Climbing the Ladder of Society

In North Korea, men taking their first steps in society after a honeymoon, or being released from the army face a variety of challenges. Not only do they encounter the stress of having to establish their economic independence, but they also fall prey to the need to build the necessary foundations for making societal progress.

In particular, newly released soldiers, who may have just spent ten years in the army after graduating from middle school, have a very difficult time adjusting to society and often face difficulties in their marriages or professional lives. During this time, wives must provide the necessary support. Even if one is stationed in a good job, if one’s spouse fails to provide the necessary support then it is difficult to maintain one’s position and one may even face alienation.

For instance, Mr. Kim, who completed his military duties in the reconnaissance squadron affiliated with the April 25 training camp and received a “Communist College Diploma” for having worked in the special procurement branch of the army, was dispatched to the Military Commercial Management Department (the department which provides goods to the state-operated stores in army units) under the General Logistics Bureau. The role is a position which provides fairly good additional income in addition to rations and wages.

However, Mr. Kim, who had a difficult time shaking off the habits of his military days, got into frequent disagreements with the officials at work and fist fights were not uncommon.

His wife, who worked as a teacher, married her husband after giving him the benefit of the doubt since he had faithfully completed his military duty. However, since finding out that he would face criticism for getting into conflicts or fist fights with his colleagues and comrades, she had to endure constant worry and sleepless nights.

The wife desperately counseled him, saying, “Getting into such frequent fistfights only works in the army and does not work in society.” But after earning the wrath of his work colleagues, it was too late and he was sent to work as a worker in a transportation warehouse.

Seeing that her husband’s peers, who had started working around the same time as him, were getting promoted to warehouse managers and such like while he was still toiling as a transportation worker, his wife prepared two packages containing liquor, meat and cigarettes and urged him to take them to the homes of the Party Secretary and the Management Department director to show respect.

At first Kim resisted, saying, “Why should I kowtow to them?” but after being unable to endure the continuous torment of his wife, he went to their homes and offered them the gift packages. Within one month, he was promoted to “warehouse manager.”

Even those who start work immediately after graduating from middle school or university need the “support” of their wives.

Further, males who do not complete their military duty and opt for medical discharge are mostly ineligible to enter the Party. This is also the case for those who do not go to the military, but graduate from universities.

Recently, the mentality regarding “entry into the party” among ordinary citizens has been changing, but in North Korea entry into the Party is still a critical stepping stone in society. As a result, women in their 20s and 30s, if possible, will bear any burden in order to enable their husbands’ admission into the Party.

For males who do not have military experience to enter the Party, they have to have a well-recognized job, but this is really only made possible by the assistance of wives.

In order to enter the Party, the personal and organizational life of the individual must serve as a model for others. In addition, a significant amount of money is required. In other words, one has to give more and work more for the Party and the state.

However, just because one is a model citizen does not mean that s/he will automatically receive the nomination of the party cell secretary. To facilitate this, some greasing of palms is also needed.

Nowadays in North Korea, in order for an average worker to enter the Party, s/he has to offer approximately $100 in cash to the party cell secretary. If one were to include additional costs for gifts such as rice, liquor and meat as well as meals, then at least $300 would be the figure.

Due to such a situation, wives who are aiming for the admission of their husbands into the Party concentrate all of their energy on doing business or earning individual money in order to prepare a material foundation.

Of course, households that pursue entry into the party by such means have relatively decent backgrounds and are able to support themselves. If a family does not have a good background or a member of the family has been accused of a political crime, then they must resign themselves to spending money on feeding themselves rather than gaining entry in to the party. The women whose husbands have no possibility of entry into the party or succeeding in society have no choice but to work without rest ad infinitum. In such homes, rather than the wives assisting the husbands, the husbands must aid their wives in order for them to survive. (To be continued)