Love and hate
The regime in North Korea is not at all as unpopular as we would like to believe. The personality cults around Stalin, Mussolini and Mao may seem like a long time ago to the modern mind, but in North Korea it is still very much a reality. People really, really love Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il. And they really, really fear the outside world. They are not some angry group of people secretly aspiring to freedom and democracy, holding their tongues out of fear yet crying for help. And if they are suffering materially they are willing to put up with it because they seriously believe in the righteousness of the ruling party.
Media is all over it as soon as someone comes to say how they perilously defected from North Korea and how everything is so much better in the US or in South Korea. But why does nobody seem to notice how many defectors actually bribe their way back into North Korea? It is easy to say apologetically that “oh well, they are all brainwashed”, and to think of propaganda as something empty that holds no real meaning. But you can be damn sure that it means something to the North Koreans. Tragically little attention is paid to how the North Koreans actually perceive themselves, or what we can learn from North Korean propaganda.
You hear about “Communist North Korea” and the “Communist Workers Party of Korea”, but the idea of racial superiority is as far from Communism as it can possibly get. It is NOT like Marx’s idea of ”workers of the world unite” AT ALL. The North Korean ideology is a RACE THEORY. That means that the North Koreans view themselves as better than everyone else. They believe themselves to be inherently more pure and morally superior to any other races. They are better than the Americans, they are better than some of their only remaining friends in the world in Africa, and they are better than the Japanese (even though, paradoxically, the Japanese were the ones who introduced the race ideology to the Korean peninsula in the first place). To some degree they are also better than the South Koreans, who belong to the same race but are sullied by foreign influence and are now suffering under the yoke of the US. In that way the ideology in North Korea is actually more similar to Fascism – on the opposite end of the scale from the extreme left Communism. In fact, North Korea has altogether deleted the word ‘Communism’ from its constitution.
Long time view
The broader North Korean view over their own history is all about how their pureness and morality made them into sitting ducks to the evil forces from outside. Over the centuries the Korean peninsula has indeed been subject to invasions numerous times, but instead of focusing on their strategic geopolitical location as the reason why they have been invaded, the North Koreans tend to like to explain it by saying that the people are just too virtuous and too innocent to survive on their own in a harsh and evil world.
Arirang Mass Games
The perception in the West of the spectacular annual Mass Games in North Korea, which is one of the very few aspects of North Korean culture which many people know about, is that it is a sign of how the regime is trying to oppressively stamp out its people’s personal identity and independence. This is not so. The North Koreans feel pride in the homogeneity of their race as the source of its strength and unity and that is what they do to celebrate it, along with the birthday of Kim Il-Sung.
Juche is NOT the main ideology in North Korea. The Juche ideology was created by Kim Il-Sung, and is often translated as “main subject”, always placing Korean interests at the fore. But it does not contain any food for thought whatsoever. In fact, political analyst Brian Reynolds Myers goes as far as to say that Juche is just a “sham doctrine”, which enables North Koreans to place something on the top bookshelf and say “our leader Kim Il-Sung is just as good as Mao was”, and that it exists not to be read but only to be praised.