Vantage points varied on New Year's Address mea culpa

Seol Song Ah  |  2017-01-10 21:31
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Kim Jong Un expressed remorse during his New Year's Address, alluding to personal shortcomings during the year. As the remarks were unprecedented for a North Korean leader, regularly the subject of idolization as the Highest Dignity, a broad range of reactions was drawn from the residents.

"No one really listened carefully for the whole speech, but everyone was transfixed when Kim Jong Un mentioned his shortcomings. Nevertheless, people are responding negatively overall and saying that its meaningless to vow to be a loyal servant to the people if nothing changes, a source in South Pyongan Province told Daily NK on January 7.

Many drew a parallel between Kim Jong Un's remarks and Kim Il Sung's empty promise to provide every North Korean with meat soup and rice. A lot of residents think he [Kim Jong Un] is trying to curry favor by employing unfamiliar rhetoric.  

"For the first time in decades, the source continued, I talked about the New Year's Address with family and friends during the holidays. While playing cards, some joked that if the Marshal [Kim Jong Un] lacks ability, his subordinates must be totally clueless.

Kim Jong Un appears to striving to build up an image of a leader of the people by making unusual comments about the Suryongs (Supreme Leader) responsibilities. But such attempts mean little for the overwhelming majority of North Korean residents who rely on the markets for their living rather than the state. 

Moreover, societal heavyweights like the donju (newly affluent middle class) and some intellectuals have responded with a more nuanced view of the New Years Address - that is, they are showing a seemingly positive reaction, but remain suspicious. 

"The general sentiment on the ground [in these circles] seems to be that the General (Kim Jong Il) only controlled and oppressed the people, but the Marshal (Kim Jong Un) liberated the markets for the people while cracking down on corrupt cadres. His political strategy is a cut above, said a source in North Pyongan Province.

"Kim Jong Un seems to be better at business and handling the public than his father (Kim Jong Il), presumably because he studied abroad. Although his display of putting his head down and expressing regret to people on television was far more candid than his father, many fear it is an ominous harbinger [of wide scale executions]. 

Meanwhile, the reactions from dispatched workers abroad have also been interesting. A North Korean trader who spoke to Daily NK on January 4 from Dandong (China) after spending the New Year's holiday in North Korea said, "When I heard him vow to be a loyal servant to the people, the first thing that came to mind was a leader who is politically savvy. He seems to be using a strategy to deceive the people by apologizing and crying on the surface while still pushing his own agenda in the background." 

*Translated by Yejie Kim
*Edited by Lee Farrand

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