“The DPRK is the Juche-oriented socialist state which embodies the idea and leadership of Comrade Kim Il-Sung, the founder of the Republic and the father of socialist Korea” [from the official web page of the DPR of Korea]. On April 15, 1997, the anniversary of Kim Il-Sung’s birth in 1912, the year 1912 was declared to be Juche One and all calendar years to be counted from then. In Juche 87 (1998) Kim Il-Sung, who died in 1994, was declared President for Eternity. Juche as developed by Kim Il-Sung is the guiding principle of the DPRK: that man is the master and the center of everything; that self-reliance, national independence and self-defense are the key to the safety and dignity of the country.
Kim Il-Sung returned to Korea from Russia at the end of WWII in 1945 after the Russian army took Pyongyang. Cleverly using the temporary Russian administration of North Korea to advance politically, along with his skills as a good organizer and administrator and reputation as an anti-Japanese guerilla fighter, he maneuvered into power and popularity among the people. In 1948 the People’s Republic was declared. The Korean Workers’ Party with Kim Il-Sung as general secretary became the sole ruling force. The “Great Leader” had already begun creating his personal mythology as the liberator of North Korea whose forces brought about the defeat of Japan and the end of WWII.
After the destruction caused by the Korean War, rapid construction and advances in agriculture and production were promoted by encouraging “Chollima speed.” The Three Revolutions Team Movement of the 1970’s brought Kim Jong-Il more into the public eye as both father and son worked to motivate the populace to Juche-centered achievements in technology, culture, and socialist ideology. Kim Jong-Il, the “Dear Leader,” was acknowledged as Kim Il-Sung’s successor in 1980. In the 1990’s Kim Jong-Il’s establishment of Songun (Army-first policy) meant that the military took precedence, with the economy geared towards supporting a substantial army (now estimated at one million) and the development of weapons and nuclear technology. But several natural disasters and the failure of economic policies led to mass starvation. North Korea began courting foreign investment in a series of development projects such as the Kumgangson tourist zone, Rason Special Economic Zone, and Kaesong Industrial Complex.
“Dear respected” Kim Jong-Un, the 28-year old “Great Successor,” announced the end of the era of belt-tightening for the country. He said he would continue his father’s plan to “look outward” and open the DPRK to Asian and European imports and luxury goods. He embarked on ambitious building projects in the capital city, including more than 200 new statues, a waterpark, sports and recreation venues, and a miniature theme park, the Pyongyang Folk Park. The title of the 2011 New Year Joint Editorial by Pyongyang newspapers summed up: “Bring about a Decisive Turn in the Improvement of the People’s Standard of Living and the Building of a Great, Prosperous and Powerful Country by Accelerating the Development of Light Industry Once Again This Year.” Although there is more open access for the elite to material goods and culture from outside North Korea, the DPRK remains a repressive and reclusive state, led by a young 3rd generation KIm determined to consolidate and prove his power.