North Korea’s 2018 calendar. The left page shows the month of February
(with Kim Jong Il’s birthday), and the right shows April (with Kim Il Sung’s birthday).
Image: Daily NK.
North Korea’s calendars have historically featured heavy propaganda idolizing the Kim family leadership. However, more recent editions are showing signs of moderation, with less emphasis on the regime. In the country’s 2018 calendars (recently obtained by Daily NK), the images focus on landscapes and natural scenery. Even the months of February and April, the respective birth months of Kim Jong Il and Kim Il Sung, feature rather muted references to the leaders, showing the historic sites associated with their alleged birthplaces.
In the 2018 calendar, Kim Jong Il’s birthday – known as “The Day of the Shining Star” – and Kim Il Sung’s birthday – known as the “The Day of the Sun” – are noted with smaller print in comparison to previous editions.
The new calendar contains a picture of Kim Il Sung’s birthplace, Mangyongdae, with a small number of visitors touring the site. The artistic portrayal of the historic landmark appears rather flat and expressionless, a far cry from the hyperbolistic propaganda that North Korea is known for.
The image for January shows a level of composition superior to the images for
February and April. Image: Daily NK.
In contrast, the image for January shows a comparably higher degree of artistry. A snow-covered hiking trail lies in the foreground, adjacent to the Taedong River in the middle ground, with North Korea’s “First Newtown,” the Changjon Street Apartments, in the background. Two female figures walk on the snowy hill in the foreground. The calendar contains lower levels of symbolism overall compared with years past, with the country’s food calendar showing a similar trend.
A roast turkey is the food calendar’s centrepiece for February, Kim Jong Il’s birth month, a dish unassociated with Kim Jong Il. In fact, roast turkey is seen in North Korea as a traditional American dish, and its inclusion is highly unusual.
Rather than showing Kim Il Sung’s favorite foods – herbal medicine-fed raw river fish or duck with dog meat stew, the image for April in the food calendar is grilled eel on rice, prepared in a typical Japanese style. For North Korea, which regularly issues anti-Japanese statements, this is also highly unusual.
“The idolization calendars weren’t popular and didn’t sell well, but the food calendar was flying off the shelves,” a source in South Pyongan Province told Daily NK during a telephone call on December 20. “For this reason, rather than boldly emphasizing national holidays [on the new calendar], the images are subdued.”
The changing content of the calendars is likely a reflection of the changing tastes of North Korean consumers, preferring themes of everyday life over propaganda. Some residents warm to the food calendars because they enjoy recreating the dishes they see. Although no recipes are included, similar ingredients can be found in the markets.