Young North Koreans have been warned to adhere to the country’s standard language and follow “traditional lifestyles” as part of the regime’s campaign to stamp out cultural influences from neighbouring South Korea.
In an editorial published on Sunday, the Rodong Sinmun, the official newspaper of the ruling Workers’ party, railed against the creeping influence of the South on everything from hairstyles to the spoken word.
“The ideological and cultural penetration under the colourful signboard of the bourgeoisie is even more dangerous than enemies who are taking guns,” it said, according to South Korea’s Yonhap news agency.
Rather than mimic their peers in the South, young North Koreans should stick to their country’s “superior” standard language, which is based on the dialect used in the capital, Pyongyang.
The newspaper said nothing less than the future of North Korea’s political system was at stake. “When the new generations have a sound sense of ideology and revolutionary spirits, the future of a country is bright. If not, decades-long social systems and revolution will be perished. That is the lesson of blood in the history of the world’s socialist movement,” it said.
It is not the first time the regime has issued warnings against embracing South Korean popular culture, including K-pop, TV dramas, dress sense and even dance moves.
In December it introduced a law designed to eliminate what it called reactionary thought and culture via illicit material from the South, the US and Japan. Anyone caught in possession of South Korean media could spend up to 15 years in a labour camp, while those found distributing contraband material face the death penalty.
The North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, who was educated in Switzerland, has reportedly described K-pop as a “vicious cancer” that corrupts North Korean millennials – people in their 20s and 30s who grew up during the mid-1990s famine.
“Kim … is well aware that K-pop or western culture could easily permeate through the younger generation and have a negative impact on the socialist system,” Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korea Studies, told the Korea Herald.
“He knows that these cultural aspects could impose a burden on the system. So by stamping them out, Kim is trying to prevent further trouble in the future.”
A survey of 116 North Korean defectors in 2020 by Seoul National University found that almost 48% had frequently watched South Korean TV and films, and listened to its music, before they fled. Only 8.6% said they had never consumed South Korean pop culture before they defected.
While North and South Koreans speak the same language, decades of separation have resulted in significant differences in dialect.
Among the officially banned expressions is “oppa” – which means “older brother” but is often used to refer to a spouse or boyfriend in the South – a usage that has caught on among North Korean women, according to South Korea’s spy agency.
Fashions and public displays of affection associated with the South are also forbidden, the agency said.