TOKYO — North Korea is holding the first congress of its ruling Workers’ Party in 36 years next month, and all hands are on deck. Literally all hands.
The exact date of the congress has not yet been announced, but most analysts expect it to be in the first third of next month, perhaps May 7. That means North Korea, which kicked off the 70-day prep period in March, is now on the downward slide to this showcase event.
Recent visitors to North Korea say that the roads and fields are full of people working to make the impoverished country look as good as possible — a steep challenge given the state of the economy. Wooden distance markers along the roads have been painted a uniform blue and surrounded with circles of white stones.
Signs have gone up around the place with slogans like: “Let us all become honorary victors in the '70-day campaign' of loyalty!"
So what’s the big deal about this congress?
Well, it’s Kim Jong Un’s chance to really put his stamp on the leadership. Although there are no signs that his grip on power is slipping, the 33-year-old is exceptionally young to lead a Confucian nation — which venerates age over youth — and did not have anywhere near the type of preparation that his father, Kim Jong Il, received from the first Kim to lead North Korea, their father/grandfather Kim Il Sung.
So Kim wants lots of fanfare surrounding this event. Mobilizing pretty much everyone in the country is one surefire way to make sure they’re aware this event is going on.
How’s it being treated in the state media?
Not surprisingly, the media is all for it, saying that the 70-day campaign “is a drive to devotedly defend the leadership authority” of the Workers’ Party and fend off the “heinous provocations” of the “U.S. imperialists.”
“Very great are the victorious successes achieved during the 70-day campaign so far,” the Rodong Sinmun, the mouthpiece of the Workers’ Party, wrote in a commentary published this week. “The remaining days of the campaign are the vital period for all the service personnel and people to dash forward for the bigger victory and the greater surge with redoubled efforts.”
The official Korean Central News Agency now has a special section on its site dedicated to “News of 70-day Campaign.” Recent headlines include: “Party Organizations and Officials Called for Creating New Spirit of Era” and “Rodong Sinmun Calls upon Youth to Work Miracles in 70-Day Campaign.” There’s also a special report from the Pyongyang Potato Tissue Culture Factory.
And what about the people?
Another shocker. They’re all for it too (at least according to the state media. And who’s going to say anything else?)
"In the past, we used to finish the everyday schedule by starting work in the morning and going home in the evening,” Ro Yong Hui, a 42 year-old worker, said in a report broadcast by KCNA. “But now in the run-up to the 7th Workers’ Party of Korea congress, we don't leave the workplace [in order] to fulfill our work plan. Nobody forces us stay over here, but with the patriotic and loyal will, we eat and sleep here in order to work following the purpose and plan of our Marshal."
Here’s Jin Song Ho, the 44-year-old manager of a shoemaking workshop: “Now we have turned into an all-out working status to accomplish the year's plan before the 7th Workers’ Party of Korea congress. With our pride to work at the factory, which our Marshal has visited three times, we will work very hard and exceed our daily targets at 200 percent."
So what should we expect from this congress?
Well the last one went on for four days in October 1980 at the February 8th House of Culture in Pyongyang. It's now called the April 25th House of Culture, named for a date honoring the military.
It was attended by more than 3,000 Workers' Party members and it was a big deal. Kim Il Sung announced he wanted his son Kim Jong Il to succeed him and the party also cemented the whole philosophy of “juche” — usually translated as “self-reliance.” This is the idea that North Korea can exist as “one nation by itself” although in actual fact, it stays afloat only because of the support of outside patrons like the Soviet Union (then) and China (now.)
The aim of this seventh congress is nothing less than "the solidarity of its regime,” Yang Moo-jin, professor at the University of North Korean Studies, told the NK News website.