7 Things I learned reading North Korea's newspaper
The Japanese are reporting that Kim il Jong has been dead since 2003. The UN thinks North Korea is slipping into a "serious food shortage"¦that is causing millions of people to go hungry." But what does North Korea think? I spent a week (July 21-Aug. 1) monitoring the Korean Central News Agency, which offers readers the world from the vantage point of the North Korean government. Here's what I learned:
1. Kim Jong Il is loved around the world (and has the gift baskets to prove it)
The KCNA is quick to point out the many bouquets and floral baskets Dear Leader receives.Â "General Secretary Kim Jong Il was presented with a floral basket and a congratulatory letter by the military attaches corps here on the occasion of the 55th anniversary of the victory in the Fatherland Liberation War," KCNA reported. "They were handed to an official concerned by Miguel Angel Gala Valiente, military attache of the Cuban embassy here."
On July 31, "General Secretary Kim Jong Il was presented with a floral basket by the delegation of Japan-Korea Friendship Linking with Juche on a visit to the DPRK."
Also, "A bouquet from the Russian Embassy was laid at the Monument to Victory in the Fatherland Liberation War" on July 25. KCNA did not report what other bouquets arrived for Kim Jong Il in the week. The paper is limited by space to choose the highlights.
2. Korea is under attack from Japan
Since the end of World War II, Japan has followed a pacifist constitution. They've also had a steadily shrinking population of young people who are largely engrossed in video games and manga. But according to the North Korean media, that's just what Japan wants the world to believe.
In reality, KCNA reveals, "Japan is making desperate efforts to seize other countries' territories with an aim to reinvade not only Korea but other countries around it"¦Â It is the unchanged wild ambition of the Japanese militarists to reinvade Asia and dominate the world."
KCNA finds the "pretext for reinvading Asia" in a planned change in Japanese textbooks: Since 1954, the South Korean coast guard has occupied two rocky islets about 200-square meters in area. Referred to as Dokdo by South Korea and Takeshima by Japan, its sovereignty is currently in dispute. Asiaenews has reported, recently that, "the Japanese government decided to include its sovereignty claim over Dokdo"¦in the curriculum handbook to be used at junior high schools beginning 2012."
Of course, this hasn't gone unnoticed by the KCNA. "This clearly proves that the moves of Japan to grab Tok Islet [Dokdo], part of inviolable territory of Korea, have reached the phase of its implementation," KCNA reported, quoting "a public statement" made by "a spokesman for the History Society of the DPRK."
3. North Korea cares deeply about South Korea
KCNA is unstinting in its coverage of South Korea and its President Lee Myung-bak. From the people to their labor unions, to their political parties, the KCNA refers to South Koreans as "the Lee Myung-bak group," or occasionally, "the group of traitors."
The paper doesn't exactly maintain an objective voice. When President Lee lifted a ban on American beef, an unpopular move that led to massive demonstrations and candle-lit vigils in Seoul, KCNA offered this analysis:
"The deplorable situation created by the opening of south Korean market to American beef is a product of the U.S. arrogant and high-handed acts to force unconditional servility and submission upon the south Koreans and, at the same time, a natural outcome of the Lee group's treacherous policy." KCNA continued, "This time the U.S. forced south Korea to open its markets to American beef by using its colonial stooges who have neither elementary national conscience nor an iota of self-esteem. It is as clear as noonday that it will bring bigger misfortune and sufferings to them in the days ahead."
4. The U.S. regularly forgets our anniversary
Did you make special plans on July 27? North Korea did. It was, after all, the 55th anniversary of the Armistice Agreement that ended the Korean War. But if history gives North Korea lemons, it makes lemonade.
"The 55th anniversary of the victory in the great Fatherland Liberation War was significantly celebrated across the country," KCNA wrote. "Amid the playing of songs such as "˜Our General Is Best' and "˜General Employs the Art of Compressing Space' the participants in the parties enthusiastically danced with the feelings of gratitude to General Secretary Kim Jong Il, the peerlessly illustrious commander who has wisely led the anti-imperialist, anti-U.S. confrontation struggle with the great Songun politics."
"When the war broke out, the world community worried whether the nearly two-year-old DPRK would withstand the aggression of the U.S. imperialists who had been proud of "˜having won' more than 110 wars. But it witnessed marvels from the first days of the war," KCNA's coverage continued. "The KPA made a brilliant achievement of liberating Seoul, the bulwark of the enemy, within three days following the start of the war. [Kim Jong Il's] strategies and tactics were all unique, that could not be conceived with existing military knowledge and formula."
5. North Korea has Impeccable Manners
You might get the wrong impression about North Korea if I don't point out that most of the news the week I monitored KCNA consisted of greetings that Kim Yong Nam sent to various people around the world: "to the president of Benin on the occasion of the 48th anniversary of the independence of his country"; "to the President of the Swiss Confederation, on the occasion of its national day"; "to the President of the Republic of Peru, on Monday on the occasion of the independence day," among others.
Meanwhile, "the Central Committee of the Workers' Party of Korea sent a message of greetings to the National Executive Committee of the People's Democratic Party of Nigeria on the occasion of its 10th founding anniversary."Â And "Kim Yong Il, premier of the Cabinet of the DPRK, on July 24 sent a congratulatory message to Tillman Thomas upon his assumption of office as Prime Minister of Grenada."
6. North Koreans enjoyed the lazy days of summer
No less committed to penetrating local coverage than in its unrelenting bashing of South Korea, Japan and the United States, KCNA revealed that "folk sports and amusement games" were held at the Taesongsan Pleasure Ground on July 30 "on the occasion of the 62nd anniversary of promulgation of the Law on Sex Equality."
The following day, the world learned, via KCNA, that "the Okryu Restaurant on the bank of River Taedong flowing through Pyongyang has been updated to suit the modern aesthetic sense while preserving its original looks."
And on a lighter note, KCNA reported that "water sporting activities are brisk in the DPRK in the July-August months for water sports. The sea bathing resorts, swimming pools and wading places across the country including the recently facelifted Majon Recreation Ground and newly built Sariwon Open-air Swimming Pool are crowded with working people and school youth and children these days."
7. They've kept a dying language alive
With one of the estimated 7,000 world languages disappearing every two weeks, you have to be impressed by a people that manages to keep one of them, not only alive, but flourishing. I don't mean the Korean language. I mean the particular dialect introduced by V.I. Lenin and which is now used only by North Korea's leaders and a handful of others around the world:
"Shortly ago, the puppet minister of Defence of south Korea at a session of the "˜National Assembly' openly let loose malignant and reckless remarks labeling the DPRK "˜biggest principal enemy'"¦
"The puppet defence minister's recent balderdash cannot be construed otherwise than an undisguised treachery of going against the desire of the nation for reconciliation, unity and reunification and the trend of the times as it revealed once again the true colors of the Lee Myung Bak group"¦"
It's wild stuff. But after a week of monitoring the Korean Central News Agency, I realized this is far tamer than most of what I find on the internet.
David Holzel doesn't speak Korean, but he does know a smattering of Marxist-Leninist. You can read more of his writing here.