After the Korean War, which ended in 1953, the Korean Peninsula has been divided into two different countries. In the South, the Republic of Korea, supported by the US Government, now enjoys the benefits of capitalism and liberalism. On the opposite side of the peninsula, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, lead by the Marxism ideology and the Kim Family, which favour the army and the development of weapons instead of its population. In order to maintain its dictatorship, North Korean Government has prevailed an atmosphere of terror in the country, rewarding people who would denounce potential traitors. By its system, the goal of the North Korean regime is to make people dependant, to fix in its citizens’ mind that their country is the only place where people live happily and equally. However, the reality is far away from it. North Koreans do not live equally in this dictatorship. According to people’s Songbun, which is a statue given to someone, based on the political, social, and economic background of his direct ancestors and relative’s behaviour. Three main categories compose the Songbun system, the loyal “Core Class” with about 25% of the North Korean population (more often high-ranking party cadres and their families), the “wavering class” with 55%, and the “hostile class” made of 20% of the country’s citizens. These three main categories are divided in 50 sub-classifications, which have an effect on people’s living conditions.
Today, in North Korea, malnutrition is still a curse, which hit a huge part of the population. The Communist Government is in charge to provide the food to its citizen, but the amount of agricultural products produced is not enough to feed plentifully all the country. Moreover, it is without taking into account the fact that the North Korean Government favours the loyal citizens and member of the military junta, who generally live in Pyongyang and have a good Songbun. As a result, people who do not belong to these favoured categories live in different, and generally harder conditions. The first to suffer from an eventual decrease of agricultural production are the people who belong to a low category. However, food is not the only thing that is influenced by someone’s Songbun. Education or jobs are a field touched by this system. People who have inherited of a good Songbun have the privilege to get a better education and the possibility to get a job such as Cadre in the Party. However, people who do not have the chance to belong to a high category would be allowed to have a job related to manual work.
The question we might ask is “why this communist regime, which is based on equality, has a such system?”. In my opinion, this system is made to maintain the regime by using a politic of fear. By favouring loyal people and crack down on people who might be against the Party, the government aimed to establish fear among the population and encourage people to show loyalty in order to be safe. Indeed, if someone does something against the regime, he can be granted of a lower Songbun, which also mean a lower living condition. Moreover, it is not only this person that will be reprimanded, but also all his family. In order to protect their living condition, which determined by their Songbun, and their family, people have to show faith in their Leader. This system traduces the Government’s desire to maintain a regime based on privilege and the favouritism rather than establishing a real egalitarian system, which is what they claim to be since the end of the Korean War. It reflects the fact that the Heads of North Korea are ready to let their people suffer (eventually until their death), in order to benefit a few numbers of person who are supposed to be loyal to the party and consequently, lure people into being faithful in the Government. In my opinion, this Songbun system, which benefits a small part people, is also an excuse to hide that the Government has another priority than taking care of North Korean citizens. Indeed, most of the currencies owned by the State are mostly used to fulfil the Leader’s military requirement. Thus we can easily understand that even if most of the population shows loyalty to the Government, they will never be able to have a better living condition until their Leader will finally decide to abandon his military projects to take care of his people.
To conclude, in North Korea the Songbun system leads people’s life from their childhood. It influences their everyday life, such as work, education or relationship, but also people’s behaviour regarding the Party. Indeed, in order not to penalise their family, people have to respect the rules that the Party dictates. It is for the Government a way to pressure its people. However, in the past, lower class population always rebelled to assert their rights. We can then wonder, if after 72 years of this system under a strong dictatorship, people are ready to initiate the change.
By Nina RIAT