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North Korea mobilizes factory workers to make giant propaganda slogan signs

Visitors bowing for North Korean leaders Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il in Pyongyang, North Korea. (Bjørn Christian Tørrissen - - Released)
June 09, 2019

This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.

North Korea is mobilizing factory workers to produce giant propaganda slogan signs nationwide, sources say.

The signs, often a fixture near North Korean monuments, workplaces, and other high-traffic locations, urge citizens to work harder or do better to advance the goals of the “Republic”.

According to RFA sources, the regime has been sending workers to special construction sites for extra-large panels since the middle of last month. The panels under construction are intended to idolize Kim Jong Un and his father and grandfather, former North Korean leaders Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il.

“A competition has begun nationwide to see who can build the best slogan panels,” said a source from North Hamgyong province in an interview with RFA’s Korean Service on May 25.

“The Central Committee [of the Korean Workers’ Party] gave orders in the middle of [May] to install large slogan panels in major cities, so the provincial party committee began to produce slogan panels by mobilizing all the factory [workers] in the province,” said the source.

The source said the exact guidelines regarding the installation of the panels were disseminated when the provincial government committee held a meeting of high-ranking officials of companies in North Hamgyong.

“As a result [of the meeting], Rason city decided to build an 18-syllable slogan near the Sungri Chemical Complex.  They will install the slogan panels every 100 meters and the total project will be about 2,000 meters in length,” the source said.

The Korean writing system, known as Hangul, or Chosongul in North Korea, has been described by linguists as an alphabetic syllabary. Consonants and vowels are organized into syllabic blocks. In terms of the Rason project, that means 18 individual panels will be made, with one syllable of the slogan written on each.

“[Each panel] is a large rectangular [concrete] structure, measuring 2.5 meters wide and 4 meters long.”

The source explained that each region will have different slogans, and plans for their construction are underway.

“Some factories have been designated to make 12 or 14 concrete structures, so it seems like there will be different slogans regionally. It is not known yet what the new slogan will be, but it is expected to idolize the Kim family, including Kim Jong Un, and to push ‘the five year strategic goal of national economic development’ for next year,” said the source.

A second source, also from North Hamgyong, said the campaign to install propaganda slogan structures echoes a policy enacted by the government during a time when the country was under great duress.

“They installed these panels in the mid-1990s during the North Korean famine, and they’re doing it again. They ordered that the panels be installed along the mountains, fields and rivers so that we can see them clearly from far away,” said the second source.

“There was mass starvation caused by food shortages when Kim Jong Il was in power, so the first thing the party did was to set up large slogan panels everywhere. They installed slogan panels across the whole country with themes of protecting the country’s system and the Kim family across the country,” the second source said.

The second source recalled some of the slogans he saw during that period.

“10 million-ri  following the party, 10 million-ri following the leader,” read one. Ri is a unit of measurement equal to about 4 kilometers. “If we go a thousand ri, there will be 10,000-ri of happiness,” read another.

“Let’s all smile even though we travel a difficult road,” read a third, according to the second source.

“The slogans in the past sounded grand, but they did nothing to change the lives of North Korean residents at all,” the second source said.

“The slogans this time will probably emphasize the unity of the people by protecting Kim Jong Un and the regime and by overcoming the U.S. sanctions,” the second source said.

The sanctions are aimed at depriving Pyongyang of resources and cash that could be channeled into its nuclear program have made living conditions in many parts of the country difficult.

“Currently, organizations and factories have started to collect the money to produce the slogan panels from workers, and they called on the military to work on installing the panels day and night,” the second source said.

“The authorities must know that large slogan panels will do nothing to neutralize U.S. and international sanctions, nor will they improve people’s lives. North Korean residents are also well aware of that.”