A closer look inside the pages of Rodong Sinmun

Rodong Sinmun is North Korea’s
Party-run publicatoin, which is used for propaganda to glorify the leadership.
It’s time now to examine the distortions and manipulation used by this
publication with Seo Jae Pyung, the secretary-general of the Committee for the
Democratization of North Korea. Hello.

Hello. Yes, we will again look at three
articles from the Rodong Sinmun today. This is an excerpt from a piece from last month:

“As a monumental creation of the Workers’
Party, soldiers of the People’s army’s Baek Il Nam Unit, who participated in
the construction of the Mirae [Future] Scientists Street 2nd level, achieved a
dazzling result of successfully constructing the framework of a 30-story
apartment, which rises high far into the sky. On top of the ever high building,
the commanders who waved the flag of victory are further raising the flame of
creation across Pyongyang and are going to continue the progress of
constructing the best possible quality of architecture and vigorously continue
growth on the road of innovation.”

1. With the 70th
anniversary of the Worker’s Party foundation approaching on October 10th, there
are various construction projects underway. The article seems to commend the
fast completion of the construction and compliments the Korean People’s Army,
which took part. But is it possible to complete the framework of an apartment
in 50 days?

Of course, it is possible. As you can see
in the photographs of the construction site, there were a large number of
soldiers who were mobilized, and if you consider North Korea’s level of
construction, 50 days is sufficient, as long as they are provided with enough
materials and electricity.

1-1. How long does it take to build
one apartment building?

In the ‘70s when things were carried out at
“Pyongyang speed”, they used to say it took 14 minutes to add one story. This
is for prefabricated buildings. So for the framework, in the North you can
expect about one floor to go up each day.

1-2. It takes much longer in South

In South Korea, they complete ten stories
at a time and take a break. They wait for the cement to harden enough. With
good quality cement, it’s fine for one story to go up a day. Since the article
says the construction was completed within 50 days, they probably used higher
quality concrete. If not, there would be problems.

1-3. So you don’t think the fast
speed necessarily means there are problems with safety?

The structure would probably have had to
pass North Korea’s own safety guidelines in construction methods and management.
Especially after the apartment collapse last year, they would have taken
measures to reassure the safety.

2. North Korean
authorities compare all forms of labor to combat. Even in this article, it says
that military personnel are on their toes and greeting a new day of battle. Why
the comparison to combat?

The word combat is used to describe
soldiers facing their enemies in the battlefield, but in the North they use it
for everything. I have grown up hearing the word ‘combat’ a lot. If you think
about it, when you’re in combat it means you are full of tension and very
alert. I think they mean to tell people to do everything, including labor, with
the vigilance and determination they would have in combat.

3. But speed isn’t
everything. A structure built slowly with greater consideration for safety
would be a much better one. Do North Korean authorities conduct safety checks
when constructing buildings?

When military troops are behind the
construction, there are separate technology staff officers. At the construction
sites, there are professionals who supervise and lead the project, such as
technology advisors and engineers. They do oversee various aspects such as
safety on site and engineering involved. However, they all have higher ranking
officials in the military. So if their superiors say they should speed up,
these advisors are unable to slam the brakes when needed and make suggestions.
In the end, it ends up being a lot of top-down orders.

4. The article is
about building homes on Mirae Scientists Street. Why does Kim Jong Un want to
build such tall buildings and homes for scientists?

The street is being built in Pyongyang in
the central district heading out towards Taedong River. Around that area, there
are apartments for educators of Kim Chaek University of Technology, which are
already complete, and other parts central to the North.

Also, there are a lot of apartments in the
central area, which were some of the first to go up after the war. It has a lot
of old apartments, built in the ‘60s and ‘70s. So by positioning the future
scientists street in that area, it looks like they are trying to give the area
a whole new image by tearing down old structures and building new tall
buildings instead.

5. With the
anniversary of the Workers’ Party Foundation Day coming up in October, there
are many construction projects going on each province. They are being pressed
to complete the construction before the anniversary. Why is that?

In the third year of Kim Jong Un’s rule,
the country is facing an important milestone, marking the 70th anniversary.
Every five-year milestone is considered more important, so this is a great
opportunity for Kim to add to his legacy. The North conducts major celebrations
for the anniversaries every five years, and for the 70th anniversary it looks
like its goal is to promote large accomplishments in the field of construction.
They’re using this opportunity of presenting gifts for the Party’s foundation
as a means to promote Kim’s achievements. Another core reason would be to
strengthen his leadership.

6. But according to
recent reports, to the lack of materials has been slowing down progress. It
looks like there will be quite a number of incomplete structures on October
10th. What do you think?

The construction of Mirae Scientists Street
began last year. The first stage was completed on April 15, and the second stage
is set to wrap up on October 10.  On February 15, Kim Jong Un surveyed the
site from a plane and also visited the site to directly inspect it. Four months
have passed since then and the North is now touting its completion of the
thirty-story framework in 50 days. But it is unclear just how many units will
actually be complete by October 10.

If construction of the Mirae Scientists
Street is too slow, Kim Jong Un is likely to take special measures, since he
sees it as a crucial project for his legacy. For instance, he might order
focused supplies of materials and electricity to that area, but because there
are still three months left, we will have to wait and see how things progress.

7. If many construction projects are taking
place in various regions, are regular citizens being mobilized as well?

Currently, the military is doing the
construction work. Civilians are not being mobilized for projects that soldiers
are working on. They are instead supporting the project by providing daily
supplies, construction tools, equipment, and basic material. People scrape
money together to buy the things they have been tasked with and send them to
the soldiers.

7-1 Doesn’t the increase in construction
work lead to a lot of complaints from people and the soldiers?

The money that goes to support the project
is forcibly collected from people who are already finding it hard to get by, so
this inevitably leads to a lot of complaints.

Kim Jong Un is carrying out all this work
so that he can propagandize his accomplishments on October 10th, the upcoming
anniversary of the establishment of the Party. But I am afraid that his lack of
concern for safety and his emphasis on speed might lead to a big accident.
Pressing people to work that quickly would also be very taxing, so I’m worried.

Let’s take a look at the next story. The
second article we’re going to look at is called “S. Korean Regime’s Anti-DPRK
‘Human Rights’ Racket Assailed.”
 Here is an excerpt:

“The south Korean puppet authorities let
subsidized institutes and anti-DPRK “human rights” bodies made up of
riff-raffs spout a litany of invective remarks painting those workers sent by
the DPRK to different countries for external economic cooperation as “ones
engaged in slave labor” and “subject to exploitation. All the workers of the DPRK will surely
smash the sinister anti-DPRK “human rights” racket of the South
Korean puppet group, hordes of rare traitors.

8. Not only South Korea but
also the international community has expressed concern about the abysmal
working conditions of the North Korean workers dispatched abroad. The article
refutes such concerns, but according to research by international organizations
and South Korean NGOs, most of the wages that the workers earn go to the Kim
Jong Un regime. Research also shows they are working under forced conditions
without the guarantee of rest. How are North Korean laborers in Russia actually

Most of the workers sent to Russia are
working in the field of construction, such as the construction of homes or
roads. They have to pay the North’s companies in overseeing the project 1,000
USD a month. The money they send to their families in North Korea comes from
the side jobs they take at night after work, and the work environment is truly

9. Do Russian businesses
directly pay the workers? Or do they pay North Korean authorities, who shave
off a certain sum before paying the laborers?

There are two methods. A large Russian
company would commission a project to a North Korean firm to build a house with
1 million USD in six months, using 100 workers. The lion’s share of the money
earned goes to the firm. It’s estimated that 10-20% or less goes to the workers. The money that the laborers send to their families is mostly earned from
side jobs after work, which they must find on their own.

10. So, they cannot think of
defecting or doing anything else even if they wanted.

Right, and this is why people are calling
this a violation of human rights.

11. I heard that it’s not uncommon to
find North Koreans who have escaped while dispatched to other countries like
Russia, because the working conditions are just too abysmal. Is this true?

There were North Korean laborers in Russia
who defected to South Korea in the mid-1990s, and this trend continues to this
day. In fact, there were two North Korean laborers from the far eastern regions
of Russia who entered South Korea this month.  

12. This article does not mention the
working conditions of North Korean laborers dispatched to Russia or other
foreign countries, and it merely criticizes South Korean authorities. Do North
Koreans know about the harsh conditions overseas, as reported by the
international community? Do they think it’s true?

Of course they know it is true But they
think if they are able to earn money abroad, they should despite the poor
environment. In North Korea, there is nowhere to earn money. It is too hard to
make ends meet, so most people are not even aware that this is an infringement
of human rights. They think that it’s simply something they have to endure in
order to earn money.

13. The North Korean authorities have
been increasing the number of workers they send abroad. What is the reason for

This is because for
the North, it realizes the best way to earn foreign currency is to send workers
The North Korean authorities need to
examine the working environment its citizens face abroad and work to protect
them. They cannot remove themselves from scrutiny and pressure from the
international community simply by refuting claims about human rights abuses.

Let’s now look at the third piece of recent
news. The article is entitled, “The Great Guardian and Leader of Independent
Feats.” The following is a portion of the article:

“To mark the 51st anniversary since the
leader Kim Jong Il comrade started a work in the Korean Workers Party’s Central
Committee, newspapers and broadcasters from Iran, Peru, and Cambodia
 featured a special on May 26th and 27th. The article from Cambodia
reported that Leader Kim Jong Il is the lord of independent politics, who has
accomplished monumental feats in the global politics. The Peruvian newspaper
reported that leader Kim Jong Il led the Chosun people and progressive parties
to victory in a fight for mankind.”

14. The countries mentioned in the
article are Iran, Peru and Cambodia. These countries are close to North Korea
and are still developing. It’s much easier to form organizations in these
countries, right?

Yes. Those countries have relatively
amicable relations with North Korea and as long as the government overlooks it creating pro-North Korean organizations there is not so difficult.

15. So these media outlets are part of
other organizations formed by North Korean authorities. What is the reason
North Korea is making pro-North Korean organizations in various countries?

North Korea uses the word “international”
often in its propaganda. In the midst of North Korea’s current severe isolation
from the international community, it is trying to form these pro-North Korean
organizations in various countries. Through these media, the North Korean
government tries to lie to its citizens and claim that it is actually gaining
support from the international community.

16. If we just look at the articles,
it makes it look like there are many countries around the world are praising
Kim Jong Il and Kim Jong Un. How about people in the North? Do they believe in
any of this?

The people of North Korea already all know
that foreign media praising Kim Jong Il and Kim Jong Un are basically groups
that have been bribed by North Korea. The least popular pages of the Rodong
Sinmun are the 5th and 6th pages, where they publish this ‘foreign news.’

17. But North Korean authorities
continue to publish these false reports. Do they think the people will continue
to accept this?

The Propaganda and Agitation Department
regulates and supervises Rodong Sinmun. The department tells the press where to
put what. As mentioned earlier, it has to unconditionally make a section that
shows the international community is supporting North Korea. So regardless of
what the citizens think, it will have to continue on with its regular work.

MC: So, today we looked at and analyzed
stories and claims made by North Korea in its Party-run Rodong Sinmun. Thank
you Mr. Seo Jae Pyung for speaking with us.

Questions or comments about this article? Contact us at dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.