Go to contents

Kim Jong Un agonizes over Generation MZ

Posted May. 30, 2024 07:39,   

Updated May. 30, 2024 07:39


Why is Kim Jong Un accelerating his nuclear and missile development? Why has Kim Jong Un declared the relationship between North and South Korea to be “between two hostile nations, not between (the same) people.” Why is Kim Jong Un embarking on a bolder ‘self idolization’ campaign?

These are three of the most symbolic and characteristic trends of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's recent behavior. A senior South Korean government official recently asked me this question. As I struggled to come up with a hard and serious answer, the first thing he said was a surprise. North Korea's “Generation MZ.”

Kim Jong Un is struggling to crack down on the MZ generation born after the 1980s. Kim, who was 27 when his father, Kim Jong Il, died in 2011, is now almost 40. Generation MZ is a tough group to deal with for Kim, who is on the edge of the same generation, as Generation MZ in North Korea is more accustomed to ‘Jangmadang (marketplaces)’ than state rations. The MZ generation is a source of anxiety to Kim, as they are accustomed to hunger but also to the outside world that is not hungry after watching it via South Korean soap operas and other sources. “In North Korea, a ‘new generation’ has never been a variable that could shake the regime,” an intelligence official in Seoul said. “But now the MZ generation is one of the main variables that could change the course of the next 10 years of Kim Jong Un's regime.”

Kim Jong Un is already well aware of Generation MZ's volatility. In late 2020, he promulgated the ‘act on ban of reactionary thought and culture,’ which effectively targets the MZ generation. The act makes watching South Korean videos punishable by 15 years in prison.

Despite trying so hard, he has failed to keep the 'MZ variable' as a stable constant. After briefly disappearing when the borders were closed due to COVID-19, the MZ variable resurfaced last year after the pandemic ended. It naturally occupies front and center in Kim Jong Un's mind.

There are many ways in which the MZ variable is making Kim Jong Un uneasy. First of all, the number of MZ generation immersed in K-content has increased rapidly. As North Korea tightened its control over Jangmadang, the resistance of the MZ generation was amplified. The number of North Korean defectors from Generation MZ is also increasing. Over half of the North Korean defectors last year were people in their 20s and 30s. Recently, some foreign media even reported that the North Korean authorities are struggling to manage the MZ workers sent abroad to earn foreign currency.

To manage this MZ variable that threatens the regime, Kim has devised a two-pronged prescription: one for internal regime cohesion and the other for cutting off the outside world and controlling the population.

North Korea's MZ generation is squirming at all different places all at once. This MZ variable has already changed the direction of North Korea's foreign policy and propaganda strategy. Some high-ranking North Korean defectors have chosen to go to South Korea because of their children who are members of the MZ generation. It is time to consider whether South Korea’s North Korea policy fully reflects and considers this factor.