Sunday, January 8, 2012

January 8: Just Another Two Days (Off)

As widely reported in the South Korean and global media, Chosun Central TV broadcast a documentary addressing the greatness of Kim Jong Eun (see here and here) on Sunday, January 8th, the new leader's birthday, following on from the decision to give two days off for all (the 8th and 9th; see here (Kor)) to celebrate. 

Sadly, the overall international trend has been towards extremely lightweight reporting of the day (the Fox News piece, 'North Korean TV Shows Kim Jong Un Driving Tank', was particularly inauspicious), meaning a general absence of quality analysis. 

To try and fill the gap; the way the authorities addressed today's propaganda dilemma (to celebrate life or to continue mourning death?) was best represented by Rodong Shinmun, in which Kim Jong Eun did not just play a low-key role, he played no. role. at. all.

Obviously, for the leader to go entirely unmentioned in an edition of Rodong Shinmun is in any case an exceedingly rare event; as such, it was presumably intended to show a high level of filial piety on the part of Kim Jong Eun in light of his father's recent passing. Bearing in mind the fact that the younger Kim had been a constant and prominent feature of the daily Workers' Party publication since his father's death was announced on December 19th, his complete and total absence today was probably also deemed more likely to be noticed and applauded by the public than a modest presence would have been.

In addition, to imply that this was just another day (but one that came with a rare two-day holiday to go with it, of course, for reasons the people will have been made well aware of), Rodong Shinmun did carry a lot of interesting articles about the importance of working hard to accomplish the 'last instructions' of Kim Jong Il. Among these, the two which stood out were (a) on page 4, an essay entitled 'The General and Sunday', in which the writer noted that Kim Jong Il never rested on a Sunday come what may, and (b) another on page 2 which reported news of an onsite visit.

The most interesting part of the article about the visit was the fact that it was not an onsite 'guidance' inspection by Kim Jong Eun; instead it was an onsite visit (the media refuses to use the word 'guidance' inspection for a visit by anyone but a Kim) by Prime Minister Choi Yong Rim to a mining equipment company, an electrical factory and a department store on the 6th. 

Certainly, this is not the first time that Choi has made such a visit (though it is not common) and it is true that his visits, when they do occur, are almost always in the 'people's economy' field, but what made it a standout article was that it reported an action in the economic field taken by a person other than Kim Jong Eun on a day which is now designated as one on which to celebrate the birthday of Kim Jong Eun.

The simplest (and thus most likely) interpretation of this is, as noted above, that Kim Jong Eun needed to keep out of the limelight for filial piety reasons so Choi was dispatched to make the visit. That said, one could also be forgiven for wondering whether it means something more.  

As an aside, people who read Rodong Shinmun (in the words of Stephan Haggard: "we do this kind of thing so you don't have to") will have already noticed that the slogan of the month (probably the year) is now set, and it is; "Accept the last instructions of comrade Kim Jong Il to honor 2012 as a year of proud victory, the heyday of strong and prosperous revival!"

As a slogan reflecting national goals it represents a major lowering of expectations when compared to the previous version ("Let's open the door to the strong and prosperous state!" and variations), but it does still make demands of the people's economy, and as such it will be interesting to see how the authorities attempt to meet those expectations going forward. 

Next stop on the propaganda trail: February 16th.