Facing rising public discontent, North Korea targets drinking sessions

Kim Jong Un
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un making a speech at Workers’ Party of Korea conference on April 9, 2019. / Image: Rodong Sinmun

North Korean residents are increasingly expressing their discontent with the Kim Jong Un regime. Reflecting this worsening sentiment, North Korean authorities have ordered local officials to cut back on the number of meetings organized to study Kim Jong Un’s speeches, along with drinking sessions enjoyed by workers. In the eyes of regime officials, these gatherings are providing opportunities for criticism of the regime to occur. 

“The order was sent down to state-run factories and collective farms on August 5,” a South Hamgyong Province-based source told Daily NK on September 2. “The order stated that an active battle (campaign) must be launched to fight against gatherings where people eat and drink while expressing discontent and spreading false rumors.” 

The source added that the order said that “discontent is common during drinking sessions” and that such gatherings must therefore be “reduced.” 

Sources also informed Daily NK about another recent order handed down by North Korean officials. “This order calls on factories and collective farms to organize sessions devoted to learning the wise sayings of the Respected Supreme Leader (Kim Jong Un),” another source from the same province told Daily NK. These “wise sayings” include orders Kim has handed down to various sectors of the economy, ranging from the military and cultural arts to the agriculture and coal industries. 

The sessions are aimed at improving workers’ understanding of the goals Kim has laid out for each economic sector and to encourage the achievement of such goals. 

The order also places emphasis on “self-sufficiency” to achieve these goals. “The order calls on the North Korean people to learn from the spirit of self-sufficiency and hard work displayed by all generations in the revolution,” the source said. 

As sanctions still weigh on the North Korean economy, the regime has been emphasizing self-sufficiency to overcome the country’s economic troubles and achieve the goals set out by the “five-year strategy for the national economic development,” which is scheduled for completion next year. 

In the same vein, North Korean state media has continued to emphasize “learning” of the Party’s policies to both prevent internal unrest and “break through” economic difficulties. In a commentary entitled “Learning the Party’s Policies” in the August 11 edition of the Rodong Sinmun, the newspaper stated “There is no way to develop one’s own work in line with the Party’s intentions if one fails to clearly understand the teachings of the Great Suryong (Kim Jong Un) specific to one’s work.”

The aforementioned order also included a directive to increase agricultural production prior to the harvest season. 

“The order called on farms to repair threshers, tractors, and carts used in the harvesting process before the fall farming season, and to harvest the first and second batch of crops at the right time,” the source said. 

Suffering from a lack of farmland, North Korea engages in a great deal of “double-cropping,” which is a practice used to improve agricultural production. The crops used as the “first crop” in this process are typically wheat and barley, while the second crop focuses on vegetables such as potatoes, corn, onions and garlic. 

The order also included a call to increase the production of grains given that the “agricultural front” is the “first line of defense” to protect socialism from imperialism.

Daily NK sources say that joint calls for an increase in agricultural production along with efforts to restrict expressions of discontent during such activities as drinking suggests the regime believes that public criticism is due to the country’s economic difficulties. 

“It has been uncommon for the regime to call for greater restrictions on the ‘social atmosphere’,” a former official in the Workers’ Party of Korea apparatus told Daily NK. “These types of orders to lower discontent were used to quell complaints among the people when the economy began to worsen in the 1980s, during the Arduous March of the 1990s, and after the currency reform of 2009.” 

It is clear from the orders that the Kim Jong Un regime is well aware of the complaints stemming from the continuing economic downturn, the former official said. “The order was handed down to quell unrest, but it also shows that the authorities have little else other than calls for self-sufficiency to offer,” he added. 

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Seulkee Jang is one of Daily NK's full-time journalists. Please direct any questions about her articles to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.