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View more articles by Dagyum Ji
Dagyum Ji is a senior NK News correspondent based in Seoul. She previously worked for Reuters TV.
The five million members of North Korea’s youth league should prepare themselves as “nuclear bombs” to protect the nation’s leadership, the Korean Children’s Union (KCU) said on Monday.
The statement, which was revealed among extensive state media coverage of the first youth congress in 23 years, came from an organization representing and requiring membership of all North Korean children between seven and 13.
“Please be ‘five million nuclear bombs’ to protect our Dear Respected leader with your life as the men safeguarding the center of the party, based on a strong belief and will,” a celebration delegation of the KCU said in a letter shown in the Rodong Sinmun newspaper.
The statement followed remarks by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, which also appeared designed to increase idolization of the leadership and state among younger generations.
“All youth should prevent any exotic culture of ideology and abnormal lifestyle from infiltrating our internal society, by strongly standing (up) against the enemy’s strategy…,” Kim said in remarks carried by the Rodong Sinmun on Monday.
“Members of the youth league must uproot any sprout of anti-socialist, exotic and poisonous weeds, which have grown up in our socialist-style garden, at a germinal stage,” he continued, also stressing the need for intensive ideological education among younger generations.
The statements reflected widespread emphasis on the renewed idolization of the North Korean leadership, also evident in a name change of the youth league to also incorporate a reference to Kim Jong Un’s late father for the first time.
Now entitled the ‘Kimilsungist-Kimjongilist Youth League’ the name change also saw the dropping of political references from the once title, something that South Korea’s Ministry of Unification (MoU) said indicated a deep-seated shift of identity on Monday.
“(The North) further clarifies the identity (of the youth league) by taking out the word ‘socialist,'” said Jeong Joon-hee, the MoU’s spokesperson during a regular news briefing. “It seems that the organization became more servile to the successive family of Kim Il Sung rather than socialism.”
One North Korea observer said the change of title was a way to reinforce obedience to the leadership, in line with the stance of the South’s unification ministry.
“(The leadership forced the league to) yield their allegiance to Kim Jong Un… and not to be shaken by the external penetration of capitalism, by imparting a sacred meaning to the organization,” Lim Jae-cheon, a professor at the North Korean studies department of Korea University told NK News.
Notably, North Korea’s propagandists appeared to be placing extra effort at fending off younger generations from the influences of capitalism and an increasing cultural influx from Chinese and South Korean soap operas, which are illegal but available in the DPRK.
Lim said the North will likely beef up surveillance on younger people amid increasing cultural inflows, especially due to lessons learned from the revolutions of 1989 that led to the collapse of socialism.
“In order to prevent this situation in advance, the North emphasizes the ideological education of the youth,” Lim said.
A 30-year-old North Korean defector, Sung Ju, said the youth league is a backbone for the North Korean regime.
“If younger generations have evil intentions and their ideology degenerates (from the perspective of leadership), the North’s society can falter,” Ju told NK News. “Ideology is one of the conditions in society that can be maintained, and there will be no guidelines for youth if this ideology vanishes.”
Despite the ideological fervor, North Korean experts cast doubts on the leadership’s overall strategy, saying the terms Kimilsungist-Kimjongilist are becoming overused and are, therefore, vague.
“When it comes to Kimilsungism, it is precisely related to Juche ideology,” said Lim. “It is defined as the ideology, theory, and method of Juche.”
“Kimilsungism-Kimjongilism, however, is more likely to used as a form of political discourse since it doesn’t have any elaborate meaning,” Lim added.
Another North Korean observer said Kim Jong Un was trying to establish his legitimacy by putting his father’s name into the structure of crucial social organizations, regardless of the ambiguity of ideology.
“The only thing that the young leader can show off is the so-called Mt. Paektu bloodline,” said Kim Seok-hyang, a professor of North Korean Studies at Ewha Womans University. “For him, it’s more effective to insist on his legitimacy by saying ‘I am the grandson (of Kim Jong Il) and a son (of Kim Jong Il).”
North Korea’s 9th youth congress was held for two days on Saturday and Sunday in the capital city of Pyongyang. Despite increasing state focus on youth in recent weeks, defectors told NK News that the goal of “youth policy” was in finding ways to exploit young North Koreans.
Featured Image: Rodong Sinmun