North Korea’s ‘jangmadang generation’ questions the necessity of the Party Congress

A major objective of North Korea’s 7th
Workers’ Party Congress is the consolidation of public loyalty. However, many
residents, particularly those from the jangmadang [market economy, official or otherwise] generation are expressing indifference
toward the event, citing a complete lack of benefit from the political body.

“In the past, the Workers’ Party was seen
as a motherly figure, and without it, some thought they would not be able to
live prosperously. But these days, the prestige and authority of the Party has
fallen to such a degree that many refuse to join, even when offered,” a Daily
NK source in Ryanggang Province said, adding, “People don’t care much for Party
membership, and say that their livelihoods are much more important.”

In the past, it was widely believed that as
long as Party directives were obediently followed, a happy life in an “Earthly
paradise,” would be possible, but this type of propaganda is no longer
persuasive. In the aftermath of recent international sanctions, people’s trust
in the Party has crumbled as more pertinent worries focus on the negative
impact that the sanctions will have on their livelihoods, noted the source.

The source also asserts that the jangmadang
generation, who grew up in the late 1990s around the time of the widespread famine,
has begun to quietly reject the Party’s authority. Having learned how to
survive for themselves after the complete collapse of the state’s ration
system, this generation has harbored disgruntlement and distrust rather than
loyalty toward an authority that has failed to provide for them as outlined in
the Constitution.

The recent rise of Hallyu [the South Korean
cultural wave] has also contributed to a spectacular decline in loyalty. Having
watched South Korean TV dramas and entertainment shows, the younger generation
has come to realize the fabrications inherent in North Korean government
propaganda.

“Young people openly laugh when they are
told that they should voluntarily express their loyalty toward the regime,”
the source said, adding, “Hearing stories that Kim Jong Un learned how to shoot
from the age of 3 has little effect on a generation who consider their leader
to be just another human being.”

The diminishing authority of Party cadres
is also becoming evident. To the jangmadang generation, Party cadres are
considered to be economic parasites who survive by extorting those working in
the markets. Having grown up in a culture of pervasive bribery and blackmail,
the younger generation has quickly realized that Party cadres do not work to
serve the public, and have come to question why the Party exists at all.

Another source in North Hamgyong Province
also weighed in on this trend saying, “People no longer invest their time and
effort into trying to join the Party, and paying for Party membership with a
bribe is a thing of the past.” These attitudes reflect a steep decline in the
status of the Party that once symbolized the absolute power of the country’s
dictator.

Moreover, the jangmadang generation is not
only dismissive of the once-revered status that the Party Congress held, it
harbors discontent toward a leader that has mobilized the population without
due cause or reparation. For this reason many observers believe the Party
Congress will fail to achieve its goal of improving loyalty within the
population.

The jangmadang generation has now emerged
as a significant influence within all sectors of North Korean society including
politics and culture, as well as economic and military affairs. Sources agree
that members of this emerging generation are increasingly placing greater
importance on their individual freedom to pursue happiness, as they begin to
reject the restrictions placed upon them by the regime. 

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