North Korea’s communist dictatorship had two reasons to celebrate this week: the anniversary of the imposition of its “military first” ideology and the allegedly successful test of a ballistic missile under the watchful eye of Kim Jong-un.
In photos of the celebrations released by the North Korean government, Kim appears laughing and celebrating with military officials. The UK Independent reports that the government organized “mass dancing” celebrations nationwide, described as a “common form of celebration in North Korea during state festivities and birthdays.” Individuals all coordinate their movements evenly and the “mass dancing demonstrations” occur outdoors.
“Military first,” or Songun, is a facet of North Korean Chinese political ideology that dictates that the government’s first priority is to invest all its efforts into a robust military, often at the expense of basic peacetime public needs like ensuring a stable food supply or solid infrastructure. Songun is one of many aspects of Juche, or “self-reliance,” the catch-all name for the ideology of Kim Il-sung intended to cordon North Korea off from the rest of the world.
The timing of the celebration of Songun with a new ballistic missile test proved a worthy propaganda point for the North Korean government. According to the state newspaper Rodong Sinmun, Kim personally oversaw a successful launch of the Pukguksong ballistic missile and decreed it “a great manifestation and demonstration of the tremendous power and inexhaustible muscle of the DPRK.”
“I do not guess what ridiculous remarks the U.S. and its followers will make about this test-fire, but I can say their rash acts will only precipitate their self-destruction,” Rodong quotes Kim as saying in a statement. “The best way of escaping the deadly strike of the infuriated KPA is to refrain from hurting the dignity and security of the DPRK with prudence and self-control.”
North Korea is looking for something to brand a victory to its citizens after the latest embarrassing defection, this time of deputy ambassador to the UK Thae Yong Ho. Pyongyang is accusing him of “child rape” and has labeled him “human scum” for “running away to survive and abandoning the homeland and parents and siblings that raised and stood by him.”
The admission that Thae defected is a different approach from that of several months ago when the staff of a North Korean-owned restaurant in China defected to South Korea. Pyongyang accused Seoul of “abducting” the defectors and has repeatedly demanded they be returned to North Korea. In July, however, seven people were reportedly executed in public in relation with their defection. The families of the defectors, meanwhile, were allegedly forced to undergo communist re-education.
As North Korean citizens allowed to work abroad are among the most trusted by the communist government, it is more expedient for Pyongyang not to admit that they would take the risk of escaping Kim’s dictatorship. Political officials and military leaders, however, have come under fire repeatedly since Kim took over North Korea. Kim’s most prominent move against a high-level official was against his own uncle, Jang Sung-taek, who was executed in 2013 and erased from all publicly-available North Korean archives.