North Korea Preaches Self-Reliance to Struggling Citizens

Angry residents say self-reliance is ‘fiction’ and not a real solution to economic problems.
North Korea Preaches Self-Reliance to Struggling Citizens In this file photo, a statue stands in front of the Juche (self-reliance) Tower in the North Korean capital of Pyongyang.

North Korea is forcing citizens to attend ideological education sessions promoting self-reliance as the solution to their economic woes, but the people say the sessions are an unhelpful waste of time, sources in the country told RFA.

During the ruling Korean Workers’ Party’s eighth congress in January, leader Kim Jong Un admitted that the country “fell a long way short” of objectives set during the last congress in 2016 and called for more self-reliance citing North Korea’s founding Juche ideology.

The term Juche is described as North Korea’s nationalistic state ideology of independence and self-reliance.

Current economic hardships, however, have underscored North Korea’s heavy dependence on trade with China, which ground to a halt after Pyongyang and Beijing in January 2020 closed their border and suspended all trade due to coronavirus concerns, with disastrous effects.

The economic downturn that followed resulted in factories shutting their doors, commerce in entire towns drying up, and food and energy shortages.

Instead of finding ways to support the vulnerable populace with food or income subsidies, sources said the government is requiring that the people attend one more ideological learning session per week to emphasize self-reliance.

A resident of North Hamgyong province, in the country’s northeast, told RFA’s Korean Service June 6 that the provincial party committee received orders to supervise the stepped-up sessions.

“The lessons are in full swing at companies and neighborhood watch units,” said the source, who requested anonymity for security reasons.

“The self-reliance lessons started earlier this month and residents are complaining they must attend three times per week,” the source said.

Ideological learning sessions were originally only twice a week, on Tuesdays and Saturdays, but starting in June the residents must go Monday, Wednesday and Saturday according to the source.

“At a fishing gear factory in the city of Chongjin’s Pohang district, employees are studying what was laid out at the Eighth Party Congress in January,” the source said.

“The workers are confused because the factory purchases Chinese raw materials to make fishing equipment. Now they are suddenly being forced to be self-reliant without these raw materials,” said the source.

The study guide used in the educational sessions emphasizes the completion the self-reliant structure of the national economy, reduction of the dependence on imports, and stabilization of people’s livelihoods through realistic possibilities, according to the source.

“If we reduce our dependence on imports, where and how will we get production materials? The word ‘self-reliance’ itself is just fiction and has no chance of realization,” the source said.

“The party is once again trying to instill the spirit of self-reliance in the people simply by increasing ideological education. But the residents see through the Party’s policy, saying that no amount of self-reliance will bring in the raw materials,” said the source.

Residents are doing their best to be as self-reliant as possible, the source said, but they are at the point where there is nothing more, they can do to improve the situation.

“They are saying they are now sick of hearing the word ‘self-reliance.’”

Another source, a resident of Chongju in the northwestern province of North Pyongan, confirmed to RFA June 7 that citizens there are also going to more educational sessions these days.

“Residents who are struggling to make a living are invited to ideology sessions about self-reliance. They’ve started to complain about it,” said the second source, who requested anonymity to speak freely.

Because of the increase from two to three educational sessions per week, the residents are complaining even during the learning sessions.

“Some residents shouted that they are too busy making ends meet or tending to their vegetable gardens and cannot understand why the authorities are trying to tie their feet by making them come learn about ideology three times a week,” said the second source.

“If you look at the study materials drawn from the Eighth Party Congress, they only mechanically discuss self-reliance and self-sufficiency without presenting specific action plans or results. They emphasize self-reliance as the basic seed of the new five-year economic development plan, but there is no mention of how to achieve self-reliance, so the people are protesting,” the second source said.

Some of the residents are even taking the bold step of using the sessions to refute each of the party’s policies on self-reliance.

“They say the state is still talking about self-reliance without guaranteeing the basic conditions for self-reliance. Now that the borders are closed and there are shortages of food, electricity and raw materials, telling the people to be self-reliant is no different than telling them to helplessly starve to death.”

Reported by Jeong Yon Park for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Leejin Jun. Written in English by Eugene Whong.


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