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Can Cell Phones Break Through North Korean Propaganda?

Earlier this week, WILLisms.com commented on North Korean propaganda. Now there are signs that cell phone use among North Korean elites is contributing to a subtle loss of control for Kim Jong-Il.


Before his death, Kim Il-Sung projected an affable image to his people. Among other things, he claimed to have the support and adoration of world leaders (where have we heard that before?).


Other than pretending to be the object of praise from the entire universe, North Korea put a pleasant spin on one of the more dangerous and grueling occupations:


Posters and murals similar to those above can be found all over North Korea. Textbooks in school also focus on the story of Kim Il-Sung, and now Kim Jong-Il, as benevolent, heroic, and beloved by all.

In recent years, the tone of North Korea's propaganda machine has become far more strident.

The North Korean regime released these propaganda posters in early 2003:

Poster No. 1: 강박에는 강타로 Meet coercion with hard blows.

응징에는 무자비한 징벌로 Meet castigation with merciless punishment!



Poster No. 2: [text on rocket] 결사웅위 일심단결 Defend to the death with single-minded unity.

미제는 조선의 국력을 똑바로 보라 American imperialists, see the national power of Korea!



Poster No. 3: 온민족의 단합된 힘으로 With the united power of the whole nation...

미국의 핵전쟁도발책동을 짓부시자 Let us smash the nuclear war provocations of America!



Poster No. 4: 미제는 함부로 날뛰지말라 American imperialists, do not rave recklessly!



Poster No. 5: 미제에게 무자비한 징벌을! Merciless punishment for the American imperialists!



Poster No. 6: [across the shirt] 국제운자력기구International Atomic Energy Agency

미제와 그 하수인에게 준엄한 심판을! Harsh judgment for the American imperialists and their henchmen!



Official News From KCNA (Korean Central News Agency) of DPRK(Democratic People's Republic of Korea)can be found here. I have been checking in on it from time to time since early 2003 to get a feel for the North Korean party line on various issues.

Here is an example of a recent news release:

New Posters Appear

Pyongyang, January 14 (KCNA) --New posters powerfully encouraging the efforts of the working people who are hastening the general onward march of this year in response to the joint New Year editorial have appeared in the DPRK. Typical among them are "Let the whole Party and army and all the people unite as one in mind and more strikingly demonstrate the might of Songun!" and "Let us glorify this year which marks the 60th anniversary of the Party's founding as the most proud year to the loud drum-beating of the general onward march of Songun revolution!" These posters show the firm faith and will of the army and people of the DPRK to greet the significant fetes this year as grand festivals of proud victors.

The posters "Let us concentrate all efforts on successful farming!", "Let us give full play to the vitality of large-scale land rezoning!" call on the agricultural workers to do farming well to reap a bumper harvest of all crops and fruits this year. There are also posters depicting the indomitable fighting spirit and morale of the Korean people and calling for keeping alive the superiority of the nation, frustrating the imperialists' ideological and cultural infiltration and firmly defending the socialist motherland.

How classy do those posters sound?

Finally, there is the Official Homepage of the DPRK. You may also be interested in this North Korean sing-along music video. It's good for a laugh or two.

All of this would be much more funny if U.S.-N.K. relations weren't so serious. North Korea is a dangerous force in the world, seeking nuclear weapons and ballistic missile technology. North Korea maintains Soviet-style gulags for political prisoners. North Koreans continually face massive and unnecessary hunger.


North Korea, in short, is an human rights disaster and a threat to global peace and stability. Thus, while WILLisms.com jokes about some of the more absurd propaganda from North Korea, we also bear in mind how grave the North Korean problem remains.

Breaking through propaganda is difficult, but the Yale Center for the Study of Globalization explains how Chinese telecom companies, oddly enough, are inadvertently assisting North Korean dissidents.

Chinese businesspeople - whose incentive is profit, not the spread of ideology or regime change - have become the most influential agents of change in North Korea. And their most powerful instrument is the cell phone.
In 2003, Chinese cell phone companies began building relay stations along the North Korean border. According to accounts by North Korean defectors and Chinese traders, Chinese cell phones - and the prepaid phone cards needed to use them - are now a hot black market item, despite government efforts to ban them. The restrictions have been unsuccessful largely because North Korean elites require cell phones in order to conduct business with Chinese traders. Now, as many as 20,000 North Koreans are believed to have access to Chinese cell phones.

It will take much more than cell phones for North Korea to become a free society, but as a dam can fail because of a tiny crack, an evil regime's failure must begin somewhere, somehow.

Stay tuned for more on North Korea, as well as a variety of other topics, in the coming days.

Posted by Will Franklin · 19 January 2005 04:54 PM


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