Attendee to North Korea’s March military conference shares meeting insights and details

Scene from the fifth meeting of company leaders and political instructors of the Korean People's Army held in Pyongyang on March 25 and 26
Scene from the fifth meeting of company leaders and political instructors of the Korean People’s Army held in Pyongyang on March 25 and 26. Image: Rodong Sinmun

Kim Jong Un’s emphasis on building a self-sustaining economy at the first session of its rubber-stamp parliament has been reiterated at the Fifth Meeting of KPA Company Commanders and Political Instructors, which was held in March.

A North Korean resident who attended the meeting spoke with Daily NK, sharing insights and details from his point of view.

Daily NK: Now that you’re back from the meeting, what were your main takeaways?

Attendee: We received a royal welcome. Based on the atmosphere, we were expecting there to be a big announcement or something. But it really just ended up being a banquet–no substance at all.

Daily NK: What gave you that impression?

Attendee: All they did was drone on about “self-reliance” (literally, “regeneration through our own efforts”).

Daily NK: This phrase has come up repeatedly at recent conferences and in North Korean state media. So your meeting was no different then?

Attendee: Yes, I’ll give you a direct quote from the meeting as an example. We were told to “raise more goats [for milk and meat] and not expect any food provisions.” They kept saying it’s up to us to find a way to survive on our own.

Daily NK: Have the authorities said things like this before to the military?

Attendee: In indirect ways, sure, we’ve heard it a lot. But never so directly and bluntly as telling us to do things like get into animal husbandry and raise draft animals. It was strange to hear such direct suggestions, especially at a military meeting like this. A lot of the attendees felt like the party has used up all their money and is trying to get the military to fend for itself.

Daily NK: Was this hard for you and others to hear, knowing that you’re responsible for conveying this information back to your units?

Attendee: It was hard telling the younger ones, yeah.

Daily NK: What about for you personally?

Attendee: Kim Jong Un himself reiterated it during his speech at the first meeting of the 14th Supreme People’s Assembly earlier this month, so it’s nothing new. But seeing how often it’s being said these days is disheartening because it mirrors the rhetoric of the Arduous March (a period of widespread famine in the mid 1990s).

You can’t show it of course, but most of us were just annoyed that we had to travel all the way to Pyongyang just for them to tell us that. All it did was make us more anxious and assume that the situation is getting much worse. People are really worried about how they’re going to live.

Meanwhile, North Korea’s state-run publication Rodong Sinmun reported on April 22 that “oath-taking meetings” took place on April 21 across a number of provinces to “bring about miraculous new victories one after another at all work sites of socialist construction under the uplifted banner of self-reliance, the treasured sword for prosperity, firmly united around the Supreme Leader.”