Written By Tae-Seop Heo (2012-07-22)

Translated by Halim Lee (2012-09-18)

One of the biggest peculiarities of the North Korean society is that its national policy hasn’t changed for many decades. Most of the North Korean policies have been established during the late 1950s and early 1960s when Kim Il-sung announced the victory of socialism.

In North Korea, public enterprises still continue to unify upon “Dae-An’s Enterprise Structure” whereas farmers convene upon “Rural Thesis”. “Dae-An’s Enterprise Structure” refers to Kim’s socialistic industrial management approach that he implemented during his on-site supervision at Dae-An Electricity Plant (equivalent of heavy machinery plant nowadays) in the city of Nampo in 1961. “Rural Structure” is an agricultural policy established in 1960 during Kim’s on-site supervision over cooperative farmland in Chungsan-ri, Gangseo-kun, Pyeongannam-do.

The essence of industry management and “Rural Thesis”, introduced by Kim in the early 1960s, is totalitarianism. This 60 years old policy has abdicated the economy as subsidiary of politics and it is still cemented as the logic for the North Korean economy. In other words, the policy of 60 years old society is governing North Korea.

There is an irretrievable discrepancy between the stagnated policy and the current North Korean society. And this is the where contradictions frequently seen in North Korean fundamentally start from. While time is constantly moving, the North Korean government is infringing the 60 years old policy and law upon its society and citizen to sustain the state.

North Korea is faced with the irreconcilable conflict caused by the difference in pursuits of the North Korean government and relatively changing pursuits of its citizen. What lies behind the conflict is apparent. Citizens who make up most of the society are thirsty for any changes that would bring a better life. They know better than anyone else that without a change, a better life is impossible.

However, the government is insisting on “tradition and revolution”, which rationalizes the hereditary succession of power, for its system continuation. Here in North Korea, there is not even a room for freedom to discuss whether “tradition and revolution” is truly beneficial for the state.

For North Korean citizen, the current policy and laws are like a tail of a tiger. You would die regardless of your decision: catch it or drop it. If you let the tail go, you would be oppressed by the government whereas if you hold on to it, your life would be threatened – and this is the relationship between the North Korean policy and its citizens.

If people abided the policy and law in North Korea, it comes to a conclusion that there would be all dead men or alive, almost with nothing. The reason is simple. All workers including high rank executives earn a monthly income of 1-1.5 kg of rice, a price equivalent of a piece of underwear. Food rationing was abolished more than 15 years ago.

Despite the fact that most people suffer from such difficulties, they still manage to eat food and wear clothes. This is possible because of underground individual economic activity. In North Korea, you have to ignore the national policy and law in order to survive. In other words, underground individual economic activity is considered as a survival tactic in North Korea.

While industrial enterprises are becoming nominal, the citizens including markets are sustaining their lives with individual economic activities. However, the policy and laws illegalize or identify individual economic activity as enemy due to the fact that it is a characteristic of individualism. In North Korea, people’s way of living is in direct proportion to violation of law. More proficient in violating law, the quality of life gets higher.  

The 60 year-old North Korean policies and laws, still actively practiced, have become the subject of violation and avoidance instead of protection and obedience.  In the end, the North Korean policy and law are disabling people and fostering a great number of criminals. This also expands the exercise of government to an infringement upon personal rights.

Scrutinizing what caused hundreds of millions of deaths in the middle and late 1990s, famine is not the sole culprit. For several decades, many people failed to adapt to the brutal reality of survival (market economy) and died of starvation after the abolition of food rationing. Today’s life is worse than the middle and late 1990s. However, there is no such catastrophe of death caused by starvation. It is because everyone has now adjusted to individual activity, another survival strategy for brutal competition.

Unlike its citizens, the government is not grasping the reality. The deepest problem of North Korea originates from a conflict between changed and unchanged and between a demand and refusal for change. If this transitional uncertainty continues, the foothold of the government will be impaired, potentially becoming a seed for “turbulence”.

The determination of the North Korean regime is no longer a story of the future. Without a new policy, there will be no future for North Korea. Indeed, wouldn’t reform and opening be the real prospect policy to eliminate the fundamental contradiction between the state and its citizen. 

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