North Korea announced the death of Kim Il Sung two days after it happened in 1994. Authorities mobilized all of the TV, newspaper and broadcast propaganda agencies to create an atmosphere of mourning for Kim Il Sung and smoothly continue the praise Kim Jong Il. At the time, the media in North Korea described Kim Jong Il as a leader ‘who looks like the Supreme Leader Kim Il Sung’, ‘one of a kind’ and a ‘Great Leader’.
The media encouraged the people to put their destiny in Kim Jong Il’s hands and serve him so that he may fill the absence caused by the death of the Supreme Leader, Kim Il Sung. Many years of brainwashing and efforts to maintain the primary socialist order ensured nobody thought otherwise.
It did not take any coercion for the North Korean people to mourn the loss of Kim Il Sung. The wailing, heart-clenching and fist-pounding was genuine. And for that reason they quickly accepted and believed in only The General Kim Jong Il, like some kind of deity, and soon came to terms with the fact that the only choice was to obey him. It was a way to fill their empty hearts with a new leader.
In 1995, a year after the death of Kim Il Sung, the people suffered from unprecedented hunger in most regions of North Korea. Millions of people died from starvation. People lay infirmed inside their homes, and corpses could be seen lying in the streets, piled upon each other from house to house.
In fact, some people appeared to worry more about General Kim Jong Il than their own children. Such actions are only possible with a backdrop of ideological slavery. Only a few complained that this misfortune was because of the loss of the Supreme Leader.
As the days went by, the standard of living became no better. Despite shortages of food, the people had to pay taxes and a certain percentage of their produce to authorities, and gunshots ringing out in different areas didn’t help. Following in the footsteps of Kim Il Sung was hard, and Kim Jong Il’s leadership was starting to slowly crumble. The North Korean people started to find ways to live on their own, learning to trade and break their dependence on the state, and continued living that way for ten or so years.
However, the Party of North Korea and its propaganda machine was stubborn. The public’s faith in their leader kept fading, yet the ideolization of Kim Jong Il increased more and more as time went by. In the early 2000s, Kim Jong Il was presented as the ‘Sun of the 21st century’. The authorities constantly told the people that if they endured another three years, in 2003 unification would be realised and they would be able to eat meat soup every day. These were the exact words of the propaganda told to the North Korean people through a recorded tape.
The tape said that the number three was preferred in North Korea because ours was a country surrounded by three areas of beautiful sea landscape and which had served the three Generals of Baekdu. They emphasized that all of the food issue would be resolved.
In addition they said said, “The General knows the food crisis our people face, and it is for them that he walks over the steep, snow-covered mountains of Hum Jung Ryeong and sleeps short hours, eating small meals while conducting field guidance all over the land.” The propaganda brimmed with emotion, but really it was nothing more than empty promises.
The people started getting sick and tired of hearing the same old slogans over and over: “Even through rocky roads let us smile”; “If we go through great lengths of suffering, even greater deeds will happen”; and “Self-reliance is the only way out”. These slogans the authorities parroted were little relief; they felt more like verbal lashings.
North Koreans are no longer slaves like in the past. Travellers to visit relatives in China, defectors, traders and trafficking now brings foreign goods and news into North Korea. When this information began to come in, it spread very quickly, and then of course, the Korean Wave phenomenon took off.
Most people in North Korea want reform and opening. They know that the reason the country is poor is not because of Yankees, South Korean puppets, global warming or food shortages due to abnormal weather. They realize it was because of the Kim Jong Il regime which opposed reform and economic liberation.
Since 2005, North Korean people began to openly acknowledge that the country would only survive through reform and liberation, but that Kim Jong Il was standing in the way. They knew that such goals would be impossible as long as Kim Jong Il was alive.
In fact, some of North Korea’s economic professionals once suggested the cautious loosening of the command economy to solve the nation’s problems, but Kim Jong Il barked back, “It sounds like you are asking me to put down the Red Flag, but do not expect even a small change from me”. Kim Jong Il’s words were repeated among high to low ranking officials of military units.
At that time many people believed that there would be no reform as long Kim Jong Il was living. How could there be, when it was his existence that stood in the way? The unanimous viewpoint of nearly every single person I came across in 20 years of military service and 16 years following that as an ordinary member of society was that reform was impossible as long as Kim Jong Il was alive.
As people believe that reform and opening is the only way to live, the recent death of Kim Jong Il makes the people eager for change. People’s feelings about the death of Kim Jong Il are very clear. They will be mourning out loud, but will come home and smile quietly.
In this huge event, the death of Kim Jong Il, most North Korean people will feel very differently compared to the memorial of Kim Il Sung. The people can no longer ignore the times; the ‘Our Socialist Way’ model cannot work anymore and those leaders who maintain this policy are no longer welcomed.
From inside sources I have heard of the different atmosphere in North Korea compared with the death of Kim Il Sung. They have told me that the people do not show signs of grief in private gatherings. They are saying, “I don’t feel as sad as when Kim Il Sung died.” They say that they would need to feel something to cry, but there is nothing that would make them do so this time around. These are the real, raw feelings of the North Korean people.