Kim Jong Il’s birthday, a North Korean national holiday, has just passed. Yes, a country still exists where the leader’s birthday is a national holiday and is celebrated on a national scale.
As around three decades have now passed since Kim’s birthday became a national holiday, this absurd situation tends to be accepted as natural by South Korean society. Not one newspaper released an editorial criticizing Kim Jong Il’s nonsensical idolization games. People may simply consider it a case of, ”North Korea is a funny place; it’s hardly worth mentioning...”
However, in truth it is how a dynasty or primitive tribe might celebrate a king or chief’s birthday, and for such a custom to be happening in the 21st Century is extraordinary. Yet it happens in the capital of the so-called “capital of revolution,” a country between South Korea, which recently hosted the G20 Summit, and China, which has just become one of the G2. It really is a 21st Century wonder of the world.
And yet, what has the “Dear Leader” been doing for revolution in the capital of revolution? Yes, he has been starving people to death, wielding his nuclear weapons and upsetting his neighbors while pretending to be in pursuit of revolution, and even recently begged the “American imperialists” for food.
What I mean to say is that the real unsolved mystery here is how the capital of revolution still exists when they cannot afford, and clearly have no right, to implement a revolution of any sort.
Kim Jong Il started playing around with his father’s birthday in 1971, just as he was about to achieve victory in the struggle for power with his uncle, Kim Young Ju. To promote the idolization of his father, he designated Kim Il Sung’s birthday as a state holiday and ordered the people to set up the leader’s portrait in every household across the nation.
The next year, he threw the mother of all 60th birthday parties for Kim Il Sung, and when he was designated as the successor to his father in 1974, he publicized the Party’s Ten Principles for the Establishment of the One-Ideology System, North Korea’s very own Ten Commandments, on the day before his father’s birthday, April 14th. Kim Il Sung immediately ceased to be a human being, and became a God.
The power of propaganda is clearly tremendous, since Kim Il Sung later confessed, “I felt limitless joy as I stood on the highest peak of ideology.” Since when, Kim Jong Il erected some 87,000 monuments across the country, organized the mass games with 20,000 members and even once organized a grand chorus of 50,000 sobbing people to commemorate the completion of the Pyongyang-Nampo expressway.
Kim Jong Il devoted his life to seizing his father’s spirit, not to mention those of the people of North Korea. Thanks to these efforts, he successfully established a North Korean “animal farm,” where no one could contemplate having a different idea.
For decades, Kim Jong Il worked to install a new consciousness in the people’s brains, concentrating on Kim Il Sung. Through this cycle of indoctrination within a completely closed society over several decades, it became almost impossible for the people to escape that consciousness.
Finally, in 1980, on his own birthday, he declared it, too, a national holiday.
However, there was a turning point, and that was the March of Tribulation. Passing through a tragedy where millions of people starved to death, the people started forging ways to survive through the jangmadang. Then, with the July 1st Economic Management Reform Measure of 2002, rules issued unwillingly in response to the collapse of the state distribution system, markets expanded and finally, with the failure of the currency redenomination in late 2009, the regime crossed the Rubicon.
Then, how can the North Korean people finally emerge to become masters of their state and regime? It is democratization, which will follow naturally on from the process of marketization.
There are two kinds of democratization: one is systematic democratization and the other one is democratization of people’s awareness.
In North Korea, after the collapse of the Chosun Dynasty, passing through the Japanese colonial period and finally reaching class dictatorship and then totalitarian dictatorship, the people had not one experience of democracy over more than three generations spanning 100 years. Therefore, there is no concept of “democracy” in the North Korean awareness, only class elements, the Suryeong system, guilt-by-association, prison camps, the Ten Principles and such like. These are the things that the people must be helped to cast aside, and the key is for the people to retrieve from the dictator their sovereignty.
In order to make that happen, the most important element is freedom of information. There are three steps to achieving freedom of information.
The first step is to provide the North Korean people with information on the outside world.
The second is to release domestic North Korean information to the outside world.
The third is for information to move between North Korean people within their territory.
Thankfully, we have managed to conquer the first and second steps. Unfortunately, the most important one is the last.
Even Chosun Central Broadcast (a state-run radio station) does not report any internal news to the people. It is almost impossible for residents of North Hamkyung Province to know about what is happening in the markets of Hwanghae Province. So the infrastructure the democratization movement needs is for the horizontal circulation of information between people, some form of “social network.”
There is no civilian broadcasting, no newspapers and no Internet or other tools for the people. Therefore, the task of sharing information is South Korea’s and the international community’s. Just as South Korean NGOs and U.S. broadcasters are trying to do, we should report what is happening in Hoiryeong to the citizens of Pyongyang and make citizens in Sariwon aware of what is happening in Chongjin.
Even though it is not easy to imagine North Korean democratization, the fact is that North Koreans want change. Even though they do not know the words “democratization” or “human rights” they have a strong and long-lasting desire for something different.
The “revolutionary capital, Pyongyang” is not the home of revolution; it is the target. There is not a target on earth to which the Kim Jong Il regime can bring revolution. But Kim will persist. Therefore, only a people’s revolution remains.
The outside world must hurry to bring freedom of information to North Korea, so the North Korean people can finally take back their sovereignty.