North Korea is a communist state and the communist ideology was anti-national from the moment of its inception. The famous communist slogan “Workers of the world, unite!” asserted just that – that people should be united by their class, in a Marxist definition of the word – rather than by nationality or ethnicity. In other words, British worker Smith was supposed to understand that his natural ally is not British capitalist Brown, but rather German worker Schmidt and Japanese worker Sasaki, and that Brown is an enemy of all three, along with German capitalist Meyer and a Japanese capitalist Sugimoto.
However, in reality workers of the world did not unite. Smith would still rather talk to Brown, Schmidt to Meyer and Sasaki to Sugimoto. A worker has topics to discuss with his employer (such as payment and conditions of work), plus they speak the same language and have the same cultural background, while foreign brothers-in-class were more like an abstract entity. Also, how many “workers” even now, and especially then, were able to speak a foreign language?
After the creation of Soviet Russia, and then the USSR, the first “workers’ and farmers’ state in human history” started to pursue rather a dubious policy. On one hand, the USSR and its allies declared that they protected the interests of the “oppressed classes” across the world, without regard to nationality or ethnicity. On the other hand, the struggle of the colonies’ nationalists to achieve independence from the metropolis was promoted as a “national liberation struggle” – definitely a good thing. Thus worker Chang from colonial Korea was supposed to ally not with the worker Sasaki from the Japanese mainland but rather with petty bourgeois Pak, since Pak was also Korean.
This ultimately caused pro-Soviet post-colonial countries to became rather nationalistic. North Korea would be one of the most vivid examples of this.
RACISM IN THE WORKERS’ LAND
As the readers know, Kim Il Sung was an activist in a “national liberation movement.” He spent his youth in Manchuria, where after Japan established a puppet state of Manchukuo in 1932 joined the partisan movement. In other words, he collected food from farmers sympathetic to his cause, robbed those who were not, and tried to acquire weaponry and kill as many Japanese and enemy Chinese soldiers as possible. All for the grand cause: the downfall of the Empire of Japan.
(Kim Il Sung) did not exactly like mixed marriages
Kim was, of course, a Korean nationalist. Thus, he did not exactly like mixed marriages and, after North Korea became politically independent from the USSR, the DPRK took every effort to break marriages between North Korean men and Soviet women, after which former wives of North Koreans were forced to go back to the USSR.
Another example: In the late 1950s there were many East German workers in Hamhung who came to help their socialist brothers rebuild the country after the Korean War. Some fell in love with local girls and German-Korean families appeared in Hamhung. Pyongyang did not approve and, in the early 1960s, told all German workers to divorce their wives and go back to the GDR. Many had children, and the DPRK decided that those children who looked Korean would stay, and those who looked German would go home to comrade Walter Ulbricht’s loving embrace.
During the Cold War there was little talk about the greatness of the Korean nation, but in 1989 Kim Jong Il published an article entitled “Theory of the primacy of our nation,” hailing the greatness of the Korean people. Why are they the greatest nation on Earth? The answer is clear: They have Kim Il Sung, the greatest of geniuses, the radiant sun of humankind, as their leader.
In 2006 the Rodong Sinmun published an article entitled “Multinational, multiracial society – a threat to the nation.” Here is a quote from it:
“A ‘theory of multinational, multiracial society’ on which the pro-American flunkeyist traitorous forces in South Korea speak, rejects the unitary character of the nation. It aims to bring foreign nations to South Korea, to pollute it, to Americanize it. It cannot be tolerated.”
Moreover, on May 2, 2014 the KCNA published the message quoting a North Korea worker, who called Barack Obama “a monkey”:
“When I see Obama, it makes me puke. Big gray blinkers on his blackish muzzle, big nostrils, slightly opened plumpish mug, covered with unkempt fluff – really looks like a monkey’s muzzle from African jungle. When he gets on or off the plane, or is giving a speech, he constantly twitches his long corncob-like limbs and then he really looks like a monkey, which tosses its red ass, jumps from a tree to tree, peels fruits, or burrows the soil looking for forage.”
FRIENDSHIP AMONG NATIONS
Given all of the above, many people may surmise that North Korea is a racist state, and all communist rhetoric it uses is merely a coverage for its true nature. However, in some other circumstances the North Koreans behaved completely differently.
In 1979 the DPRK provided refuge for Monica Macias, the daughter of the former dictator of Equatorial Guinea Francisco Nguema. Before Nguema was overthrown by his nephew Teodoro (who later became as ruthless a leader as his uncle was), Francisco managed to send his family to North Korea, where Kim Il Sung accepted them and tried to make their lives easy: Monica was given a place in one of the most prestigious schools in the country: Mangyongdae Revolutionary College. However, the DPRK tried not to spread information about the presence of high-ranking Africans in the country and avoid their having contact with foreigners.
Another example: In the 1950s many Japanese-Koreans were repatriating from Japan. Some men were married to Japanese women. Here the DPRK government did quite the opposite of how it treated the Soviets: All the women were given citizenship in North Korea and were forbidden to return. Much later, under Kim Jong Un, there was another fascinating case: The supreme leader personally thanked a Japanese woman who applied for the DPRK citizenship.
The similar policy was conducted toward the Chinese diaspora: Mixed marriages were never forbidden and their applications for North Korean citizenship were most welcome and were always approved.
But perhaps the most fascinating episode was Kim Jong Un meeting American basketball player Dennis Rodman, who visited the DPRK several times. A photo of him talking to Kim appeared on the first page of Rodong Sinmun several times. In a racist state that would have been impossible: Imagine Hitler talking to a rabbi on German television in the late 1930s.
According to (Kim Jong Il), the greatness of the Korean people lies solely in their leader
Finally, if we analyze the North Korea official texts on the question of the nation, we’ll see one important thing: They never asserted that Koreans are biologically superior. In fact, such a statement was always directly condemned by Kim Jong Il. According to him, the greatness of the Korean people lies solely in their leader. Koreans are great because they are led by Kim Il Sung, not for any other reason.
NO LOGIC HERE
Intellectuals often try to create a logical worldview. This is especially so when it comes to academia: In recent decades the humanities, especially in the English-speaking word, have tried to mimic natural science, and thus articles on history or sociology are supposed to have a “theoretical explanation” of the facts presented in them. However, many people who did not receive a proper education do not think like that and their picture of the world is full of contradictions and logical holes. Kim Il Sung was one of them: He was by no means an intellectual, he was a guerrilla fighter from Manchurian forests. Trying to explain his pattern of thinking and ruling the country with a simple theory – “the DPRK is a racist state,” “the DPRK is a traditional monarchy,” “the DPRK is a carbon copy of the USSR” – would be a distortion of the facts, especially since often after a researcher comes to a conclusion, he/she starts to dismiss facts contradicting that conclusion as irrelevant.
Of course Kim was a Korean nationalist: He would not have joined the partisan movement otherwise. Had one asked him what thought of the Japanese people he would have answered something like: “I don’t like them, of course. They conquered our country, they oppress our people.” But at the same time, when he saw a Japanese person ready to accept DPRK citizenship and work for the good of North Korea, he would like such a man. Really – he speaks like us, loves our country, loves me: Surely, he must be a good person.
You have seen, perhaps, some white racists, who like to speak about how they hate “n—-ers,” but have a Black friend who “is an okay guy”? That’s exactly what I’m talking about. There is no logic, no attempt to create a pseudo-scientific worldview, no rationalization – everything is driven purely by emotions and personal experience.
But let’s end on a positive note. The good news is that the average North Korean tends to ignore all the racial and nationalists element in the propaganda. The DPRK media talk about race and nations once every few years, usually creating a response in the international media, but they talk about the leader every single day. From an outsider’s point of view, Obama being called a monkey is a significant event, since it was reported by the BBC, CNN and many other of the world’s top media outlets. From a North Korean’s point of view, this was one more propaganda scream he can forget about the next day.
Thus, when North Koreans come to the South, they tend to be much less nationalistic than the average South Korean. When it comes to refugees, talk by some Seoul intellectuals about the Koreans being constantly oppressed by foreign powers fall on deaf ears. An average citizen of the DPRK is a simple, rather mercantilist and non-malevolent person. They don’t care about nation, blood and race – they simply want to feed their families.
North Korea is a communist state and the communist ideology was anti-national from the moment of its inception. The famous communist slogan “Workers of the world, unite!” asserted just that – that people should be united by their class, in a Marxist definition of the word – rather than by nationality or ethnicity. In other words, British worker Smith was supposed to understand that his
Fyodor Tertitskiy is an expert in North Korean politics and the military and a contributor to NK News and NK Pro. He holds a Ph.D. in Sociology from Seoul National University, and is author of "North Korea before Kim Il Sung," which you buy here.