Singing of our friendly parent

The newly released North Korean pop song and propaganda hymn ‘Friendly Parent’ glorifies Kim Jong-un. (Still image | KCTV)

Friendly Parent.

This is the title of that new song in North Korea that is going viral.

How warm and familiar they are, those words, friendly parents.

But many words these days are tugged away from their original meanings.

Communist Party, comrades, revolution.

Thinking of these words now, feelings of unease and negativity arise. In their day, they meant change, innovation, positivity.

Meaning over time becomes discolored by experience.

Friendly Parent.

Father teaching me to ride my bike. Mother, despite her own hunger, handing me a piece of bread. 

You might think that.

But to me, friendly parent represents absolute power.

My experience prevents me from taking the words at face value.

This is probably the same for all North Koreans.

None of us thinks of our mother and father when we hear “friendly parent.”

We think of the Kims.

Certain words and phrases are reserved for their royal use. Like “peerless leader” and “great.” 

Friendly parent is one of them.

We grew up with these modifiers.

I still feel uncomfortable saying his name on its own. Kim Jong-un.

It feels wrong without “beloved father” or “friendly leader.” 

Repetition drilled this in deep.

Of course, I never thought of him as my parent.

No one in their right mind considers someone their own age as a parent.

“Friendly parent” was a formality, detached from its literal meaning.

But formality is crucial for survival when any deviation is a threat.

So, we North Koreans learned to separate our words from our feelings.

Here is what I mean. When Kim Jong-un emerged as the leader, dissatisfaction welled up inside me. The idea of someone just a little older than me ruling my country was inconceivable.

The reason for this emotion was very simple.

It was just jealousy of a more successful peer.

After spending a few days mired in displeasure, I accepted Kim Jong-un’s existence, concluding that, in a dictatorship, you must be born to the right parents.

What else could I do? I am nobody.

Were the thoughts of others, drifting silently into the air, much different?

Did they truly think of utopia or ideology when accepting Kim Jong-un?

We couldn’t know each other’s true feelings, but as with one voice we all revered Kim Jong-un.

Heroic tales about him emerged from all corners.

Have you heard? He skied at the age of three and drove a tank when he was five.

He could fly a plane. He’s a science genius.

In science colleges, they told each teacher to write down two great things about him.

Write about the greatness of someone I’ve never met? 

Now there is a thing.

Utter absurdity.

The praise for him was so relentless that it became difficult to distinguish what was true anymore.

But did we want to believe it?

As I say, even if the greatness was fabricated by someone’s literary skill, denying it brought on only harm.

What was genuine, it seems, was that we wanted Kim Jong-un to be a remarkable person.

Only by believing this could we justify the decision we were forced to make to elevate him.

For a while, after he ascended to power, new stories spread widely.

There were rumors of a new economic system coming. Chongjin city would completely open. It would start with Rajin. The country would develop as China had.

Although they were mere rumors, they reflected our desire.

One manifestation of hope was the US-North Korea summit.

When we heard about it, we focused on one thing only: the prospect of an improved economic situation.

This desire for change was this strong.

The faces of the American and North Korean leaders were plastered everywhere. Everyone spent their time discussing the summit.

It felt like there had never been such a historic event.

It stirred our hearts like a boulder thrown in a calm lake.

Then, contrary to all hope, the outcome in all areas was despair.

Due to sanctions against us, we once again plunged into hardship.

In Chongjin, where squid fishing sustains livelihoods, people’s became noticeably impoverished.

Fishermen, net makers, diesel sellers, ice sellers, boat drivers.

All were interconnected like a chain being slowly pulled down.

Unsold coal piled up in front of Wonsan Port. Unsmuggled herbs were stacked in layers on the banks of the Yalu River in Hyesan.

The burden of taxes grew heavier and punishments became more severe.

People were more anxious than ever.

In front of us, a security officer posts proclamations. In our ears, the Moranbong Band sings praises of Kim Jong-un.

“Love as vast as the sea…”

In this dissonant situation, I want to shut my eyes and ears.

The song extols compassionate governance. But he rules through terror.

He solves his problems by executing people. Gallows are erected everywhere.

Images of the suffering populace from the stories of tyrants fill my mind.

This is not just a tale from history. It is our story.

I cannot stop my tears.

In my ears, the song goes on, “Our father who cares for ten million children…”

The tears won’t stop.

Where did it go wrong?

Where are the hopes we harbored at the beginning of Kim Jong-un’s rise?

Where has the trust and promise gone?

So much has gone wrong. We know this.

It is not normal to feel angry hearing a song about a parent. 

Nor is it normal to feel uneasy walking by a government complex.

It’s not normal to bow down to a young person in authority.

It’s not normal for our life to depend on one person’s mood.

It’s gotten to a point where no one speaks up when they see something abnormal.

Our naive complacency and cowardice in assuming that things will eventually be okay has led to today’s outcome.

Who said democracy is fed with blood?

We are seeing in North Korea how destructive and harmful that unstoppable absolute power can be when it is given to an unqualified person.

That person is the “friendly parent.”

In the future, people will read about all this in history books.

They may not understand today’s North Korea or its people.

But I want to say this.

We tried to change. But we were unlucky.

Jang Mi
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