Nearly all North Koreans above the age of 35, became adults in a monolithic state-controlled society, which had been developed under the leadership of Kim Il-sung from the late 1950s. In this society, the state was ubiquitous. It provided virtually the entire population with highly subsidized (almost free) food rations. In return it was expected that every adult would work for the state. Money was not that important in the old North Korean world. Success and prosperity was determined not by one’s ability to generate a large income but by one’s ability to ingratiate oneself with the state.
The outside world remained largely unknown and was generally presumed to be inferior in all important regards to Kim Il -sung’s realm.
North Koreans seemingly bought official state propaganda of their era wholesale, not least because there no other sources to compare it to.
This all changed in the 1990s. The once ubiquitous rationing system collapsed. Now rations are issued only to officials. To compensate and survive, people began to trade or look for private employment and they soon learnt that money talks.
Younger North Koreans grew up in a society centered on emerging market places. For their parents, earthly success was embodied in the form of a well fed party cadre, who would have been driven around in an old Soviet jeep or, in some exceptional cases, in an old Mercedes. For the younger generation though, success is exemplified by market traders who have flat screen TVs and air conditioners inside their homes and who wine and dine their mistresses in posh restaurants.
The majority of older North Koreans still see the state as the natural giver of things. But for the younger generation the state and its bureaucrats are more likely to be viewed as a swarm of parasites....
Young North Koreans are less afraid of the state as well. Contrary to what is often claimed in the media, the North Korean state has become significantly less repressive in recent years. The decline of terror has made people less fearful and on top of that, younger North Koreans know that money can be used to buy oneself out of even political trouble. Of course they must be careful but much less so than their parents had to be during the purges of the 1960s and 1970s (the shadow of these purges still linger for this older generation and they remain frightened as a result).
The younger generation also has a fuller, more complete understanding of the world outside North Korea. No one believes anymore that the nation is rich. A majority realize at least that South Korea is ahead of the North and China’s economic success is widely known and much admired.
Lankov is undoubtedly one of the better-informed commentators on North Korea, so he must have good reason for his view that the state's become "significantly less repressive in recent years", but from what we're hearing that's certainly not been the case over the past few months, since the arrival of the new Supreme Commander Kim Jong-un. On the contrary, there seems to be a new wave of clamp-downs, and a new stridency to the military-first propaganda. Where Lankov's surely right though is that the new generation will no longer be silent because they support the regime - more and more they see through it - but because of the need for self-preservation.
In other words, the writings on the wall, but it's probably going to be a while yet.