Monday, February 16, 2015

16/02/2015: Decoding North Korea's fish and mushroom slogans

North Korea has published 310 new patriotic slogans - so what do they say, what do they mean and what do they tell us about the leadership in Pyongyang, asks the BBC's Alison Gee?

"Let this socialist country resound with Song of Big Fish Haul and be permeated with the fragrant smell of fish and other seafoods!

“Let the strong wind of fish farming blow across the country!

"Let us turn ours into a country of mushrooms by making mushroom cultivation scientific, intensive and industrialised!

"Make fruits cascade down and their sweet aroma fill the air on the sea of apple trees at the foot of Chol Pass!"

Is there a theme emerging here?

"A lot of this has to do with very practical things to do with the economy, especially food," says James Grayson, emeritus professor of modern Korean studies at Sheffield University.

"It's an indication of the absolutely dire state of the North Korean economy. You have this huge disparity between the select few living in the best parts of Pyongyang, who live very well - there are now examples of international businesses there, coffee shops and designer labels... - whereas other parts of the country are allowed to go to hell in a cart."

North Korea has suffered famine and malnutrition in the recent past and Grayson thinks these food-related slogans are a way of both recognising those problems and offering a solution.

Propaganda in the form of slogans, posters, stamps and books has played an important role in the country since the state was founded in 1948 so the appearance of a new batch of exhortations is not surprising.

"It's typical of most totalitarian states," says Grayson. 

"Some of this sort of thing you could have seen certainly in China during the Cultural Revolution and after the establishment of the Communist regime - and if you think of the Nazis and Italian fascism it's not an unusual thing... It's the strength and the quantity of the North Korean ones that is unusual."

Rousing slogans are also common when countries reach a defining point in their development - in the 1960s and 1970s when South Korea was beginning to modernise it too came up with catchy phrases.

Grayson remembers one that encouraged people there to "Destroy communism!" 

He was amused to find a calendar produced in the North with a very similar logo: "Destroy capitalism!"

Apart from increasing food production, the slogans urge North Koreans to defend their way of life and not bow to the influence of foreign enemies, such as Washington and Seoul.

"Should the enemy dare to invade our country, annihilate them to the last man so that none of them will survive to sign the instrument of surrender!

"Let us build our country into the most powerful one in the world, into a people's fairyland, as wished by the great Comrades Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il!

"Let us raise a strong wind of studying the great Kimilsungism-Kimjongilism!"

So who comes up with these slogans? Probably a committee, says Grayson. 

"But you can assume that anything that is stressed like this has to have ultimate final approval from the man at the centre. It's quite possible that he said in some passing remark, 'We've got to do something about the food situation,' so somebody dreamed these up."


Read the full list of slogans HERE.

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