Faced with growing food shortages and a tanking economy, the North Korean government is sponsoring lectures intended to rally the citizenry against South Korea and the United States and to laud leader Kim Jong Un for boosting the country’s military capabilities and keeping the people safe.
But according to sources who attended the lectures, many of the people in the audience did not seem to buy the government’s latest propaganda efforts.
“Though the lecturers made an impassioned speech, most of the audience waited for time to pass or they dozed off. These are people who don’t even have enough corn or rice. Who among them is going to believe that the ‘puppets’ in the South are trembling in fear of our ‘inexhaustible’ military power?” a resident of the northeastern province of North Hamgyong told RFA’s Korean Service Dec. 15.
The North Korean economy lies in shambles due to the combined effects of international nuclear sanctions and an almost two-year long suspension of trade with China due to the coronavirus pandemic. Prices have risen sharply due to supply shortages and there have been reports of starvation deaths.
The source told RFA that the lectures have been held in every party, military and citizen organization as part of annual winter training assignments.
“The lecturer criticized the United States, saying they are ‘in collusion with their South Korean puppets, dealing with the fearsome threat North Korea represents to South Korea by yammering on about ‘peace and cooperation,’” said the source, who requested anonymity for security reasons.
“The lecturer said the U.S. is holding joint military exercises with the South, a blatant slight on our republic, right in front of our face,” the source said.
“The lecture materials distributed earlier this month concentrate on promoting the greatness of General Secretary Kim Jong Un, saying that he, the ‘Highest Dignity,’ has fortified our national self-defense capabilities,” the source added.
Lectures in the northwestern province of North Pyongan similarly emphasized Kim Jong Un’s “immortal achievements” in overcoming severe economic difficulty to strengthen the national defense, a citizen there told RFA.
“The lecture was titled ‘About the Respectful General Secretary Building Up the National Self-Defense of Our Country,’” said the second source, who also requested anonymity to speak freely.
The lecture the second source attended emphasized the 2017 test of North Korea’s first intercontinental ballistic missile, or ICBM, the Hwasong-15, which theoretically could give North Korea the capability to deliver a nuclear payload as far away as the northeastern United States.
“They said that on Nov. 29, 2017, our country and our people seized a powerful strategic weapon that could completely subdue the United States, the global center of imperialism and the main enemy of the Korean Revolution, and the cause of our pursuing nuclear capabilities for the defense of our nation,” the second source said.
But just as in North Hamgyong, the North Pyongan residents saw through the exercise, according to the second source.
“The lecturer ordered all the executives, citizens and soldiers to reflect deeply on the miraculous increases in military capabilities. He passionately praised the ‘immortal patriotic achievements’ of the general secretary who ‘gave birth to the great power of North Korea,’ saying his ‘life and death decisions’ should be engraved in their hearts,” the second source said.
“But the people complained that Kim Jong Un came to power 10 years ago with a promise that they would never have to tighten their belts. That promise is now gone,” the second source said.
Kim had promised his people early in his reign that they would never go hungry again. But last year the government told people that they were on their own for food, and told them to prepare for another “Arduous March,” the Korean name for the 1994-1998 period of famine that claimed the lives of millions of North Koreans.
“The people resent the authorities, saying that if their national defense problems are solved through the development of missiles and nuclear weapons, will the food problem just solve itself?” the second source said.
Translated by Claire Lee. Written in English by Eugene Whong.