Roberta Cohen, co-chairman of the rights group, says money, bribery and corruption recently have begun to erode the songbun system because of the emergence of informal markets and the scope for paying officials for favors. But she said songbun's main elements remain in place, "guaranteed by a complete absence of political freedom."
The study says a slang has developed around the songbun system, wherein the loyal class are referred to as "tomatoes" that are red on both the inside and outside, so are good socialists. Those of the wavering class are "apples" that are only red on the outside, and the hostile class is known as "grapes" — considered politically unredeemable.
There's no sign that new ruler Kim Jong Un, the third in the dynasty, will change the policy. The study concludes that would be a direct threat to the North Korean elite and could undermine his consolidation of power.
Committee for Human Rights in North Korea: http://hrnk.org
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