This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.
New propaganda initiatives by authorities in North Korea call for citizens in the reclusive country to fully dedicate their lives to the state. A new prime time television series called “Dedicate Yourself” attempts to encourage young people to go work in rural areas to solve food shortages, but it is being widely panned by local audiences.
“[The show] is about young people fresh out of high school foregoing college to move to the sticks for the sake of the country,” a North Hamgyong province resident told RFA’s Korean Service.
“Every evening at 8:30 p.m. a new episode of the series is aired,” said the source.
“It depicts children of high-ranking officials giving up their dreams of going to Kim Il-sung University [the country’s top school,] to help fulfill the party’s agricultural quotas in the countryside,” the source said.
“But viewers are criticizing the premise, saying it is too far-fetched given North Korea’s current social realities,” the source said.
“The people wonder what more they should dedicate to the nation, saying they already must participate in the battle of fertilization, the battle of planting, the battle of weeding and other agricultural initiatives the government created,” the source explained, using the militaristic language that the government employs for yearly agricultural mobilization campaigns.
“In addition they are mobilized to work at state construction sites too,” the source added.
Trying times ahead?
The source said that the push by the government to assist agricultural efforts in rural areas is causing many to think that the regime is hiding expectations of trying times ahead.
“Some residents are worried that we might face a second North Korean famine,” said the source.
During the first North Korean famine, in the mid 1990s, estimates of death tolls from starvation or hunger-related illnesses reached as high as 3.5 million.
“As food shortages continue, the Central Committee [of the ruling Korean Workers’ Party] is forcing young people, who should be at school, to work in farms, saying they should dedicate themselves to the country,” said the source.
Another resident, from neighboring South Hamgyong province, noted that the TV series was not unique among other messaging from the regime urging dedication from its citizens.
“This year there has been lots of propaganda telling us to dedicate ourselves to the country. They urge us to dedicate ourselves by holding [mandatory] lecture sessions, [writing articles] in the newspaper, and through TV broadcasts,” the second source said, adding, “Whose sympathies are they getting?”
Like the first resident, the second source thought the messaging might be indicative of a worsening situation.
“It’s pretty serious here now and food shortages are expected as the domestic and foreign situation is getting more intense. [That’s why] they are telling us to dedicate ourselves to the country,” said the second source.
“The people respond by saying it’s pathetic to see the authorities [doing this],” said the second source.
Missiles over people
The second source said that the people are not falling for the propaganda and realize that the true problem is the regime itself.
“Maybe airing these kinds of propaganda shows would have worked 40 or 50 years ago. Although the food situation is said to be unstable this year, the people are well aware that even a tenth of the money they’re spending on nuclear [weapons research] and missile development will solve our food problems,” the second source said.
According to figures from Yonhap News in 2016, North Korea’s Scud and Rodong missiles cost between $820,000 and $1.64 million each. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s June commodity price for rice was $1420 per metric ton, meaning that North Korea could buy about 2000 to 4000 metric tons of rice for the cost of one missile.