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The Real Springboard of Change

Kang Do Wan, Dong-A University  |  2012-02-02 17:22
Various predictions of change (or not) on the Korean Peninsula have been made since the death of Kim Jong Il late last year. There has been the idea that there could be an intentional provocation to generate systemic cohesion, or an accidental one resulting from a power struggle. Conversely, there has been the idea that Vice-Chairman Kim Jong Eun has successfully acceded to power, and that rather than a hardline policy he might opt for change through reform and opening.

Thus, discussion of what might become of the North Korean system in South Korean society has suddenly turned to focus entirely on the success or failure of the succession. This is based on the logic of North Korea being unified, against a background of regime policy decisions and a system with stamina.

But, there is another way to see things. It is necessary to remember that there exists both top-down and bottom-up change.

There are many reasons why the North Korean system continues to exist, but strict controls over information and repressive ruling methods are among the main ones. One of the key factors in these social control mechanism is the ordinary people's access to outside information and the distorted nature of that information which is permitted. Ideological strength and loyalty are achieved through deliberate ideological education and indoctrination. If the factors allowing for the existence of North Korea's system are indeed provided by these harsh controls over access to information and ideological education, then if change can be affected in this area, then the system can also be changed. If strict controls and surveillance are coupled to indoctrination with the ruling elite's ideas alone, then loyalty and solidarity will be strong and the system will have stamina; conversely, if the opposite is true then the system will be made slack and change can be brought about.

From the point of view of systemic reinforcement and regime preservation, 2012 must without fail bring visible results that can bind the people in solidarity. To solve food supply problems, the regime has no choice but to focus on recovering the economy. The regime's true dilemma is that while they have to show visible results in terms of securing the people's livelihoods and the construction of a stronger state, they have no choice but to strengthen social controls if they want to strengthen the regime and achieve social cohesion.

However, there is a difference between North Korea today and in previous eras in terms of political and ideological unity. As was written by the regime in the 2012 Joint Editorial, “Let's fight to pull up the roots of inappropriate lifestyle tendencies and pulverize the imperialist cultural infiltration,” a statement which proved nothing other than that North Korean society is indeed some way away from the regime's desired path.

Now that official idolization efforts and brainwashing no longer work, the political loyalty and cohesion of the 'jangmadang generation' is low. These are people who lived their youths during the March of Tribulation, and they prioritize getting secure access to food. They both think anew due to information inflows and have found a way to live via the market. They are unprecedentedly tired of and resistant to the authorities' controls, and are at the core of a society of passive resistance. Throught South Korean dramas and films they have obtained indirect experience of South Korea's development, and if official repression and economic weakness continue indefinitely, then this experience can become a trigger for demands for systemic change.

The exposure of the North Korean people to external information, in combination with other factors, can move the entirety of North Korean society. Bottom-up awareness changing factors should remain a core focus.
 
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