Simmering resentmentThe word partisan — originating from parti in French, meaning divided — refers to a member or an organized body of a resistance movement in occupied territory. The word became fixed to refer to guerrilla fighters of North Korea. A dictionary published by Pyongyang defines “Bbalchisan” in Korean as guerrilla troops or guerrilla warfare. North Korean founder Kim Il Sung touted his Manchurian partisan struggles as the roots of the communist regime in the north.
Mt. Paektu is still honored as a revolutionary sanctuary. The Kim family ruled over the country for three generations as the legitimate Paektu, or revolutionary, bloodline. Descendants of the guerrilla movement make up the elite of the Pyongyang regime. The Pyongyang regime remains intact until this day with the help of the meticulously-orchestrated personality cult of the Kim dynasty.
The third-generation leader Kim Jong-un recently visited the remodeled Korean Revolution Museum in Pyongyang. The museum commemorates the anti-Japanese resistance movement to the present day. But it was hard to get a glimpse of the exhibits since the state-run Korean Central Television was busy capturing Kim smiling broadly and stooping to hug and converse with an elderly woman in a wheelchair. The 98-year-old lady was the director of the museum, Hwang Sun-hui.
Hwang was a nurse in Kim Il Sung’s guerrilla group. After liberation from Japan, she came to North Korea and acted as a key player in the founding regime. She enjoyed an unrivalled rank in the party because of her revolutionary credentials. Her husband was national war hero Ryu Kyung-su, the brigade head of the 105th Armored Division, which was North Korea’s first armored unit to arrive in Seoul to hoist the North Korean flag at City Hall after the June 25, 1950 invasion. In January, Kim visited the highly-honored brigade to watch a winter infantry drill and told the soldiers to “wipe out South Korean enemies with a force so strong that they won’t know what hit them.”
Hugging Hwang is a family tradition and familiar sight for North Koreans. Kim Il Sun and his son Kim Jong-il also used her as a propaganda exhibit. Kim Jong-un performed the act in April 2013 and July in his first year as ruler. “Hwang has been so squeezed that she must not have any juice left in her,” one defector said. She has served as a propaganda tool since Kim Il Sung’s time and will remain so until her last breath.
Kim Jong-un, who succeeded his father at the age of 27 after his sudden death six years ago, needed all the propaganda help he could get to quickly carve out a personality cult. His grooming period of three to four years was hardly enough to assure the party and military elite in Pyongyang, not to mention the public.
His father was at his own father’s side for 20 years after being formerly anointed heir apparent in a party convention in February 1974. Kim Jong-un emulated the way his grandfather wore his hair, clothes, talked and walked in hopes of borrowing his deity-like image to gain public confidence. Still that was not enough. There was not a single photo that could unquestionably trace him back to the revolutionary bloodline. That is why he had to be seen with the bedridden senile woman by the public at large.
The partisans in North Korea are the permanent elite. They have learned how to retain power under the absolute rule of the Kim family. Their comfort and status are guaranteed as long as they feign loyalty to the ruler.
Still, North Korean defectors report small, subtle changes. Some among the partisan descendents and elite are complaining of the outdated and reckless ways of Kim. They have been appalled by the young leader’s execution of senior officials before the eyes of their family. One internal document from North Korea included a sage voice lamenting the pitiful state the country was in due to the ignorance of an inexperienced young leader and the sad condition of their keeping silent. The voices of resentment and resistance may be building up in North Korea.
JoongAng Ilbo, March 31, Page 32
*The author is the head of the Unification Research Institute at JoongAng Ilbo and a unification specialist for the paper.