In early March, just two months after the death of Kim Jong Il, Daily NK dispatched a team to Yanji and Jian, cities in the Sino-North Korean border region, to take a closer look at trends in public opinion and the way people inside North Korea are currently living. The team organized interviews with six North Korean citizens visiting the two cities.
They told Daily NK with one voice that they have been suffering considerably since the death of Kim Jong Il; in particular, this has been due to trade and internal travel controls, something which makes sense given that the majority of the interviewees were either private traders or workers dispatched by trade enterprises affiliated with state organs.
The voices featured did not come from a single region; opinion emerged from Pyongyang, Chongjin on the east coast of North Hamkyung Province, further down the coast in Hamheung, South Hamkyung Province, from Hyesan, just across the border from Changbai in China, Kangye in Jagang Province and also Sariwon in South Hwanghae Province.
The interviewees were unanimous in saying that North Korea should follow the Chinese model of reform and opening; however, they all expressed doubts about Kim Jong Eun’s capacity to carry it out.
“People have the belief that if we see reform and opening like China did then life will get better,” the woman from southerly Sariwon explained. “They thought that just opening up Shinuiju last year was a step forward, but now that the General has passed away we hope to see them being more proactive about it.”
“At the moment we are people being held back by a fence. We know about the outside world and think we need to follow other countries that’ve done well. If we did, standards of living would improve. I really hope that happens,” she went on.
“When protests happening in South Chosun come on the TV, people point out how well they are dressed, the shoes they are wearing. People in South Chosun are like that, so why are we like this? The desire to survive leads people to wish for a war or anything, really. But actually, we don’t know what the young leader is going to do.”
“The leader has changed but Chosun absolutely cannot reform and open. Why not? Because if that happened, religion would come into the country and it would be easier for the regime to collapse, so they won’t do it. So, that is why the public wants a war or something that will bring unification.”
“The true feeling is that people want General Kim to let the people go out into the world, and to follow reform and opening. Of course we don’t know whether comrade Jong Eun will actually reform, but it would be nice if he used his youthful energy to launch new change”
At present, the North Korean authorities are attempting to generate loyalty to Kim Jong Eun through education sessions in businesses and people’s units across the country. However, the interviewees all said that people merely attend these sessions as a formality, and that the majority are not affected by them.
The trading woman in her 50s from Kangye said, “We have been having education sessions since the start of this year in our people’s unit and Union of Democratic Women meetings where they tell us that ‘General Kim Jong Eun is all we’ve got, so serve him well.’ Nobody listens properly to what is being said though because most are so tired when they get there that they take it as a chance to sleep or have a rest.”
The woman from Chongjin said, “The reason General Kim is conducting so many onsite guidance visits as of late is to try and look like Kim Il Sung, who looked good. But everybody knows. The dynastic system that made him the leader is keeping them in chains.”