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Self-Reliance (2:32) Excerpt from film "A State of Mind" September 2003
Self-reliance is a North Korean ideology that farmers and workers alike uphold.

Country: North Korea
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    Guiding Questions
    1. What class of people has suffered most from the hardships of recent years in North Korea?

    2. According to the Comrade, why has self-reliance been a necessity?

    3. Analyze...for whom does the Comrade in this film clip speak? What 'voices' may not have been available to the filmmakers?

    Background Essay
    The Arduous March, a period of great hardship in North Korea, greatly impacted the peasant class. Members credit their survival to the guiding North Korean philosophy of Juche, or "self-reliance," an ideology developed by Kim Il Sung and further elaborated by Kim Jong Il. Many North Koreans refer to this philosophy when speaking of the innovative, creative spirit of the North Korean people.

    In 1945, following World War II, a line was drawn on the 39th parallel dividing Korea into two states: North Korea and South Korea. North Korea was headed by Kim Il Sung and the communist Korean Workers' Party. The structure of North Korean government has persisted unchanged since the death of Kim Il Sung in 1994 and the transference of power to his son, Kim Jong Il. The North Korean government is often referred to as a totalitarian dictatorship due to its single-party rule and the control exercised by the state over many aspects of life in the country.

    The Korean War, that lasted from 1950-1953, was one of several attempts during the last half century to reunify Korea under either Southern or Northern leadership. During this conflict, which in North Korea is referred to as the "Fatherland Liberation War," North Korea was unsuccessful in its bid to take over the southern part of the peninsula by force. The war ended up involving many different nations, and killed an estimated 4 million Koreans, nearly 1 million Chinese, 33,700 U.S. troops, and few thousand international UN troops.

    In recent decades, North Korea has suffered great economic hardship. The country's industry has fallen into ruin following the withering of trade arrangements with the USSR and China. Agricultural prospects are poor and the country relies heavily on foreign food aid. Several recent periods of severe deprivation and famine in the country have left the North Korean people in a struggle for daily survival. In 1995, horrible floods created conditions so bad that it is estimated that close to 3 million people died. In addition, international concern about North Korea's military efforts deepened considerably in the first decade of the 21st century following its withdrawal from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and its announcement in 2006 of its first successful nuclear test.

    While North Korea outwardly struggles with isolation, famine, and economic collapse, the state expends considerable energy to produce ideological unity and pride among its population. The film A STATE OF MIND follows two young North Korean gymnasts as they prepare for the Mass Games, a massive state-sponsored event glorifying North Korea's leaders. This display of pageantry and governmental control involves tens of thousands of participants manipulating large colored cards and performing perfectly synchronized gymnastics routines. It is considered a great honor to participate in the Mass Games, and requires year-round practice.

    In North Korean society, the peasant class includes anyone who works on the land, and is held in high regard. The peasants suffered greatly during the Arduous March.

    It is in the countryside, that the hardships of recent years have been felt the most, even here, only 30 miles from Pyongyang

    To be honest, life in a farming village is tough. It's different from the city...because the seasons change. Let's say -- in a factory, if you can't produce what you need for that month, it's all right to do it later. But you can't delay planting seeds on the farm. So it's stressful. We're always tense.

    It's been quite rough actually. We lost the Great Leader. Then we had natural disasters on top of that. So the farming hasn't turned out the way it should. And to be honest, the Americans have been blocking our economy. Using self-reliance... we did our farming on our own. Under the care of our party and the General we've been receiving food. But, it's been quite difficult.

    Yet despite the hardship, the system endured. North Koreans credit their survival to the guiding philosophy of Juche, an ideology of self-reliance developed by Kim Il Sung, and further elaborated by Kim Jong Il.

    Self-reliance means using our own strength. We make the things we don't have, if the state can't provide them. For example, agricultural tools like hoes, if the state can't provide them, we forge them ourselves at the blacksmith's, since we have to do our farming. So if we have no gasoline for an engine, we have to figure out how it works and fix it, even by running it on natural gas. This kind of thing is self-reliance.

    Related Links
    A State of Mind on PBS.org

    North Korea's Official Site

    National Geographic: Dangerous Divide

    Korean Central News Agency

    South Korean Ministry of Unification

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