North Korean residents are terrified that leader Kim Jong Un’s recent call to eliminate remaining “non-socialist” elements in society will mean a return to the bloody executions and fearful politics of the past when nonconformists were weeded out and brutally neutralized, sources inside the country said.
When Kim addressed the nation on the first day of the new year, as he has done annually since 2013, he said that eliminating non-socialist elements in society would be a key task for 2018 in the repressive nation.
Under the campaign, high-level party executives and ordinary North Koreans alike are subject to screenings to determine if they have engaged in non-socialist activities, such as gambling, fraud, prostitution, usury, visiting fortunetellers, following Western culture, and watching or distributing foreign visual media.
The directive comes as Kim, who has been in power for six years, tightens his control over the repressive country as it feels the squeeze of new tough sanctions imposed by the United Nations as punishment for recent missile launches, and experiences heightened tensions with the United States.
Kim’s father, Kim Jong Il, who ruled North Korea from 1994 to 2011, directed previous rounds of grisly purges of non-socialist elements to fortify his grip on power.
Though Kim also discussed the country’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs, the possibility of holding conditional talks with South Korea on sending a delegation to the upcoming Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, and the “unprecedented” level of sanctions North Korea suffered in 2017, his call to action about weeding out non-socialist elements reverberated with many citizens.
Kim gave more details about this key task for the new year on Dec. 23, when he told a group of chairpersons of the ruling Korean Workers’ Party at a three-day conference that he had ordered rank-and-file organizations to lead a “revolutionary offensive to uproot non-socialist practices,” according to the official news agency KCNA.
“He said the offensive should be launched in the party cells, the bases educating the party members and other working people and training them into revolutionaries, and the lowest revolutionary posts defending Korean-style socialism,” KCNA said in its English edition.
In that speech, Kim stressed the role of party cells in building a powerful socialist country and said that destructive non-socialist practices have occurred because party organizations and officials had failed in their efforts to provide constant socialist education to people and to intensify the nation’s ideological struggle.
“When our socialist culture and art prevails over the corrupt bourgeois reactionary culture, it is possible for people not to harbor illusions about the enemies’ culture but to prevent ideological and cultural poisoning by the imperialists,” he was quoted as saying.
Kim also said that even though the country “may face manifold difficulties and hardships in the days ahead,” members of the Party Central Committee feel reassured about the hundreds of thousands of cell chairpersons who will carry out the regime’s policies.
“What we have done is just the beginning and the Party Central Committee plans to conduct more new projects for the people,” he said, though he did not provide details.
Getting away with it
North Koreans now fear that high-level executives in key government agencies who engage in “non-socialist activities” will get away with their misdeeds, while powerless ordinary people who get caught will bear the brunt of harsh punishments, including death, the sources said.
“To accomplish tasks from the New Year’s message, each regional party unit, judicial authorities, and organizations have announced their New Year’s plan,” said a source from North Hamgyong province, who requested anonymity.
“The big part of the first project of the annual plan is focusing on rooting out non-socialist elements, so the social atmosphere appears uneasy,” he told RFA’s Korean Service on Tuesday.
“The North Hamgyong Party Committee will temporarily organize an agency under its auspices to root out non-socialist elements,” the source said.
The dominant Korean Workers’ Party, judicial authorities, and administrative officials are organizing members for their joint non-socialist elements team, he said.
“Residents are resentful of the high-level executives who will be on the team because they are the main culprits of non-socialist activities,” the source said. “It is because high-level executives have always been at the center of non-socialist phenomena.”
“Residents have expressed anger over the results of the screenings,” the source said, adding that the children of executives working for the party or the State Security Department who are summoned for screenings manage to get off on “sick bail’ or another phony excuse.
A powerless college student who has been accused of distributing improper visual images, for example, was executed by a firing squad, he said, illustrating the brutal punishments that authorities sometimes mete out for ordinary citizens who are thought to have engaged in forbidden activities.
Authorities also often accuse people who are unemployed or who do not sell any goods at markets of being non-socialist elements of society, and they “suffocate” them by withholding electricity, water, or food, he said.
“Non-socialist elements will fade away on their own if there are reasonable [food] distributions by the country as a reward for labor,” the source said.
A second source from North Hamgyong confirmed that ordinary North Koreans are living in fear after hearing Kim Jong Un's New Year’s Day speech.
“Ordinary residents who barely make enough to get by from day to day do not have time to think about non-socialist elements,” he said.
“When the screenings begin, however, the executives make false charges against powerless poor people to prove their own effectiveness when it comes to wiping out non-socialist elements, which is something that residents fear,” the source said.
Reported by Jieun Kim for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Translated by Leejin Jun. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.