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N. Korean leader puts his stamp on everyday life. Under Kim Il Sung, leisure time and refrigerators are a luxury

By Sam CohenSpecial to The Christian Science Monitor / August 22, 1985



Pyongyang, North Korea

A 560-foot-high tower topped by a torch of red glass stands alongside the Taedong River, dominating the skyline of this capital city. Dedicated to President Kim Il Sung on his 70th birthday in 1982 and made up of 22,550 pieces of granite to honor the total number of his days, the monument is called ``the tower of the juche idea.'' Juche, short for juche sasang, is Kim Il Sung's ideology of self-reliance.

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Designed to replace all other schools of thought in this country, the juche concept says that a society can develop without outside aid -- by using its own resources and creativity. The result for North Korea, whether by design or necessity, has been the development of a determinedly self-sufficient, isolated communist state.

But North Korea's is a highly personalized brand of communism. Says Kim Jong Il, planned successor to and son of Kim Il Sung: ``The great leader has not confined himself to applying Marxism-Leninism to the Korean revolution, but has pioneered a new phase of revolutionary theory from a steadfast juche-based standpoint.'' Kim Jong Il has written many of the dozens of books that have been produced on his father's ideology.

The philosophy has created a new life style for North Koreans -- one that comes at a high cost in terms of human effort. Hard work has been made the major (if not the only) goal in life.

Juche is a major study topic in all schools, factories, farms, and government offices throughout North Korea. Civil servants, workers, and farmers are compelled to attend courses and seminars on juche after their eight-hour work days and even on their one-day weekends. For factory and farm workers, the courses are part of an ``intellectualization campaign'' of ideological and professional education.

Bureaucrats, university professors, and students have to serve one month a year in rural areas as laborers. School children are engaged in extracurricular activities ranging from music to sports and including membership in the ``Green Guards'' or ``Hygienic Guards,'' whose job it is to sweep the streets and parks, water the shrubbery, and repair the roads.

Cities look modern and clean. Pyongyang, which was completely devastated during the Korean war, now looks like a showcase for the juche ideology. It has several skyscrapers, large boulevards, and cultural and sports centers. But in sharp contrast with the cities in South Korea and elsewhere in Asia, this city of nearly 1 million residents seems deserted, except during the few hours of the day and evening when people commute between home and work.

When lights go off on the major avenues and streets after sunset, the city is engulfed in darkness. There are no nightclubs, and only a few resturants and tearooms, which close early. ``Our people have no time to waste, and we do not have unemployed people who wander about in the streets the way they do in South Korea,'' guides tell visitors.

There are no private cars -- just an occassional taxi and some Mercedes-Benz and Volvo limousines for official use by government departments. Public transport includes buses and subways (the metro stations have revoltionary names and are adorned with paintings of the two Kims). Oddly, traffic cops stand at each crossroad to regulate practically nonexistant traffic.