Kim Jong Un presented his “people-first policy” as the fundamental principles of socialism at the Eighth Party Congress which was held for eight days in North Korea since Jan. 5. He also emphasized that people should be regarded with the utmost importance. However, these kind of concepts are nothing more than slogans that are used to control the public and evoke a sense of loyalty. Kim Jong Un’s true intentions were revealed when he enacted the anti-reactionary thought law last year.

Authors Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and Alastair Smith pointed out in their book, The Dictator’s Handbook, that a dictator is someone who hates freedom. Their reasoning is because if you allow freedom, then the people will recognize each other’s suffering and easily cooperate in antigovernmental demonstrations. This same analysis can also be applied to Kim Jong Un because the people’s freedom can be a threat to one’s rank. If outside information gets in (to North Korea) and people become aware of freedom and human rights, then the stronghold of Kim Jong Un’s dictatorship that he worked tirelessly to build will easily collapse. This is why Kim Jong Un feels the need that he must desperately block the spread of liberalism. The anti-reactionary law was formed from within this context

The anti-reactionary law was enacted by the North Korean authorities last year on Dec. 4. at the 12th Session of the 14th Supreme People’s Assembly (SPA). The essence of this law is that anyone who uses, distributes, or stores any cultural content from South Korea, or other countries such as the US and Japan, could be punished with a maximum sentence of the death penalty. Daily NK obtained and released specific details of this law on Jan. 15.

In reality, through the Eighth Party Congress, the North Korean authorities aimed to further strengthen control over society. This law is expected to be governed by the Ministry of Social Security and the Ministry of State Security. However, in the restructuring of the Eighth Party Congress the chief prosecutor of the Central Prosecutor’s Office and the chief justice of the Central Court (Supreme Court) were – unusually – listed under the executive branch. This measure is evidence of the party’s plan to take the lead in controlling the society as a whole.

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Kim Jong Un at the leadership podium during the Party Foundation Day military parade in Pyongyang on Oct. 10, 2020. / Image: KCNA

Additionally, the North Korean authorities have formalized the establishment of the Ministry of Justice under the Workers’ Party. It was reported that the newly established Ministry of Justice will oversee all of the law enforcement agencies such as the Ministry of State Security, the Ministry of Social Security, the Central Court, the Central Prosecutor’s Office, and the Cabinet’s National Censorship Committee. According to Kim Jong Un, this is for the improvement of national regulations and law enforcement, but as a matter of fact with tight control over North Korea’s citizens this is nothing more than trying to keep the status quo. 

At the most recent Party Congress Kim Jong Un presented the notion of “our way of life.” In the summary report, Kim Jong Un mentioned that “The important issues are to establish our way of life and thoroughly overcome anti-socialistic elements.” He’s justifying the enactment of the anti-reactionary thought law, while also contradicting his own statement that “people are regarded with the utmost importance.” North Koreans are just starting to open their eyes to freedom and human rights, but how can people be regarded with the utmost most importance if he is holding them back? Is it appropriate to block and punish North Korean resident’s interests after adopting a “people-first policy”?  

Kim Jong Un feels the need to differentiate himself by creating his own ruling ideology apart from the Juche ideology of self-reliance and military-first politics of his predecessors.  When Kim Jong Un first came to power he made vague slogans about Kim Jong Il’s patriotism and “affection-toward-the-people” policies, but after ten years in power he has since replaced these with his “people-first” policy. However, it is obvious that this is just a fabricated spirit of the times. It is unreasonable to mention a people-first policy while at the same time legally and institutionally annihilating citizen’s freedoms and their human rights.

There was a very interesting newspaper article that I remember paying close attention to. It said “Even birds will rise against a dictatorship.” The point was that when the animal that is the ruling class always make self-serving decisions then the animal in the lower class will work collectively. 

If insignificant birds will resist a dictatorship, then wouldn’t reasonable people also do so? The more that Kim Jong Un strengthens his dictatorship the bigger the people’s resistance will become.

*Translated by Grant Everett

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