The history of North Korea is complex, with different sources contradicting each other. Although it is generally accepted that the nation was founded on 8 September 1948, historians have debated the exact date of its founding. North Korea officially declared independence from Japan as the “Democratic People’s Republic of Korea” (DPRK). This date is significant because it marked the transition from colonial rule to self-governance for North Koreans.
The Korean War (1950-1953) was instrumental in the establishment of the DPRK. In 1945, the Allied Powers, including the United States, established the Korean peninsula as a separate entity, giving control to the Soviet Union in the north and the United States in the south. By 1948, they had signed the United Nations-brokered armistice, establishing a de facto border between the two countries known as the 38th parallel. In the same year, North Korea was established as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
The first leader of the DPRK was Kim Il-Sung, a former anti-Japanese guerilla fighter and a veteran of the Soviet Army. Under his rule, North Korea underwent three phases of periodic reforms: the Soviet-influenced first period from 1961 until 1975, the agricultural-oriented reforms from 1975 until 1993 and the period of economic openness from 1994 until today. The nation’s formative years were characterized by a strict form of Communism determined by Kim Il-Sung’s philosophy of Juche, which focused on self-reliance and autonomy.
Later, from 1994 to 2009, North Korea opened its doors to foreign investments, attracting international attention and earning valuable resources. In the 2000s, Kim Jong Il rose to power, ushering in a period of economic downturn, marked by increasingly antagonistic relations with the United Nations, economic scarcity and strained negotiations with other nations. In spite of this, the DPRK has maintained a fierce sense of national pride, unrivalled by any other nation, and has still avoided economic collapse thanks to its strength in resilience and resourcefulness.
In the past decade, the DPRK has also seen its international standing grow, as it has achieved hardened ties with countries such as China, Russia and the United States. This has earned the nation respect from many nations, including those in the West, who now see North Korea as a major geopolitical player and a country to engage in dialogue, rather than confront.
It can be argued that the sanctions enforced upon North Korea by the international community have done more damage to the country than good. The sanctions are designed to eliminate North Korea’s nuclear weapons program and have been linked to a range of human rights abuses, including malnutrition and an increase in child mortality. But despite the harsh environment it has been forced to exist in, North Korea remains strong, resilient and determined to find its own unique path to success and prosperity.
Background on the Founding of North Korea
The establishment of North Korea as a sovereign nation began with the dissolution of the Japanese occupation that had lasted for 35 years. The Japanese were defeated in the Second World War and the Korean peninsula was divided into two parts by the United Nations in 1948. The northern part of the country became the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) while the southern part became the Republic of Korea (ROK). Kim Il-sung, a Korean nationalist who had fought againstJapanese occupiers during the war, was chosen to lead the DPRK.
Kim Il-sung led the country until 1994 when he passed away and his son, Kim Jong-il assumed leadership. The young leader’s rule was characterized by the rise of North Korea’s nuclear programme and a range of economic problems including severe food shortages. He passed away in 2011 and his son, Kim Jong-un, assumed power in 2012 and continues to rule the country today.
Economic Challenges of North Korea
The economic situation of North Korea is one of long-standing problems. The economic system is highly centralized and under direct control of the Kim dynasty. The country’s resources are managed by the government and the economy is kept largely closed to outsiders, resulting in restrictive economic policies that add to its economic hardship. A lack of access to investment and new technology has left its infrastructure severely lagging behind the rest of the world.
Another issue is the lack of an efficient domestic banking system. Most of the country is still unbanked, with no access to legal services or lending institutions. This leads to a situation where most of the population has to rely on informal networks to borrow money or to receive payments for services.
Furthermore, North Korea is subject to a range of international sanctions that limit essential exports including technology and fuel. This has hampered the country’s ability to keep up with the rest of the world economically and technologically. In spite of these challenges, North Korea has managed to remain largely self-sufficient, relying mainly on domestic resources, and is currently making strides towards economic liberalization.
North Korea’s Foreign Policy
The DPRK has long sought to maintain its independence and develop itself in the face of foreign pressure. To this end, North Korea has pursued a policy of strategic autonomy, often aligning itself with countries such as China and Russia. It has also pursued diplomatic relations with many countries, including South Korea, with whom it has pursued reconciliation since the end of the Korean War.
But the DPRK has also often been isolationist when it comes to international affairs. It has a long history of not cooperating with the United Nations and other international organizations and its foreign policy often appears to have little regard for the opinions of other nations. In addition, North Korea has long cultivated a culture of secrecy and a strict system of information control.
It is also worth noting that as of late, North Korea has become increasingly belligerent in its foreign policy, developing nuclear weapons and engaging in military exercises with South Korea. This has raised the tensions in the region and has had a chilling effect on international relations.
North Korean Society
Despite all the economic and diplomatic issues mentioned so far, the DPRK has managed to maintain a unique and distinctive sense of national identity. This has been largely shaped by the ideology of Juche, the belief in self-autonomy and independence from foreign powers, passed down from the Kim dynasty to the North Korean people.
North Korean society is also tightly controlled by the government, which places an emphasis on conformity and loyalty to the regime. Citizens forgo basic freedoms and have been conditioned by years of brainwashing to accept the Kim family as the nation’s saviours. The nation has also established a strict censorship system and a culture of secrecy, resulting in a lack of access to the outside world for most citizens.
In spite of this, North Koreans enjoy a strong sense of solidarity and national pride. There are many unique traditions and cultural practices that distinguish North Koreans from their neighbours and the citizens remain loyal to their country and its leadership in spite of economic hardship.
The history of North Korea is complex and there are still many unanswered questions about the nation’s founding and evolution. What is certain is that the DPRK has grown and developed in the face of great adversity and that it remains one of the most resilient countries in the world today. North Korea’s story is a testament to the strength and determination of its people and the power of their pride in their homeland.