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Young N. Koreans question why the state demands absolute loyalty

North Korea organized a second training seminar for party officials in charge of propaganda at the People’s Palace of Culture in Pyongyang from Apr. 20 to 23.

“Party organizations and officials in the party’s propaganda wing have failed to adapt to a rapidly changing reality, and our propaganda and agitation programs are not communicating a clear message,” said Ri Il-hwan, a secretary with the WPK Central Committee, during an address at the seminar.

Ri’s remark about the failure “to adapt to a rapidly changing reality” is an apparent reference to how North Korean propagandists have failed to instill patriotism and loyalty in the younger generation, which is regarded as a crucial pillar supporting the regime’s rule.

The North Korean authorities have stressed that young people are supposed to serve as “shock troops in building a powerful socialist state,” as described in the recently enacted Youth Education Guarantee Act. But many of North Korea’s young people are expressing resistance to the government’s political propaganda and agitation and even asking why they should make personal sacrifices for the sake of the party, the leader and the state.

While the virtues of sacrifice and loyalty to the state remain a major focus of state indoctrination, there are few young people who take the political and ideological education they receive at school or work at face value.

“Volunteers” for work in tough areas often have little choice because of social status

North Korean media outlets continue to report that “many patriotic young people are voluntarily signing up for difficult and challenging areas of the socialist construction project because of their esteem for state policy.” But a young resident of Pyongyang in his 20s, identified here as “A,” explained to Daily NK that such volunteering is hardly voluntary. “It’s because of economic incentives and social pressure,” he added.

Since schools and youth organizations are periodically ordered to rustle up volunteers for difficult work assignments, people often find themselves forced to “volunteer” for mines or construction sites against their wishes.

“When someone chooses a tough job for the sake of the state and at the expense of their own happiness, they’re publicly praised as a ‘youth hero.’ But in private conversation, people say they’re crazy and suspect they either fell for government propaganda or are social outcasts,” “A” said.

According to “A,” most young people who volunteer for hardship assignments are people with unfavorable family backgrounds who are trying to lay the foundation for a respectable career.

But even the North Korean authorities appear to recognize that young people are more interested in achieving a comfortable life for themselves than in national development or the socialist revolution.

According to reporting by Daily NK, study materials recently distributed by North Korea’s Socialist Patriotic Youth League state that “an issue that must be overcome is the fact that young people who ought to be armed with socialist ideology and brimming over with loyalty to their fatherland are instead taking an interest in personal wealth and economic stability.”

For North Korean youth, their goals in life are “economic stability” and “social success”

When North Koreans in their 20s are asked about their goals over the next five to ten years, common answers are “joining the Workers’ Party of Korea,” “getting a graduate degree” and “going overseas as a trade official.” However, when asked about what they hope to accomplish in their lives, they typically mention “social success” and “economic stability.”

One reason that so many young people want to go to graduate school appears to be because of a growing sense that highly educated people can get ahead both economically and socially given Kim Jong Un’s adoption of policies emphasizing science and education.

In other words, the ultimate life goal for young North Koreans is no longer joining the Workers’ Party of Korea, entering graduate school or getting some specific job, but rather gaining social acceptance and enjoying a comfortable lifestyle.

So while Kim regards the North Korean youth as the “future generation” who will sustain the party and the regime and emphasizes their patriotism and loyalty, those young people themselves place more importance on their personal happiness and success. That shows that a gap is gradually widening between what the North Korean government wants from young people and what they want out of life.

Some of the reasons that North Korean young people have come to value personal happiness and success more than state development or the socialist revolution seem to be the rapid development of markets since the 2000s and the influx of information from the outside world in the form of Korean movies and dramas.

“North Korea’s young generation includes people whose parents were part of the ‘market generation’ or who were part of that generation themselves. They experienced the collapse of the state rationing system and have had to support themselves through the markets. So even when they’re indoctrinated in state values or patriotism, many of them perceive that the ideology promoted by the state is divorced from reality,” said Jeong Eun-mee, an analyst at the Korea Institute for National Unification (KINU), in a telephone interview with Daily NK.

“The North Korean authorities have adopted a carrot-and-stick approach with the youth. They attempt to suppress and control the actions of the youth through such measures as the Youth Education Guarantee Act, while also developing mobile games and organizing concerts in an attempt to satisfy their cultural desires. But such efforts are inevitably limited in their ability to change young people’s thoughts and ideas,” Jeong added. 

Translated by David Carruth. Edited by Robert Lauler. 

Daily NK works with a network of sources living in North Korea, China, and elsewhere. Their identities remain anonymous for security reasons. For more information about Daily NK’s network of reporting partners and information-gathering activities, please visit our FAQ page here.

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

Read in Korean

May 08, 2024 at 12:00PM

by DailyNK(North Korean Media)

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