April 15 will mark the 105th anniversary of Kim Il Sung's birthday, a day imbued with important political meaning for Kim Jong Un and an optimal opportunity to call hearts and minds back to the positive associations people continue to associate with his grandfather and life under his rule. However, as residents tap into direct and indirect lines of communication with the outside world, the successful implementation of such strategies is growing increasingly difficult for the regime.
According to local sources, few people voluntarily make arrangements for the upcoming celebration these days and drag their feet when ordered to do so.
"Nowadays,” noted a source in South Pyongan Province, “people are accustomed to making a living on their own, and no one is really interested in Central Party political events. This is especially true for the younger generation, who strongly believe that ‘loyalty’ is not sustenance and their new master is entrepreneurship.”
This change in perception has arisen through a combination of marketization and the influx of external information. Residents who can acquire outside information by word of mouth from smugglers and Hwagyo (ethnic Chinese community) or listen to external radio broadcasts are spreading it through the markets. In the process, truths about the Kim family have been revealed and spread, and an increasing number of people are becoming disillusioned with the regime.
"Residents sincerely mourned the death of the Suryong (Kim Il Sung) in the past, but now their tears seem to have dried up. With the exception of some elderly citizens or rural people who still believe the propaganda (of the regime), most residents who have access to outside news are not taking the propaganda seriously anymore,” said a source in North Hamgyong Province on April 4.
"There are also an increasing number of people who think that they were previously naive after receiving information through their defector family members in South Korea. The general sentiment towards Kim Il Sung has naturally worsened as a result.”
Kim Il Sung’s reputation had stayed largely intact, as Kim Jong Il was largely blamed for the period of mass famine in the mid-1990s. But as a source in Ryanggang Province told Daily NK, the situation appears to be changing.
"North Koreans dispatched to Russia for work have told us that we lived off money borrowed from Russia in the 1980s, not thanks to the Suryong (Kim Il Sung), and that he was also partly responsible for the Arduous March (famine in the mid 1990s) as it correlated with the collapse of the Soviet Union,” he said.
"Kim Jong Il watched the country devolve into a debt binge and spiral out of control thanks to his father, choosing to do nothing as millions died from starvation and he instead hoarded money for himself and eventually his son.”
Therefore, it has been pointed out that Kim Jong Un's strategy to maintain the instructions from his predecessors is highly likely to meet resistance.
In regards to this, a North Korea expert who declined to be identified for security reasons noted, "To idolize himself, he must emphasize his Paektu bloodline, but at the same time, he needs to criticize the wrongdoings of his predecessors in order to address the public sentiment. It will not be easy for him to choose one direction over the other. As strengthened control and the politics of purging clearly has its limits, the regime’s instability is expected to rise."