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Why one North Korean educator was deemed a “first-class reactionary”

At the Second National Meeting of Elementary Propaganda Workers in 2019, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un sent a letter to participants entitled “Let’s Use Novel Propaganda and Agitation to Increase the Momentum of the Revolution,” which read in part:

“Greatness education [about the Kim family] is not about how the leader exists apart from the people, but how he lives and dies, suffers and rejoices with the people. It should deepen the students’ understanding of him as a leader of the people who’s devoted to the happiness of the people. If the greatness education emphasizes the greatness of the leader by mystifying his revolutionary activities and personality, it may obscure the facts. Total loyalty comes when the people are captivated by the leader on a personal and comradely [political] level.”

In short, the letter instructed them to avoid mystifying or deifying the leader in ideological education. Kim urged the propaganda officials to inspire loyalty through humanistic propaganda and agitation about the leader instead of the “groundless and absurd” exaltations common in the propaganda of the Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il eras.

In response, the Ministry of Education prepared a new nationwide curriculum with a new emphasis on making the leader appear human in “greatness education.” The ministry ordered schools to teach revolutionary history according to the new curriculum from the second semester. The ministry also instructed the provincial, city, and county education departments to inspect the first schools to teach revolutionary history using the new, more realistic curriculum, which was to begin on the first day of the second semester with this new humanistic approach.

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These orders explain the strange scene that took place in a certain classroom at Sinpo High School in Sinpo, North Hamgyong Province, at the beginning of the second semester. As instructed, on September 2, 2019, eleven observers entered a single classroom to audit the lesson as a class of third-year students received their first lesson of the semester on the “revolutionary history of the Great Leader Comrade Kim Il Sung.”

Educator says the “wrong thing” during lecture

Kim Wonchol, the then 51-year-old director of revolutionary history education at Sinpo High School, stood at the podium and gave a lecture on how Kim Il Sung had set up a secret base camp on Mt. Baekdu as the headquarters of the revolution while crossing the border between North Korea and China to bring the struggle against the Japanese imperialists to Korea.

In the middle of his lecture, a student raised his hand with a question. “In the second year, we went on an expedition to explore the long road to independence. The weather in Yanggang Province was so cold, unlike here [in Sinpo] near the sea. My textbook says that the weather at the secret base camp was bitterly cold, often hovering around minus 40 degrees [C]. How could people survive in such conditions?”

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The teacher replied: “As you said, the weather on Mt. Baekdu is extremely harsh. Both the leader and each member of his anti-Japanese guerrilla unit were human beings, so how could they endure and survive in such harsh conditions? Smoke could give away their position to the enemy, so the rules of the secret camp prevented the fighters from even lighting a fire properly. It would have been impossible to survive the bitter cold without breaking the rules.”

The teacher concluded: “If we want to make a concrete improvement in the revolutionary ideological education of the new generation, we must revise the curriculum to base our education on historical facts.”

At that moment some of the observers sitting in the back of the room began whispering among themselves and writing furiously in their notebooks.

Taken away 

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That same evening, Kim was summoned to appear before the city’s party committee without explanation and never returned. Two days later, a Ministry of State Security truck arrived at the house in the middle of the night and took Kim’s wife and two daughters to an unknown location.

Later that year (2022), the Ministry of State Security agents involved in the case and their families leaked that Kim had been sent to a political prison camp for the crime of falsely teaching the new generation about the leader’s revolutionary activities.

During the Ministry of State Security’s investigation, Kim defended himself by saying, “All I did was follow what the marshal told the party, which was to educate the new generation in such a way that they could empathize with the leader [Kim Il Sung] on a human level. A student asked me how a person could survive in the minus 40-degree cold; should I say that he survived by his ‘wits’?”

As a result of his defense, the teacher was branded a “first-class reactionary.”

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This incident was included in a bulletin distributed to educational personnel throughout the country at the end of 2022. Since then, education about the Kim family has more or less returned to what it was before Kim Jong Un’s letter. Two years later, at the time of this writing, North Korean schools continue to brainwash students about the greatness of the Kim leaders and idolize and deify the Kim family.

Translated by Rose Adams. Edited by Robert Lauler.

Please send any comments or questions about this article to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.

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February 13, 2024 at 11:30AM

by DailyNK(North Korean Media)

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