This article continues the mystery of whether or not North Koreans believe in their own Kim Jong-il mythology. Om Yun Chol won a gold medal in weightlifting this week, and credits the spirit of Kim Jong-il with his success, who was “looking over him”.
Kim Jong-il, in my opinion, viewed his country as a giant ATM machine to horde his own profit and maintain his luxury lifestyle, hardly different from Moammar Gadhafi and other world-infamous dictators. Somehow, I don’t think Kim Jong-il’s spirit is a fatherly figure that cares about the well-being of his countrymen.
The belief in the Kims-as-supernatural is reinforced from an early age, and it’s possible that anybody with enough prestige in DPRK society to make it to the Olympics is living a comfortable enough life to attribute their higher living conditions to some kind of divine presence in their lives. And for North Koreans, a divine presence equates to Kim Jong-il or Kim il-Sung, even in a post-mortem condition.
But do North Koreans really believe in this stuff? My feeling is the further one gets from Pyongyang, the more disenchanted North Koreans are. if you’re privileged enough to live in the big city, eat real food, dine at restaurants and have a nice life, it’s not hard to be swept into your own country’s propaganda-religion. So, fortunate Pyongyang citizens ‘might’ have some belief in this most bizarre faith, but I suspect much of it is a bit of a dog-and-pony show.
By praising the Kims and professing faith in their religion, one gains party favor and loyalty points, helping ensure one’s place in the high-status upper-echelon. There must be a fear lingering in the minds of big-city residents that their position on the totem pole could be taken away from them should their favor be lost, but by swearing fealty to their leaders at every opportune moment, it reinforces that they– and their families– will remain safe and happy.
Having experienced Pyongyang, and Hamhung, I can safely say that most people in these cities ‘seem’ happy. In fact, on a friendliness scale, North Koreans were way more personable and happy to see you than the people I’ve met in, say, Beijing. And, I don’t feel anybody was starving, over-worked, or anything like that in Pyongyang and Hamhung. It’s a myth that everyone’s lives are absolutely miserable. This is not the case at all. And, if you’re fortunate enough to have a great lifestyle in North Korea, paying homage to your leaders and following the Kim-religion in exchange is not a bad deal.
On the other hand, if you live somewhere like Chonjin up in the northeast corner of the state, you eat 1-2 small meals a day and your life is fairly miserable, the praise and admiration of Dear Leader is probably replaced by fury, frustration, and hatred, with the exception of those people who decide to begin kissing Kim il-Sung ass in an attempt to show party loyalty, and perhaps someday be recognized by the People’s Committee, and moved to Pyongyang to enjoy the fruits of amusement parks, modern condominium high-rises, restaurants, film-festivals, and so forth.