[Viewpoint] The Workers’ Party is watching youAs soon as members of the North Korean Workers’ Party of Korea report to work at 7:30 a.m., they sit down for a daily reading. They pore over the official newspaper Rodong Sinmun and the party bulletin.
They then make their way through each room to bow to photos of the deceased “great leader” Kim Il Sung and “dear leader” Kim Jong-il on the wall. Their chores also include keeping their picture frames squeaky clean. At 8 p.m. on Wednesday and Thursday, they must listen to lectures given by senior comrades from party executive committees.
On Saturdays, they sit through an eight-hour “political training” course and must attend singing sessions on “fealty themes” three to five times a year. Their daily itinerary also contains self-questioning quiet time to ruminate whether he or she has faithfully abided by party regulations and manifesto. From the paltry pay they receive at the end of every month they convert 2 percent into new bills and donate them to the party.
The number of members of the Workers’ Party who live under such rigorous and disciplinary order totals two to three million, about 10 percent of the North Korean population. They are closely watched and evaluated by senior party members on whether they abide by party rules. Their evaluation report becomes crucial criteria for promotion or work placements. Anyone neglecting to properly respect the pictures or statues of the royal Kim family - Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong-il and Kim Jong-il’s mother, Kim Jong-suk - faces severe punishment as a political felon. Some eight million members of the Kim Il Sung Sociality Youth League must comply to similarly stringent rules.
But these are lifestyle traditions and discipline they must uphold separately from their regular job requirements. North Koreans nevertheless regard the party post as the most prestigious job. Non-party members cannot get anywhere in the country.
Even if one is not aligned to the party, he or she must attend all political events their workplace attends or hosts. Otherwise, not only their job, but their life as well as their families’ would be on the line.
According to defectors’ testimonies, the number of youths aspiring to be party members is decreasing. With food distribution now scarce amid economic strife, young people prefer to seek a chance to make money free of party obligations and regulations. But the majority still wants to join the party to move up in society.
Generals in the North Korean military are all party members. Executives of the cabinet, factories, corporate and farm cooperatives also are registered with the country’s single party. Regardless of their rank, the employees of the National Security Agency and intelligence organizations must be aligned with the party.
Former communist and socialist ally nations of the Soviet Union and the Eastern European bloc converted to capitalism a generation ago. China and Vietnam, which are politically rooted in socialism, are even more capitalism-driven than Western societies in some economic and social areas.
But North Korea adheres to extreme socialist ways and traditions. This tight way of running the party ship is the secret behind keeping the society intact and sheltered from outside influence. The rigid lifestyle that party members lead sets an example and inspires loyalty from the ordinary North Korean citizens.
Additionally, North Koreans live under strict and constant observation. As much as 50,000 to 80,000 secret police officers are stationed in villages and towns across the nation. There are also tens of thousands civilians who collaborate with the secret police to report regularly on their neighbors and village people.
They keep their eye on every action and comment of ordinary residents who squeal about suspicious behavior. The secret police headquarters run numerous cells and prison camps with the authority to arrest, persecute, imprison and even kill the so-called political felons without any trial.
Such a controlled lifestyle dates back as far as the 1970s. North Koreans have become accustomed to a life dominated by the party for more than half a century. We have to wonder about the odds of such a thoroughly docile society crumbling like the Eastern European bloc.
We dread to imagine the shock and disarray when that day arrives in the hermit community. Military clashes may be inevitable. Are we ready to confront such catastrophic consequences? For now, the more realistic option may be to wait for incremental and voluntary changes within the country.
*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kang Young-jin