Languages of Security in the Asia-Pacific

College of Asia and the Pacific, Australian National University

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North Korean – Minjok | Minjoksŏng

May 26th, 2011 · No Comments · Korean (North), Nation, Race



‘national; nation’



‘racial, ethnic entity, national spirit, national essence, national characteristics’

Relates to nation; race

Although minjok (nation) is a referent of security, it is at the same time in itself a power that ensures security. To be secure in the North Korean discourse invariably means living within the frame of the Korean nation. In North Korean literature and media, for example, Koreans who are living in non-Korean countries, no matter how successful economically or socially they might be, are invariably depicted as deprived and lost human beings. Generally speaking, the concept of minjok includes all the Koreans in the world: South Koreans and Koreans living overseas as well. This concept found reflection in the popular slogan “우리민족끼리” (uri minjok kkiri “between our nation, by our nation”), which refers to the necessity of solving the problem of Korea’s unification by the efforts of ethnic Koreans alone. Within this shared Korean world, however, only North Korea is considered to be a stable ethnic community; only the North Korean cultural universe is secure; and only North Koreans are ‘real Koreans’. The rest of the Korean world is “less Korean” because it is contaminated as a result of external influences: politically (suppression of national characteristics by corrupt local politicians), spiritually (the influence of non-Korean cultures) and biologically (international marriages).

Within the context of minjok/minjoksŏng (national/nationalism) external influences are perceived as ultimately evil, and this perception inspires a peculiar picture of the world. On one hand, the concept of ‘national/nation’ has strong conservative, restrictive connotations which are related to century-old traditions. These traditions are to be defended and glorified. The impact of external influences on these traditions is never mentioned, although most of what today are perceived to be the ‘glorious national traditions’ in the DPRK were in fact cultural borrowings from China. The concept of minjok/minjoksŏng is also strongly connected with the idea of ‘socialism of our style’ and ‘juch’e’ – seen to be the only possible, natural national choices for Korean – and again, the fact that the very idea of socialism was foreign, born in Germany and borrowed from Russia, is ignored.

In the North Korean discourse, Koreans are perceived as a superior ‘pure race; – a race that needs protection from external contamination and the ‘poison of multiculturalism’. Popular expressions in North Korean political parlance are 민족성을 고수하다, minjoksŏngŭl kosuhada, ‘stick to (our own) national characteristics/ethnic entity’ and 민족의 우수성, minjokŭi ususŏng ‘superiority of Korean nation’.

The following is an example that stresses local, national characteristics in considerable detail:

모든 당원들과 근로자들은 반만년의 오랜 력사와 찬란한 문화를 가진 우리 민족의 우수성에 대하여 커다란 자부심을 가져야 하며 선군 시대의 요구에 맞게 민족적 전통을 적극 살리고 계승발전 시켜 나가야 한다. 노래를 불러도 우리의 선률을 사랑하고 춤을 추어도 우리 장단에 맞추어 춤을 추며 온 나라에 민족적 향취가 한껏 넘쳐나게 하여야 한다.[1]

“All our Party members and workers have to have a great self-confidence in the superiority of our nation which has a brilliant culture and five thousand years of history. According to the demands of the military-first epoch [the latter concept will be elaborated upon later-TG] they all have to actively save and develop our national traditions. When they sing songs they have to love our melodies, when they dance, they have to do so according to our rhymes. All the country has to be brimful of national aroma.”

In the following quote there is the implication that the unification of Korea should be accomplished by ethnic Koreans of both Koreas. They are “our nation” here.

우리민족끼리 자주적으로 통일을 이루자는 6.15 공동 선언의 기본정신은 민족자주와 민족대단결이다.[2]

“The basic spirit of the joint declaration of 15th of June which decided to realize unification of our country independently by our nation , is national independence and great national solidarity.”


우리 겨레에게 있어서 민족성을 튼튼히 고수하고 적극 발양시키는 것은 민족의 단합과 조국 통일을 위한 필수적요구로 나서는 것이다.

남조선에서는 지금도 당국의 반민족적 정책으로 하여 민족의 넋과 미풍 량속이 짓밟히고 민족적인 모든 것이 사라지고 있다. 반면에 정치, 경제, 군사, 문화의 모든 분야에 걸쳐 미국식, 일본식, 서양식이 쓸어 듦으로써 정치 방식으로부터 말과 글, 생활 풍조에 이르기 까지 모든 사회생활이 미국화, 일본화, 서양화 되고 있으며 민족성과 민족의 존엄이 여지 없이 유린막살 되고 있다.[3]

“For our nation, the steady sticking to our own national essence and the development of this essence are vital for the national unit – for the unification of our native land. However, in South Korea – because of its antinational policy – the national spirit and beautiful national customs and morals are trampled down, all national things are disappearing. In politics, economics, the military, culture – in all the spheres – Americanization, Japanization and Westernization dominate. Political ways, language, writings, everyday customs are Americanized, Japanized and Westernized while national characteristics and national dignity are all mercilessly destroyed.”

This characteristic quote comes from the article of the leading North Korean Party newspaper Nodong Sinmun. It colorfully depicts all sorts of the alleged “pollution” of South Korean ways. In this official version South Koreans, though physically Korean, are depicted as being devoid of vital “Korean” qualities. The double standards are obvious here: the foreign idea of socialism on which North Korean discourse is based upon is presented as completely natural and nation-oriented while any South Korean borrowings from foreign discourses are scolded as anti-national.

The following sentence from the editorial in Nodong sinmun in the New Year issue incorporates all the major references related to the idea of stability and security in the DPRK.

공화국의 걸어온 60년의 력사는 당과 수령의 령도 따라 창조와 건설의 영웅 서사시를 아로새기며 자주, 자립, 자위의 강국으로 솟구쳐 오른 거창한 변혁의 년대기 이며 반제투쟁의 준엄한 폭풍우 속에서 우리 식 사회주의의 우월성과 불패성을 힘있게 과시하여온 성스러운 로정이다.

“60 years of the history of our republic made up a heroic epic under the guidance of the Party and the Leader – years of great change that created an independent, sovereign strong state with self-reliant national defence. These years were a noble course that strongly demonstrated the superiority and robustness of socialism of our style in the severe storms of anti- imperialist struggle.”




[1] “’Uri sik taero saranagaja!’, I kuho-rŭl tŏuk ch’ŏljŏi kuhyŏnhaja”[Let us consistently realise the slogan “Let us survive our way”], Nodong sinmun, 2008, 05.07, 1.

[2] Kim Chu-yŏn, “Chŏngŭi himŭro p’yŏnhwarŭl chik’inŭn pukŭi sŏngun chŏngch’i” [The North Korean policy of military-first which protects peace as a rightful force], Nodong sinmun, 2005, 2th of August, 4.

[3] Sim Ch’ŏl-yŏng, “Chuch’esŏng, minjoksŏngŭl sallyŏnaganŭn kŏsŭn hyŏnsilŭi chŏlbakhan yogu”[ Saving the spirit of juch’e and national entity is a pressing demand of our reality]. Nodong sinmun, 2008, 15th of May, 5.




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