In North Korea the government has found that a new order for most, if not all, agents of the secret police to take a six month English course is rather unpopular. It is also unclear why leader Kim Jong Un ordered thousands of secret police to study English. While many already know Chinese but it has been noted that in schools studying English is now more popular than Chinese and schools are adapting to that. It is known that Kim Jong Un studied English when he was going to school in Europe and has been interested in all things Western ever since. Many secret police agents believe Kim Jong Un is more afraid of is Chinese “allies” than his American “enemies” and the language is part of some secret plan.
There are several reasons for this reluctance to take the English language training. Taking the course requires that the agents spend six months away from their families. There are some more sinister reasons to resent the mandatory English language instruction and most of them have to do with money. That’s because since 2012 more and more secret police have been assigned to cracking down on corruption among the military and police stationed along the Chinese border. The secret police, especially the MPS (Ministry of People’s Security) is more resistant to bribes and much less tolerant of bad behavior, which is found in abundance on the border. At the same time there are some practical reasons for the mounting corruption in the military and police. The biggest complaint is the persistent decline in government distribution of food, booze and candy for public holidays (like the “celebration” of Kim Jong Un’s birthday). The government has less and less to give out and people who can do what they can to make up the shortages. That makes the government look weak and the people are less afraid. Soldiers and police who miss these “gifts” are not just disappointed but determined to make up for the missing gifts anyway they can.
The North Korean government made the Chinese border a lucrative area to obtain bribes because of the strenuous efforts up there to control the smuggling and illegal immigration. Security personnel have been warned that they face the death penalty if caught working with the smugglers. In early 2014 border guards were ordered to shoot on sight anyone seen trying to cross the border illegally. The government put more undercover operatives on the border, to collect information, set up arrests, make the smugglers (and corrupt officials) nervous and generally disrupt and discourage smuggling. People on the border just put up with it, secure in the knowledge that the government will not keep up these efforts indefinitely. Reliable secret policemen are in short supply and if you keep them on the border too long some will be corrupted and might even defect. Thus there is another reason for secret police agents to resent the English language training. For those assigned to the border (as many now are) it takes them away from all that bribes income. It has been noted that a lot of secret police families appear to be living better than in the past. That increased standard of living is not possible without a constant flow of bribe money from border duty.
Patience is in short supply for those working on the border and everyone wants the secret police to leave. That’s one reason so many people are gossiping openly about the secret police agents taking bribes. Once the government admits that the secret police are being corrupted, despite the government custom of rotating secret police operators in and out of border duty frequently, there’s a good chance the secret police will be withdrawn from the border before they become total corrupt and thus useless to the government.
The secret police officially boasts of defeating the smugglers and illegal travelers. But it is believed that the most authoritative secret police reports (for only the most senior officials) are describing what is obvious to most North Koreans; the efforts to curb corruption and other bad behavior are gradually being corrupted and subverted. This makes the senior leadership very nervous because it was this same insidious and seemingly unstoppable corruption that brought down the Soviet Union and all the other European communist countries 25 years ago. North Korea thought they could beat this curse and now find that they cannot.