North Korea’s Organization and Guidance Department, which spreads the directives and teachings of Kim Jong Un, is working to reaffirm loyalty to the dictator at a time of growing hardship for many citizens.
Residents who heard news reports about a special lecture held by the department told RFA that the message came across as tone-deaf, given that the government has done little to improve the economic conditions in the country, which have worsened in the coronavirus pandemic.
“Party members and residents were outraged when the content of a special lecture held … in Pyongyang from June 2nd to 6th was reported by the Korean Central Broadcasting Committee,” a resident of Musan County in the northeastern province of North Hamgyong told RFA on condition of anonymity for security reasons.
“The lecture was for the officials of the Organization and Guidance Department … and was presided over directly by the highest dignity,” said the source, using an honorific term for Kim. “It focused on how they must establish a discipline in which all party members are absolutely obedient to the party’s sole leadership.”
At a time when the economy is in shambles due to the closure of the border and suspension of trade with China, along with international nuclear sanctions, many North Koreans are focused on finding their next meal rather than proving their loyalty to Kim.
“They criticize the authorities for their ignorance of the lives of the people,” the source said. “The
authorities are not seeking measures to improve people’s lives but merely forcing the party members and residents to obey the party unconditionally.
“The officials of the Organization and Guidance Department already hold great power and were given even more authority to strengthen control over the thoughts and lives of party members. The intent is to suppress any divergence in public sentiment which has been aggravated by COVID-19. They will strengthen the autocratic powers of the party organization,” the source said.
A resident of the South Pyongan province, north of Pyongyang, told RFA that people there are frustrated that the government is taking time for the special lectures when the rainy season is approaching, threatening crops.
“That proves that the Central Committee [and Kim Jong Un] are not prioritizing the stability of our livelihoods and instead try to enhance and maintain his dictatorship,” said the second source, who requested anonymity to speak freely.
“More and more members of the lowest organizations in the party, which support the Central Committee, are leaving the party. And a growing number of party members are absent from the weekly self-criticism sessions which are a required duty of a party member,” he said.
Known as saenghwal chonghwa, the sessions are public meetings in which every citizen must individually confess their shortcomings to the party each week.
“If you miss the party’s self-criticism session more than three times, you receive a warning. Failure to attend for more than six months will result in removal from the party,” the second source said.
“The current situation in North Korea is similar to the situation in which residents openly criticized the authorities during the Arduous March,” the second source said, using the Korean term for the 1994-1998 North Korean famine that killed millions of people, possibly as much as 10 percent of the population.
During the famine, the authorities were focused on controlling public opinion by dispatching officials to report on citizens, but now even the secretaries of local party cells are themselves experiencing hardships and are increasingly disillusioned with authorities, the second source said.
“In the end, the special lecture held in Pyongyang showed the government’s intent to forcibly suppress and block the voices of dissatisfaction among party members and residents who defy them,” he said.
“This is why they are strengthening the autocratic powers of the Central Committee. The people are outraged.”
Translated by Claire Shinyoung O. Lee. Written in English by Eugene Whong.