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[Opinion] Ideological Education in North Korea

Posted October. 04, 2008 09:34,   


“United we stand” is one of the most used slogans in North Korea. The catchphrase is habitually used by Pyongyang’s official media on occasions such as New Year’s Day, the birthdays of the North’s late leader Kim Il Sung and his son and successor Kim Jong Il, and the days the (North) Korean People`s Army (Sept. 9) and the (North) Korean Workers’ Party (Oct. 10) were founded. Not surprisingly, the streets of Pyongyang are filled with banners with the slogan, along with others such as “Death-defying struggle to defend our nation,” “The revolutionary spirit of Mount Baekdu,” and “Hail to the great victory of military-first politics.” Even the North’s constitution has “United we stand” in a phrase urging the people to unite under its “juche (self-reliance)” ideology.

A week before the 63rd anniversary of the Workers’ Party, the North’s national news broadcaster announced that party members in Pyongyang, Chagang Province and South Pyongan Province have made headway on intensifying ideological education on solidarity. As Kim Jong Il failed to appear in public for about two months, the news has drawn much attention considering rampant speculation over his failing health. The North’s unusual intensification of ideology raises the suspicion of growing anxiety from Kim’s aggravating health, the selection of his successor, strained negotiations for denuclearization, and even fear of the collapse of its communist system.

The North’s ideological education, however, has limits. Pyongyang failed to send its usual cheering squad of beautiful girls to the Beijing Olympics, despite having sent them to international sporting events in South Korea such as the 2002 Busan Asiad, the 2003 Daegu Universiade and the 2005 Incheon Asian Athletics Championships. It is said the North’s leadership no longer trusts its cheering beauties, who must promise not to tell anyone anything they see and hear while in South Korea but often fail to keep silent. With word of mouth spreading beyond their relatives and friends, the North Korean leadership has a hard time containing them.

The most popular songs in the North are those praising the revolutionary spirit, like “Song of General Kim Il Sung,” “Star of Chosun,” “Song of the Love of Comrades,” and “United We Stand.” Young people in North Korea often parody such songs with sarcastic lyrics criticizing communism. Despite the threat of severe punishment if caught by police, North Koreans dare to sing such songs. Among them, one called “Whistle” about unrequited love has become a sensation in recent years. This shows human instinct and sensitivity can never be fully repressed by education or force. We cannot but feel sorry for the North for being heavily reliant on such useless ideological education.

Editorial Writer Yook Jeong-soo (sooya@donga.com)