness of army and people in terms of ideology and fighting spirit should be promoted. Constant importance should be attached to the military affairs so that all the people would acquire military knowledge and the entire country be turned into an impregnable fortress. Primary efforts should be concentrated on the development of munitions industry for steady consolidation of the material foundations of our military capabilities.

We should strengthen in every way the unity of revolutionary ranks in ideology and purpose, so as to demonstrate the might of our country as a political and ideological power.

The revolutionary leadership is the centre of unity, centre of leadership, and also the symbol of strength and dignity of Songun Korea. The whole Party, the entire army and all the people should loyally uphold the idea and guidance of the leadership, cherishing an unshakable spirit of defending their leader at all costs. They should all become ardent fighters, who trust and follow only their leader and share his idea, purpose and destiny on the road of arduous struggle for accomplishing the Juche-oriented revolutionary cause.

Socialist construction advances amidst sharp class struggle. We should deal a merciless blow to the enemy’s psychological warfare and their attempt for ideological and cultural infiltration aimed at undermining socialism of our own style from within. The revolutionary principle, the principle of the working class, should be strictly maintained in all fields of the revolution and construction.

The present stirring situation demands that a radical innovation be made in ideological education. We should get rid of formalism and stereotype in ideological work, to conduct all types of ideological work in a novel manner as required by the Songun era. Positive examples manifested among Party members and other working people should be found out and given wide publicity. Art and literary works, mass media and all other information and motivational means should be enlisted in aggressive ideological education.

A decisive guarantee for victory in this year’s campaign is in undertaking the organizational and political work and command in a revolutionary way, arousing the entire Party, the whole country and all the people to the general advance for the thriving country.

The Party should be strengthened, and the militant role of Party organizations enhanced continuously.

The entire Party should display to the full a strong sense of organization and discipline by which it moves as one in accordance with the ideas and intention of its leader.

Our Party is a party striving to build a great, prosperous and powerful nation, and a mother party that serves the people. All Party organizations, in line with the mission of our Party and its fighting objectives, should gear their work to bringing about radical innovations in economic work and improving the people’s standard of living.

To work miracles and make innovations in this year’s general advance, Party organizations at all levels should conduct the Three-Revolution Red Flag Movement as the work of Party committees and push ahead with the movement by motivating the working people’s organizations.

It is important to develop a higher sense of responsibility among the officials of economic institutions, including the Cabinet, and enhance their role in bringing about a fresh turn in the building of a great, prosperous and powerful socialist nation.

The Cabinet should carry on economic operation and management in a responsible manner with strategic insight in conformity with its important position and mission to steer the socialist economic construction.

This year’s general advance is calling on young people to make unprecedentedly heroic efforts and perform great feats.

They are masters of a great, prosperous and powerful nation of the future and the most vital combat unit in implementing the cause of the Party. Greeting the 80th anniversary of the formation of the Young Communist League of Korea, youth league organizations and young men and women should staunchly defend President Kim Il Sung’s achievements in the Korean youth movement and the traditions of the movement and add brilliance to their honour as a reserve force and a special detachment of the Supreme Commander.

The youth should volunteer to work at labour-consuming sectors including the construction site of the Paektusan Songun Youth Power Station to display their mettle and feats. They should render distinguished services for the Party and motherland to become youth heroes and patriotic youth praised by the people.

Organizations of trade union, agricultural workers’ union and women’s union should intensify ideological education of their members in line with the requirements of the developing reality and inspire them to the general march for the building of a great, prosperous and powerful nation.

The dawn of reunification is breaking on this land with over six-decade history of division.

Last year witnessed the demonstration of the vitality of the independent reunification movement and the might of the June 15 reunification era. Holding aloft the banner of the North-South Joint Declaration, and under the slogan of independent reunification, peace against war and great national unity, all the fellow countrymen unremittingly followed the road to national reunification, foiling the frantic anti-reunification moves towards war of bellicose forces within and without. Last year’s reality reaffirmed that the Korean people of the same stock are a dignified nation with a strong sense of national self-respect and no force on earth can check the current of national history advancing towards a great, prosperous and powerful reunified nation.

The three principles of national reunification–independence, peaceful reunification and great national unity–put forth by President Kim Il Sung, the Sun of the nation, are the immutable guideline in the cause of reunification, and it is the unshakeable will of Kim Jong Il to realize reunification in our generation true to the instructions of the President.

This year all the fellow countrymen should hold high the slogan, “Add brilliance to the June 15 reunification era by attaching importance to the nation, maintaining peace and achieving unity!”

The stand of attaching importance to the nation should be maintained steadfastly.

To attach importance to the nation is a basic stand and motto the Korean compatriots who are subjected to division and war by foreign forces should hold fast to. Neither outside forces nor ideal can be put before national interests. National demand and interests should be regarded as an absolute yardstick in dealing with all the affairs, and the principles of maintaining independence and giving priority to and defending the nation in the face of any pressure and blackmail of outsiders should be advocated. Inter-Korean relations and reunification movement should be developed in accordance with the ideal of “by our nation itself”. Proud of being a homogeneous nation with a 5,000-year-long history, all the Korean compatriots should preserve the Juche character and national identity and categorically reject the US interference in, and obstructive manoeuvres against, the internal affairs of the nation.

The banner of defending peace should be upheld.

Peace is a key to the reunification of the country and common prosperity of the nation. Today the United States is desperately clinging to war moves against the DPRK and the country’s reunification in an attempt to check the current trend on the Korean peninsula towards reunification by the Korean nation itself and realize its wild ambition for domination of the whole of Korea. Due to the vicious schemes of the United States, peace and security on the Korean peninsula are under grave threat.

To safeguard peace is a just patriotic undertaking to defend the land for the existence of the nation, and victory in this effort is in store for the Korean people who are ready to sacrifice themselves to the defending of national independence. The entire Korean people should turn out in the struggle for peace against war in order to smash the military pressure, war exercises and military buildup that threaten our nation. They should see through the US hegemonic and aggressive nature, and launch a dynamic campaign to drive the US occupation troops, the root cause of war, out of south Korea.

The entire nation should unite.

Unity is a way to national existence and prime mover of the cause of the country’s reunification. Koreans in the north, south and abroad should bring the atmosphere of reconciliation and unity to a crescendo under the banner of independent reunification, and further promote solidarity and alliance between different reunification movement organizations with the June 15 All-Korean Committee as the parent body.

Opposition to conservatives in south Korea is part of the effort for realizing great national unity and a decisive factor for the advance of society and reunification movement there. The “Grand National Party” and other reactionary conservatives are now making desperate efforts to realize their traitorous attempts and ambition for regaining of power with the help of the outside forces. Broad segments of the south Korean people desirous of independent and democratic society and the country’s reunification should realize a broad anti-conservative alliance and launch an energetic campaign on the occasion of this year’s “presidential elections” to decisively destroy the treacherous pro-US conservative forces.

The June 15 North-South Joint Declaration is a beacon of hope that has paved the way for national prosperity. All the Koreans in the north, south and abroad should strive to implement the joint declaration without letup in the face of any trials and difficulties, and smash every attempt to emasculate and obliterate it.

Songun politics is an all-powerful sword for national defence that has proved its invincible might and patriotic character in the practical struggle to shape the destiny of the nation. Cherishing the boundless national pride and self-respect in the present reality in which the national dignity is being demonstrated worldwide on the strength of Songun politics, all the fellow countrymen should staunchly support Songun politics.

All the fellow Koreans in the north, south and abroad should bring about a heyday of the cause of independent reunification by turning out as one in implementing the three tasks–attaching importance to the nation, defending peace and achieving unity–with confidence in and optimism about the rosy future of a reunified country.

The present trend of global situation shows that the strong-arm policy and high-handedness of the imperialists are doomed to failure and that the people’s struggle for independence can never be checked. We will remain faithful to the last to our historic mission in safeguarding global peace and security and advancing the cause of independence of humanity, and continue to intensify international solidarity with the progressive peoples under the ideals of independence, peace and friendship.

A great era of prosperity is smiling on our motherland.

Kim Il Sung’s Korea is a formidable socialist power that is dignified by a great idea, powerful with the single-hearted unity and ever-victorious with the strong military capabilities. No force can obstruct the vigorous advance of our army and people, who are endeavouring to bring earlier the day when they would enjoy happiness in socialist paradise with nothing to envy in the world.


North Korea’s Military-First Policy: A Curse or a Blessing

Thursday, June 8th, 2006

Nautilus Institute
Alexander V. Vorontsov

The “Songun Chongch’i” or military-first politics mantra adopted by North Korean leader Kim Jong-il as a guideline for domestic governance and foreign policy has elicited mostly negative responses from Korea-watchers. Many view songun as the final phase in the deterioration of North Korea and a serious threat to neighboring states saying that an impoverished country of 24 million inhabitants supporting a military of more than 1 million soldiers is incapable of modernization and economic reform. They argue that greater military participation in politics creates a dual-pronged threat: the army may appropriate a greater share of already-dwindling state funds to increase its readiness and effectiveness; and the generals, supposedly the most militant sector of the policy-making structure, will have a louder voice in foreign policy formulation, which could lead to hostile rhetoric towards South Korea.

A less alarmist interpretation of military-first politics is that Kim Jong-il is trying to maintain the existing order, to strengthen his regime based on personal authority, and consolidate control of military forces with the goal of preventing an overthrow of the state.

So, is military authority a curse or a blessing? The lessons from history are ambiguous, as states ruled by the military have experienced both prosperity and hardship. But some argue that South Korea represents a relatively positive example in which it has experienced a national revival because of a period of military rule.

In 1961, Park Chung-hee, a colonel in the ROK army, seized authority South Korea in a bloodless coup and established a rigid dictatorship with his military comrades. Though politics became more repressive, the national economy grew exponentially and General Park is remembered by many as the “father of the South Korean economic miracle.” Few dispute that this economic growth planted the seeds for the ensuing process of democratization. So it is hardly accidental that, in recent years, Kim Jong-il has started to speak favorably of General Park and his role in the modernization of the Republic of Korea.

The implementation of songun in the mid-1990s increased the role of the Korean People’s Army (KPA) in daily life. The army began to participate even more in social and economic decision-making, from large-scale infrastructure development to providing its own food. While military personnel are required to serve for ten years, they spend most of their service participating in different areas of the country’s socio-economic life. Thus, the army is now not as heavy economic burden, and is serves as an important resource and catalyst for developing the national economy.

The movement to the military-first policy has accompanied a gradual transformation of North Korea’s planned economy to the direction of a mixed economy. The result may eventually be a network of large, less state-controlled corporations that share close ties with government agencies, similar to the “chaebol” that Park Chung-hee created in South Korea. Because of this, the North Korean military is now involved in different spheres of economic activity, including foreign economic ties and trade operations, and will likely play a key role in this ongoing process of privatization.

With songun also come changes in ideology. This change and its underlying goal of building a powerful and prosperous state – “kangsong taeguk,” are justified by flexible and creative interpretations of the bedrock ideal of self-reliance – “juche,” a nationalist ideology developed by revolutionary leader Kim Il-sung. The songun concept replaces the proletariat and the vanguard Communist Party with the army as the driving force in society. This innovation is significant because the army is typically a less ideological and more pragmatic institution than the Party.

The army’s role in society is not the only example of Kim Jong-il’s liberation from orthodox ideologies. Since the early 1990s, North Korea has shifted its emphasis from socialist ideals to historical and spiritual values. This is reflected in the use of Confucian norms in public policy and everyday life, and legitimizing the state through reference ancient Korean kingdoms. Again, the parallels with Park Chung-hee are very strong. Kim Jong-il has also sought to reduce the prevalence of the personality cult. From early 2004, for example, there could be only one portrait of Kim Il-sung in public places. Similarly, Kim Jong-il is to be described only by his official positions, rather than the use of laudatory epithets such as “Dear Leader.”

Songun should not be automatically dismissed as an ideological dead-end. As the experience of South Korea under Park Chung-hee demonstrates, military rule can have positive effects on society under certain conditions.


U.S. Team Says North Korea Suppresses Religion

Thursday, March 24th, 2005

Robert Evans

North Korea represses religion and has an official ideology that is a form of secular humanism, a U.S. government agency said on Thursday.

The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) said interviews with North Korean refugees showed a pattern of arrest, imprisonment, torture and execution for public expressions of religion.

“Any reappearance of Christianity, possibly permeating from northern China to where many thousands of North Koreans fled from famine in the 1990s, is rigorously repressed,” USCIRF North Korean researcher David Hawk told a news conference.

Only two active churches, with one more to be built, and one Buddhist temple were known to exist — all in the capital, Pyongyang, and apparently serving the foreign diplomatic and business community there.

USIRC vice-chair Felice D. Gaer said a full report on the findings from interviews with some 30 ordinary North Koreans among some 6,000 who have escaped to South Korea since 2000 would be published later this year.

Information, published in part by USIRC last summer, would be a useful contribution to debate at the current session of the United Nations Human Rights Commission, where North Korea is under fire from mainly Western countries, she said.

The 53-member Commission narrowly agreed in 2004 for the first time to appoint a special investigator for North Korea — Thai jurist Vitit Muntarbhorn. The government in Pyongyang has refused to cooperate with him.

A similar resolution — proposed last year by the European Union with U.S. backing — is expected at the Commission next month after Vitit has presented his own report.

Hawk was asked if the North Korean attitude toward secular humanism was any different to its stance on theistic religion. Secular humanism is a widespread philosophy that aims to promote human cooperation and morality without reference to a deity. North Korea’s official ideology is called Juche.

“Juche thought is a form of secular humanism,” he said, referring to the North Korean system of strict obedience to the national leader — currently Kim Jong Il, son of the country’s first communist chief Kim Il Sung. Secular humanism, which emerged from the 18th century European Enlightenment and inspired some early U.S. leaders, is currently under assault in the United States from Christian evangelicals who have the ear of President Bush.

Officials of secular and humanist organizations accredited to the UN and to the Human Rights Commission have long complained that religious freedom issues are privileged there at the expense of the freedom to reject religion.

Roy Brown, President of the International Humanist and Ethical Union, said a report to the Commission on “defamation of religions” by a Senegalese rights investigator appeared to suggest that secularists were a danger to religious freedom.


Welcome to capitalism, North Korean comrades

Saturday, December 4th, 2004

Asia Times
Andrei Lankov

A creeping revolution, both social and economic, is under way in North Korea and it seems there’s no turning back. For decades, the country served as the closest possible approximation of an ideal Stalinist state. But the changes in its economy that have taken place after 1990 have transformed the country completely and, perhaps, irreversibly.

For decades, Pyongyang propaganda presented North Korea as an embodiment of economic self-sufficiency, completely independent from any other country. This image sold well, especially in the more credulous part of the Third World and among the ever-credulous leftist academics. The secret of its supposed self-sufficiency was simple: the country received large amounts of direct and indirect aid from the Soviet Union and China, but never admitted this in public. Though frequently annoyed by such “ingratitude”, neither Moscow nor Beijing made much noise since both communist giants wanted to maintain, at least superficially, friendly relations with their small, capricious ally.

But collapse of the Soviet Union made clear that claims of self-sufficiency were unfounded. From 1991, the North Korean economy went into free fall. Throughout 1991-99, the gross national product (GNP) of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) nearly halved. The situation became unbearable in 1996, when the country was struck by a famine that took, by the best available estimates, about 600,000 lives. The famine could have been prevented by a Chinese-style agricultural reform, but this option was politically impossible: such a reform would undermine the government’s ability to control the populace.

The control on daily lives was lost anyway. What we have seen in North Korea over the past 10 years can be best described as collapse of what used to be rigid Stalinism from below. In the Soviet Union of the late 1950s and in China of the late 1970s, Stalinism-Maoism was dismantled from above, through a chain of deliberate reforms planned and implemented by the government. In North Korea the same thing happened, but the system disintegrated from below, despite weak and ineffectual attempts to keep it intact.

In the 1960s, North Korea was unique in being the only nation in the world where markets were outlawed. The retail trade in a strict sense almost ceased to exist since virtually everything, from socks to apples, was distributed through an elaborate public distribution system with money payments being rather symbolic. The rations depended on a person’s position in the intricate social hierarchy, which eventually became semi-hereditary. In Kim Il-sung’s North Korea, there was almost nothing that could be sold on market since production outside the state economy was almost non-existent.

Unlike governments of other communist countries, until the late 1980s the North Korean government did not even allow its farmers to cultivate kitchen gardens – the individual plot was limited to merely 20-30 square meters, hardly enough to grow enough chili pepper. This was done on purpose. In many other communist countries, farmers had bigger plots and made their living from them, ignoring their work obligations to the state-run cooperative farms. Without their own plots, farmers would work more for the state – or so believed the North Korean government. In the utopia constructed by Kim Il-sung, every single man or woman was supposed to work for the state, and was rewarded for his and her efforts with officially approved rations and salaries.

In 1969, Kim himself admitted that the anti-market policy had been a failure. Thus private markets were gradually legalized, but remained small and strictly controlled. However, as late as late 1980s, markets were still considered inappropriate for a “socialist paradise”. They were something to be ashamed of, so they were pushed to the margins of the city. Until the early 1990s, most markets were in places more or less hidden from view, inside residential blocks and behind high concrete walls. In Pyongyang, the main city market was set up under a huge viaduct at the easternmost part of the North Korean capital, as far from the city center as possible.

However, the economic disaster of 1991-95, and especially the subsequent famine, changed the situation. Markets began to spread across the country with amazing speed. From 1995-97, nearly all plants and factories ceased to operate. The rations were not issued anymore: in most areas people still received ration coupons but these could not be exchanged for food or other rationed goods. Only in Pyongyang and some other politically important areas did food continue to be distributed. But even there, the norms were dramatically watered down. In such a situation, the ability and willingness to engage in some private business became the major guarantee of physical survival.

The government also relaxed the restrictions on domestic travel. Since around 1960, every North Korean who ventured outside his native county was required to have a special “travel permit” (an exception was made for one-day travel to neighboring counties). However, in the mid-1990s, the authorities began to turn a blind eye to unauthorized travel. It is not clear whether it was a deliberate relaxation or just inability to enforce regulations when the state bureaucracy was demoralized. After all, a bribe of some US$5 would buy such a permit from a police officer.

The tidal wave of small trade flooded the country, which once came very close to creating a non-money-based economy. People left their native places in huge numbers. Many sought places where food was more available while others enthusiastically took up the barter trade, including smuggling of goods to and from China. Women were especially prominent in the new small businesses. Many North Korean women were housewives or held less-demanding jobs than men. Their husbands continued to go to their factories, which had come to a standstill. The males received rationing coupons that were hardly worth the paper on which they were printed. But North Korean men still saw the situation as temporary and were afraid to lose the trappings of a proper state-sponsored job that for decades had been a condition for survival in their society. While men were waiting for resumption of “normal life”, whiling away their time in idle plants, the women embarked on frenetic business activity. Soon some of these women began to make sums that far exceeded their husbands’ wages.

The booming markets are not the only place for retail trade. A new service industry has risen from the ashes: private canteens, food stalls and inns operate near the markets. Even prostitution, completely eradicated around 1950, made a powerful comeback as desperate women were eager to sell sexual services to the newly rich merchants. Since no banking institution would serve private commercial operations, illegal money lenders appeared. In the late 1990s they would charge their borrowers monthly interests of 30-40%. This reflected very high risks: these lenders had virtually no protection against the state, criminals and, above all, bad debtors.

In North Korea, which for decades was so different, this meant a revolution. The new situation undermined the government’s ability to control the populace. People involved in the new market activities are independent from (or inured to) subtle government pressures that had ensured compliance for decades. One cannot promote or demote a vendor, transfer him or her to a better or worse job, nor determine his or her type of residence (though admittedly, most people still live in the houses they received when the old system was still operating).

The growth of new markets also undermined some pillars of old North Korean hierarchy. Of course, many people who became affluent in the new system came from the old hierarchy – as was the case in most post-communist countries. Officials or managers of state-run enterprises found manifold ways to make an extra won. These managers often sold their factories’ products on the market. But many hitherto discriminated-against groups managed to rise to prominence during this decade. The access to foreign currency was very important, and in North Korea there were three major groups who had access to some investment capital: the Japanese-Koreans, Chinese-Koreans and Korean-Chinese.

The Japanese-Koreans moved into the country in the 1960s (there were some 95,000 of them – with family members, children and grandchildren, their current number can be estimated at 200,000-250,000). These people have relatives in Japan who are willing to send them money. Traditionally, the authorities looked at Japanese-Koreans with suspicion. At the same time, since money transfers from Japan have been a major source of hard currency for Pyongyang, their activities were often tolerated. This particular group even enjoyed some special rights, being privileged and discriminated against at the same time. When the old system of state control and distribution collapsed, Japanese-Koreans began to invest their money into a multitude of trade adventures. It did not hurt that many of them still had the first-hand experience of living in a capitalist society.

Another group were people with relatives in China. The economic growth of China meant that the relatives could also help their poor relatives in North Korea. In most cases, this was not in the form of money transfers, but assistance in business and trade. The local ethnic Chinese were in an even better position to exploit the new opportunities. For decades, they have constituted the only group of the country’s inhabitants who could travel overseas as private citizens more or less at their will. Even in earlier times, the ethnic Chinese used this unique position to earn extra money by small-scale and part-time smuggling. In the 1990s, they switched to large operations. There is an irony in the sudden economic advance of these groups. For decades, their overseas connections have made them suspect and led to systematic discrimination against them. In the 1990s, however, the same connections became the source of their prosperity.

Until recently, the government did not try to lead, but simply followed the events. The much-trumpeted reforms of 2002 by and large were hardly anything more than the admission of the situation that had been existing for a few years by then. The official abolition (or near-abolition) of the public distribution system did not count for much, since this system ceased to operate outside Pyongyang around 1995.

But the North Korean economy has indeed come a long way from its Stalinist ways. Now the government has neither money nor support nor the political will to revive the Stalinist-style central economy. There is no way back, only forward. Stalinism is dead. Welcome to capitalism, comrades!