Image: Daily NK
North Korea’s market generation embodies a decided lack of political loyalty and cohesion and are at the core of a
society of passive resistance, a panel of experts at the recent event, “North Korea’s Jangmadang: New Generation,” asserted.
Hosted by the Institute for Far Eastern
Studies (IFES) in Seoul, the event focused heavily on the ‘Arduous March’ — the nationwide famine
that struck North Korea in the mid-1990s — and its role in spawning an entire generation
known as the ‘Jangmadang (market) Generation.’
“The Jangmadang Generation (JG) refers to people born in 1980s and
1990s. They are used to hearing adults saying, ‘Life was not this difficult
when the Supreme Leader (Kim Il Sung) reigned,'” Park In Ho, president of Daily NK, said at the seminar, explaining how this generation grew up listening to a constant comparison to the difficulties of life under Kim Jong Il compared to the prosperity of life under Kim Il Sung.
He maintained that this, in turn, fostered a generation far less likely to maintain unconditional loyalty and respect for Kim Jong Un, given how often his father’s failings were punctuated throughout their upbringing.
This famine wrought
many changes, as citizens took to the markets to survive, spurring a long-term decentralization and restructuring of the
economy as well as a bottom-up opening of society, said Park Sokeel, director of
research and strategy for Liberty in North Korea [LiNK].
From an early age, the ‘Jangmadang
Generation’ experienced and partook in a marketized economy, making them “profit-driven, independent,
consumerist, materialistic, and individualistic,” Park explained.
He went on to add that North Korea’s
expansive system of markets has significantly increased smuggling, seeing the availability of CDs, DVDs, MP3s, flash drives, mobile phones, laptops, and other
goods made in capitalist nations swell within the isolated country.
This spurred an unprecedented number of
people in the younger generation to watch foreign media content, which is deemed illegal according to North Korean penal code. Although the effects are not immediate, watching
foreign media invokes in citizens more psychological independence from the
state and causes them to adhere less unconditionally to its propaganda.
Park illustrated his point by showing four
video interviews with North Korean defectors, exemplifying the notion that this ‘Jangmadang Generation’ has “grown up on capitalism,” with many of them
engaged in business operations smuggling in and selling off fashionable items
coveted by residents viewing illicit South Korean dramas.
However, despite the fact that more North Koreans
are engaging in marketized economy and gaining access to foreign media
content, research director of NK News, Gianluca Spezza, maintained some skepticism
toward the overall changes within North Korean society, specifically drawing on education issues as example.
He pointed out that North Korea’s nearly 100% literacy rate, which is often touted as major positive force and potential driver of development amid an influx of change, is a result of a state aimed at ensuring more ease in facilitating indoctrination of the masses, rendering much of this information of questionable value or practicality in other applications.