North Korea puts a label on a person whose family background is considered unsound to control and discriminate them. Instituted in 1958 as a civilian control system, the detailed classification based on "family background" or "one's ancestry" that follows a person their entire life, is used to control its people. It has been used as means of discriminating and even shutting up innocent people in prison for lifetime as political criminals.
North Korea claims to be a society founded on principle of equality, based on socialist or communist ideals, however, in reality, it is a caste system that denies democracy and human rights. Is this the "North Korean version of a socialist system"?
A person's "family background" determines one's social status, educational options, vocational choices and ultimately the quality of life. One's "class foundation" or "social foundation" determines a person's place in the social power structure, but it is dependant on who is related to you, immediate family members and distant relatives. The upper-class executives of the community party, military, and government are at the top of the pyramid-shaped vertical power-structure, followed by elite social class and then the working class. At the bottom of the pyramid are criminals and those whose family members have defected. The North Korean society is built on a caste system of "class foundation" which is the framework for its systematic political, social, and cultural discrimination
The North Korean class system also deprives its citizens of freedom of movement and restricts their place of residence. Even today, people are still being deported to remote mountain areas or coal-mining towns without a due process, in violation of their basic human rights, for the sole reason of having "inferior" family background. NKSIS has learned that recently a large number of families of defectors were rounded up and were banished to designated deportation destinations (see footnote.) NKSIS has been able to confirm that more than 100 families have been banished.
The caste system of "class foundation" also determines one's residential options. For example, lower class civilians are restricted to live in cities such as Pyongyang, Kaesong and Rason, and provincial governmental seat cities such as Nampo and Sinuiju. Mining towns or mountain villages such as Daeheung county of Pyongnam province, Shinheung county of Hamnam province and Kabsan county of Yangkang province are well known to be areas of deportation of 'hoodlums'.
North Korean government also has a very rigid law that limits a person's places of residence within its capital city, Pyongyang. Pyongyang is governed by the Administration Law for the Capital City, which classifies Pyongyang's citizens into three different groups.
The first and second groups are made up by 80~90% of Pyongyang citizens who are considered relatively "flawless" in their "family origin". They can freely choose to live in central areas, such as Jung district, Moranbong district, Botonggang district and Daesung district, East Pyongyang district and surrounding suburbs. They are also allowed to participate in various national events without any restrictions.
On the other hand, the third group consists of those who once lived overseas or have relatives with "bad" records. The third group, accounting for 10~20% of Pyongyang's population, is alienated from their neighbors and is discriminated against by policy.
Chung, a "returnee", had gained sudden wealth in 1988 when his grandfather and sister passed away leaving him over 100 million yen. With 10 million yen bribe he obtained a permission to live in Pyongyang, and settled down in Pyongyang's Jung district. But he was not treated equal as other citizens and he was not permitted to stand in the front line of welcoming crowd for the event no. 1 (the supreme leader's public appearance.) In North Korea, an opportunity to stand in the front line of a welcoming crowd is very important because it gives you the best chance to speak with or touch Kim Jong-il or Kim Il-sung. If you shake their hand or they speak to you, then you and your family will be given preferential treatment for rest of your life under the title of 'jub-kyon-ja (the one granted an audience.)'
Also the area of your residence within a city can have benefits and disadvantages attached to them. You may receive a preferential treatment from the government if you live close to the central street of the central district in Pyongyang. For example, in 1989, those who lived in apartments along the central street were given a Japanese color TV as a gift from Kim Jong-il, if you did not have one. This was on the eve of the 13th World Student Festival held In Pyongyang when foreigners were expected to visit these apartments. This was the last national "luxury party" and the event put North Korean economy in a great jeopardy.
The North Korean governmental news service hailed it as an act of extraordinary generosity of its leader and an example of great benefit of living in North Korea. People were told that this kind of gift can never be expected in capitalist societies. However, we know that this was a calculated propaganda by the regime. The basic ethos of the regime is that North Korea can be maintained as long as Pyongyang's citizens are alive and well, even if everyone else outside Pyongyang perishes. Therefore, giving out color TVs was not such a great cost.
Kim's family lives on the outskirts of Pyongyang and belongs to the stratum of "proven loyalty." Kim's father went all the way south to Nakdong River during Korean War and came back as a loyal member of the North army. This would normally qualify his family for a place in a higher stratum of the society, but because his mother was from a middle-class farming family, they are forced to live on the outskirts of East Pyongyang district, on the opposite side of the Daedong River from central Pyongyang. Kim's children also live in Pyongyang, but they are treated like returnees at the no. 1 events. They are never given any specific reasons for their discriminatory treatment; they are simply told that they have an "inferior" family background, and simply accept that this is just the way it will be.
However, there are signs that change might be on the horizon; North Korea will have to find new ways to deal with those who are of lower social strata. For example, if one of your cousins defected from North Korea, you are to be labeled to have a "bad" background and are to be denied advancements and eliminated from executive selection processes. However, in recent years, there has been a drastic increase in numbers of defectors, and this is building up to a political crisis for the North Korean regime.
A high-ranking North Korean source reported on June 24th that according to the most recent "family background investigation" of North Korean Guard Command, 5% of the army should be discharged because they have an "inferior" family background, including a two-star general. It is impossible to predict how Kim Jong-il will deal with this development, but there are definite signs that the foundation of North Korean regime, the civilian control, is crumbling.
Translation by Hoyeon Choi Supervised by Sunny Kang
Seoul Station Theoville, 62-7 Mallidong1-ga, Jung-gu, Seoul, 100-371, Korea
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