'Jangmadang Generation' eschews regime idolization, pursues outside info

Lee Sang Yong  |  2015-12-29 17:17
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The jangmadang (markets, both official and otherwise) generation spent their formative years in the mid 1990s when a massive famine wiped out the states Public Distribution System and they were forced to eke out a living through market trading. They did so while receiving almost zero government assistance. As a result, the jangmadang generation has a weak sense of loyalty towards the regime coupled with increased interest in the outside world. Through the process of transitioning towards self reliance, theyve come to enjoy watching South Korean dramas and have lost trust in the regimes propaganda. 

According to inside sources, if the regime cannot score the loyalty of the jangmadang generation going forward, authorities will have a difficult time promoting the idolization of Kim Jong Un and other forms of maintenance necessary to the authoritarian regime. Sources on the ground have also indicated that due to the changes in mentality resulting from curiosity about the outside world, it has already become more difficult for the regime to crackdown and repress the peoples access to outside information. 

In a recent telephone call with the Daily NK, a source from North Hamgyong Province said, The younger generation is not cast from the government mold. They use the market to gain access to outside information which they use to fuel their penchant for free thinking. They have very little interest in the state propaganda. They are also distinguished from previous generations in that they have tremendous curiosity about the outside world.

The source continued,I think it is definitely accurate to label the current cohort of youngsters as the jangmadang generation. Theyve come to live and learn through the marketplace. Compared to the elder generation, they think critically, are in touch with modern ideas from the outside world, and dont feel a sense of loyalty towards the regime. 

A source from South Pyongan Province said, Theres an expression that goes, Save your money to buy flowers (to place at the foot of Kim Il Sung/Kim Jong Il statues) and buy bread instead. It represents the new way of thinking in which devotion to the Kim dynasty is prioritized less than self preservation.   

The biggest influence on the jangmadang generation is Hallyu (the Korean word describing the overseas popularity of South Korean pop culture). After watching variety shows and dramas, North Koreans have become enamored with South Korean culture. When watching dramas, they grow attached to the stars and begin to sympathize with them. Whether it is fashion, food, or catchphrases, the North Korean interest in South Korea is continuing to grow. Inside sources have also confirmed that the number of people in the jangmadang generation who want to go to South Korea is on the rise. 

In particular, the jangmadang generations adept usage of IT has enabled them to connect to and engage with South Korean culture in ways that were impossible in the past. They have no problem sharing video files with friends despite pressure from authorities to refrain from such 'anti-socialist activities.'

A Yanggang Province source said, The kids here in North Korea have resolved to avoid watching regime-produced propaganda altogether. Theyve become sick of the highly repetitive media content produced by the state. In turn, theyre flocking to South Korean media where theyre encountering a new culture.   

The greatest concern of North Korean authorities is that the jangmadang generations loyalty is on the decline. These youngsters have zero recollection or image of Kim Il Sung. All they remember of Kim Jong Il is that under his watch, the whole country went hungry. Instead of relying on the government for their livelihood, the entire generation turned to the market. 

The North Hamgyong Province source continued, The jangmadang generation does not pay attention to the authorities attempts to stimulate the idolization of Kim Jong Un. Out of fear of punishment, they express what appears to be loyalty. But their true thoughts of the Marshal (Kim Jong Un) are simply: He is the young leader of our generation. Nothing more, nothing less.   

She added, They perceive the idolization education on a purely conceptual level; it does not figure into their mentality in terms of loyalty. People are affected in small ways by the regimes attempts at ideological education, but they by and large look after themselves and pine for an atmosphere of increased freedoms.   

With regards to the regimes loosening controls over the marketplace, there are a few people here and there who have developed a fondness for Kim Jong Un. But most are simply uninterested," the Yanggang Province source pointed out. 

"On the outside, they appear to be loyal to the regime, but in their heart of hearts, thats often not the case. From the regimes perspective, this generation will be difficult to manage because they arent likely to simply follow Kim Jong Uns every whim.    

Some experts of the Korean Peninsula are forecasting that the changes occurring as a result of the jangmadang generation are putting pressure on the regime and might even lead to structural changes in North Korea. The new generation has been exposed to capitalist ideas to such an extent that they are showing the tendency to buck socialist pressures from up top and prefer the introduction of further reforms.  

The Institute for National Security Strategys Chief researcher Lee also weighed in on the shifting environment, saying, The jangmadang generations belief in the superiority of liberal democracies will be especially helpful when it comes to unification. There is a need to spread awareness about that fact in South Korea. There is also a need to undertake systematic preparations to ensure that there are provisions in place to ensure that the jangmadang generation can secure leadership positions post unification. 

Chief Researcher Lee added, Rather than using political sabotage or psychological warfare, it might be a better idea to use the already expanding influence of Hallyu to inject South Korean soft power into the equation. By continuing the North Korean trend of growing the markets through purchasing foreign (especially South Korean) goods, we can increase their reliance on us. We should focus our energy and attentions on the possibility of such measures."

To provide those on the outside striving to accelerate change from within, Cooperation in Northeast Asia Institute Director Jeon Hyeon Jun offered some advice on how best to proceed, noting, The jangmadang generation is helping the North to make the market economy a reality. Their interest in South Korean culture is creating the foundations for a cultural infrastructure that will need continual development. Instead of conducting exchanges with the authorities, wed do better to set up communication with the jangmadang generation directly. This could play a positive role in precipitating the dawn of unification. 

*Translated by Jonathan Corrado

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