North Korea Orders Youth League Reshuffle for More Effective Self-Criticism Sessions

With unfamiliar group leaders, youth will snitch on each other ‘more honestly.’
North Korea Orders Youth League Reshuffle for More Effective Self-Criticism Sessions In a photo taken on September 12, 2018 North Korean student youth league members walk through Pyongyang.

North Korea is ordering local leaders of the country’s main youth organization to change reviewers of self-criticism meetings to force young people to snitch on each other “more honestly,” sources in the country told RFA.

The new policy requiring people from outside one’s youth group evaluate mandatory self-criticism sessions is designed to break up cozy relations that have formed within units in which people rehearse their lines and cover for each other, the sources said.    

Every North Korean citizen must perform saenghwal chonghwa, or self-criticism, where they must confess their own state loyalty shortcomings, then publicly report any disloyal tendencies in their peers. Experts say the state uses these sessions to turn citizens against each other in order to control them more effectively.

For adults, self-criticism is done during mandatory meetings of their local neighborhood watch unit, while youth start from the age of 13, when they begin attending meetings of the Socialist Patriotic Youth League.

The league, formerly known as the Kimilsungist-Kimjongilist Youth League, is modeled after the Soviet Komsomol. In late April, the league held a nationwide congress in Pyongyang, where it received its new name, and new directives from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on how to conduct the sessions.

“As soon as the 10th Congress of the Socialist Patriotic Youth League was over, they started inspections of the weekly self-criticism sessions for the youth here in Ryanggang province,” a resident of the northern border province told RFA’s Korean Service last week.

“During the inspections, low-level chairpersons that lead Youth League organizations in each factory observe the sessions in different factories, to review and report on them,” said the source.

Across the country, many citizens have come to take the weekly sessions for granted, and they collude with each other beforehand on how they will criticize each other, so they can avoid raising any red flags by being too harsh. Leaders of the sessions may also form friendships with attendees and allow them to simply go through the motions week after week.

The new policy on youth confessions aims to put a stop to this.

“The low-level chairperson dispatched to each Youth League organization should attend the self-criticism session and report on how honestly the young people criticize themselves in regard to antisocialist and nonsocialist thought, and how intensively they criticize other young people on the same subject,” said the source.

Another source, a resident of the northwestern border province of North Pyongan, told RFA that at a collective farm in Ryongchon county, chairpersons who returned from the 10th congress began inspecting the self-criticism session notes of youth league members.

“Since this review project lasts until the end of this month, all young people are pretty much forced to be honest in their criticism of their own and each other’s antisocialist and nonsocialist tendencies,” said the second source.

“They are conducting the review by sending youth league chairpersons to a different farm than their own. The purpose is to cross-inspect other cells of the youth league so that self-criticism is more genuine, because until now sessions have been more or less a formality,” the second source said.

The second source said the first cross-inspection of the sessions would take place on Saturday May 8, and that the people wondered how they might be different.

“The chairpersons are insisting that young people who have called people in foreign countries, especially in South Korea, or those that listened to foreign broadcasting in secret should self-criticize and earn the party’s forgiveness,” said the second source.

“They are also trying to make the youth criticize each other more sharply so they can find out who has been imitating South Korean speaking styles, dyeing their hair brown, and wearing clothing with English letters,” the second source said, citing the signs of outside influence Pyongyang tries to suppress.

The second source said that the youth find the new policy to be invasive.

“They are very critical of the authorities, who have nothing better to do than observe their self-criticism sessions and brand them enemies of socialism all while expecting them to work hard during the busier farming seasons.”

RFA reported last year that authorities were cracking down on young people for texting each other using slang terms they learned by watching or listening to South Korean media illegally, or for using South Korean spellings.

At emergency meetings of the youth league in May 2020, authorities confiscated members’ mobile phones and threatened harsh punishments if they found any illegal media or texts.

Reported by Hyemin Son for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Leejin Jun. Written in English by Eugene Whong.


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