North Korea will hold a congress of its ruling Workers’ Party starting this Friday–the seventh time in the country’s history such an event has been held, but the first time since 1980.
There are two key institutions in North Korea: the military and the Workers’ Party, the communist structure which controls the state. Its symbols are the usual hammer and sickle, but North Korea has added a brush to symbolize learning.
Kim Il Sung, the founding father of North Korea (and its “eternal president” today, 22 years after his death) was very much a Party man, emphasizing the party and North Korea’s special flavor of communism–called “juche,” or self-reliance–above all else. His son and the second in the dynasty, Kim Jong Il, was more of an army man, putting in place the “songun” or “military first” policy. Kim Jong Un has been modeling himself after his grandfather, elevating the party. So the congress takes place in this context.
What is a congress anyway? In the communist system, a congress is technically the highest ruling body of the Workers’ Party (although in reality, in North Korea, the highest ruling body is Kim Jong Un’s.) It is a forum to trumpet the importance of the party and sometimes to unveil major new policies. In 1982, Deng Xiaoping used the 12th congress of the Chinese Communist Party to put forward the idea of developing “socialism with Chinese characteristics,” while in 1986, Mikhail Gorbachev used the 27th congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union to announce his reform and opening policies, perestroika and glasnost.
Whether Kim Jong Un offers more rhetoric or real reforms, well, you’ll just have to wait for Friday for that.