Observing changes in North Korea’s slogans from across the border
In early November, I went to a Unification Observatory in Ganghwa (Ganghwa Peace Observatory) and one in Gimpo (Aegibong Observatory). At a single glance, I was able to see busy North Korean citizens in gold-colored rice fields wrapping up the fall harvest and gathering leftover grain.
Red propaganda signs that appear to wrap around entire whole villages are massive emblems of the North Korean regime. Since North Korean propaganda slogans reflect the thinking of the Workers’ Party of Korea, they are important clues to interpreting North Korean society.
One propaganda sign that stood out to me read: “Hurrah for the Great Comrade Kim Jong Un’s revolutionary ideas.” This slogan was visible at all the North Korean villages that I could see from the observatories in Ganghwa and Gimpo. The slogan “Let’s defend our revolution with rice” that I saw at the Sino-Korean border seems to have the same meaning as the slogan, “Let’s support the Workers’ Party with rice.” Signs calling for self-reliance and for “cherishing the people” have been in place for many years.
Even just a few years ago, many propaganda slogans along the Sino-Korean border said “Hurrah for Kimilsungism-Kimjongilism.” Now, at the same places, they say “Hurrah for the Great Comrade Kim Jong Un’s revolutionary ideas.” The signs look recently installed because their paint looks new. In short, the slogan “Kim Jong Un’s revolutionary ideas” has replaced the call for more adherence to “Kimilsungism-Kimjongilism.” The new slogans seem to be related to the recent emphasis of Kim’s status as the country’s supreme leader and the “good fortune” the people have from him being their leader.
I view this change as North Korea’s intent to strengthen Kim’s status as a leader, rather than a move to erase traces of his forebears. Like it has been in the past, the slogan “Let’s be thoroughly armed through the great Kimilsungism-Kimjongilism” can still be found inscribed at the front of “Kimilsungism-Kimjongilism revolution research centers,” which are located in all North Korean towns.
In the ten years since Kim Jong Un’s rise to power, his consolidation of authority in the country has accelerated, but the lives of North Korean citizens have become more and more impoverished. With fences of high-tension power lines and trace lines (areas set up to leave tracks) being created to stop defectors, one can only guess when the winds of change will blow in this huge prison-like country.
Indeed, I was filled with doubt when I saw a slogan on a school that read “Thank you esteemed General Kim Jong Un.”
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