Asia | World order, diplomacy and governance | Book Reviews

north korea | kim il-sung | north korea - japan

[Barbara Demick, Dear Leader. Living in North Korea. Turner. Madrid, 2011. 382 pages]

review / Isabel López

All dictatorships are the same to a certain extent. Regimes such as Stalin, Mao, Ceaucescu or Saddam Hussein shared having installed statues of these leaders in the main squares and their portraits in every corner... However, Kim Il-sung took the cult of personality even further in North Korea. What distinguished him from the rest was his ability to exploit the power of faith. That is, he understood the power of religion very well. He used faith to attribute supernatural powers to himself that served for his glorification staff, as if he were a God.

So it looks in Dear Leader. Living in North Korea, by journalist Barbara Demick, who worked as a Los Angeles Times correspondent in Seoul. The book chronicles the lives of six North Koreans from the city of Chongjin, located in the far north of the country. Through these six profiles, from people belonging to the most class leave , called beuhun, to the most privileged class , Demick exposes the different stages that have marked the history of North Korea.

Until the conquest and occupation of Japan in the 1905 war, the Korean Empire ruled. During the rule of the neighboring country, Koreans were forced to pay high tribute and young men were taken with the Japanese army to fight in the Pacific war. After the withdrawal of Japanese troops in 1945, a new problem arose as the Soviet Union had occupied part of northern Korea. This led the United States to become involved in order to stop the Russian advance. As a result, the territory was divided into two zones: the southern part occupied by the United States and the northern part occupied by the Soviet Union. In 1950 both factions were involved in the Korean War, which ended in 1953.

After the armistice, there was a prisoner release exchange whereby the communist forces released thousands of people, more than half of whom were South Koreans. However, thousands of others never returned home. The released prisoners were put into wagons leaving Pyongyang station with the presumed intention of returning them to their place of origin in the South, but in reality they were taken to the coal mines in North Korea, on the border with China. As a result of the war, the population had become mixed and it was no longer possible to distinguish between North and South Koreans.

At the end of the war, Kim Il-sung, leader of the Workers' Party, began to purge all those who could endanger his leadership, based on a criterion of political reliability. Between 1960 and 1970, a regime was established which the author describes as one of terror and chaos. The background of each citizen was subjected to eight checks and a classification was established based on the past of their relatives, becoming a caste system as rigid as that of India. This structure was largely based on the Confucian system, although the less friendly elements of it were adopted. Finally, the social categories were grouped into three classes: the main, the wavering, and the hostile. In the latter were the soothsayers, artists and prisoners of war, among others.

Those belonging to the class more leave had no right to live in the capital or in the most fertile areas and were closely watched by their neighbors. In addition, the so-called inminban were created, a term that reference letter refers to the cooperatives formed by about twenty families who managed their respective neighborhoods and were responsible for transmitting any suspicions to the authorities. It was impossible to rise through the ranks, which was passed on from generation to generation.

Children were taught respect for the party and hatred for Americans. The Education was compulsory until the age of 15. Thereafter only children belonging to the higher classes were admitted to Education high school. The most intelligent and beautiful girls were taken to work for Kim Il-sung.

Until the end of the 1960s North Korea seemed much stronger than South Korea. This caused public opinion in Japan to align into two camps, those who supported South Korea and those who sympathized with the North, called Chosen Soren. Thousands of people succumbed to the propaganda. The Japanese who emigrated to North Korea lived in a different world from the North Koreans since they received money and gifts from their families, although they had to give some of the money to the regime. However, they were considered part of the hostile class , since the regime did not trust anyone wealthy who did not belong to the party. Their power depended on their ability to totally isolate the citizens.

The book covers Japan's relationship with North Korea and its influence on the North Korean economy development . When at the beginning of the 20th century Japan decided to build an empire, it occupied Manchuria and seized the iron and coal deposits near Musan. The city of Chongjin was chosen as a strategic port for transporting the spoils. Between 1910 and 1950, the Japanese built huge steel mills and founded the city of Nanam, where large buildings were constructed: the real development of North Korea began. Kim Il-sung displayed industrial power by taking credit for it and did not give any credit to Japan. The North Korean authorities took control of industry and then installed missiles aimed at Japan.

The author also describes the lives of the women factory workers who supported the country's economic development . Factories depended on women because of the lack of male labor. The routine of a female factory worker, which was considered a privileged position, consisted of eight hours a day, seven days a week, plus the added hours to continue her ideological training . Also, assemblies such as that of the socialist women and self-criticism sessions were organized.

On the other hand, it emphasizes the fact to what extent people were molded, who were regenerated to see Kim Il-sung as a great father and protector. In his purpose to remake human nature Kim Il-sung developed a new philosophical system based on Marxist and Leninist thesis called Juche, which translates as self-confidence. He made the Korean people see that they were special and had been the chosen people. This thought captivated a community that had been trampled on by its neighbors for centuries. He taught that the strength of human beings came from the ability to submit their individual will to the collective will and that collectivity was to be ruled by an absolute leader, Kim Il-sung.

However, this idea was not enough for the leader, who also wanted to be loved. The author states that "he did not want to be seen as Stalin but as Santa Claus": he was to be regarded as a father in the Confucian style. Indoctrination started from infancy in kindergartens. During the following years they would not listen to any song, they would not read any article that was not deifying the figure of Kim Il-sung. They were given lapel pins with his face on them, which they were obliged to wear on the left side, over the heart, and his portrait had to be in every house. Everything was distributed free of charge by the Workers' Party.

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