Samjiyon construction projects to idolize North Korea’s past leaders

Kim Jong Un during a visit to Samjiyon in late October 2018. Image: Rodong Sinmun

The idolization of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il will be emphasized in construction projects in Samjiyon County, which are considered a priority for Kim Jong Un, according to sources in North Korea.

“The major area of development in Samjiyon County is residential housing, and the authorities are emphasizing that the apartments need to be painted and shaped like the Kimsungilia and Kimjongilia flowers when viewed from the air,” said a Ryanggang Province-based source on January 4.

“The roof construction is therefore considered important. I heard that construction materials from China have been removed from the existing roofs and are being replaced with North Korean materials.”

The Kimsungilia flower is a tropical plant belonging to the orchidaceae family. It was presented as a gift from Indonesian President Sukarno during a visit by Kim Il Sung in April 1964 and was taken to Pyongyang ten years later. The Kimjongilia flower is originally native to South America and North Korean propaganda claims that it was developed by Kim Jong Il admirer and botanist Kamo Mototeru over a 20-year period before being presented to Kim Jong Il as a gift.

North Korean propaganda considers the Kimjongilia flower to be an “immortal flower” that symbolizes Kim Jong Il, and the regime has devoted a great deal of resources in the construction of greenhouses for Kimjongilia flowers all over the country. Exhibitions of the Kimjongilia and Kimsungilia flowers are held each year with erroneous claims that “South Koreans grow Kimjongilia and give them as gifts [to our country].”

Samjiyeon County is being developed as a tourist site together with Wonsan in Kangwon Province. The authorities claim that because the area is the “hometown of the Great General [Kim Jong Il],” it is an ideal location for the state to promote Kim Jong Un’s Paektu bloodline and the regime. Kim Jong Un has expressed continued interest in the area (visiting three times last year) and has continued to check up on the progress of development.

His interest in the area was also evident in the 2019 New Year’s Address. “This year the service personnel and people should join efforts to complete the construction of the Wonsan-Kalma coastal tourist area in the shortest period of time, push ahead with major construction projects including the renovation of Samjiyon County, the construction of the Tanchon Power Station and the second-stage waterway project of South Hwanghae Province, and channel steady efforts into the construction of houses,” he stated, according to the official English version of the speech.

The regime has consequently mobilized construction brigades in the area. Provincial shock troop units (with brigades consisting of around 2,000 personnel each, as well as municipal and county organizations, and companies consisting of 100 people each) are participating in the construction. Up to 80% of the 30,000 residents in Samjiyon County are thought to be involved in the construction projects.

Each shock troop unit mobilized in the construction projects has been working continuously in the blistering cold over periods stretching from one to three months. Deaths and injuries due to these conditions have continued to occur and some have had to return to their home provinces.

North Korean workers at a construction site in Samjiyon. Image: KCTV

Kim Jong Un ordered the reconstruction and expansion of apartments in Samjiyon County to be completed by October 10, 2020 (the day commemorating the founding of the Workers’ Party of Korea). The speed at which the construction is progressing has led to concerns ranging from construction accidents to structural issues.

“There may be problems relating to the safety of the apartments due to poor workmanship. The construction workers have sold construction materials (steel poles, cement, wood, etc.) to buy food to eat, so there’s likely issues with the quality of concrete being used in the buildings,” a separate source in Ryanggang Province reported.

“The walls are also in poor condition because heating hasn’t been applied properly in the buildings. The basics of sound construction aren’t being followed, so there are places in the apartments that have started to crack. There are apartment buildings currently undergoing safety checks, which has forced construction to stop in some cases.”

The issue of construction worker safety is also a major concern. A total of 67 workers from Nampo were killed or severely injured in March 2018 when a 15-ton truck they were riding in overturned near Pochon on its way to Samjiyon County.

Many workers have died after being hit by flying debris from dynamite blasts, and such incidents largely occur due to the lack of safety precautions taken by the authorities. Sources in South Hwanghae Province reported that a female worker in her early twenties who ran away from her shock troop brigade was found dead on the side of a road.

Workers suffer from immense hardships due to the long hours demanded by construction managers. They typically work from 8 am to 7 pm with a 30-minute lunch break, but many are also required to work until 1 am to 2 am after their one-hour dinner break.

“When they’re exhausted, the workers fall and hurt themselves and their managers scold them for not paying attention,” said a separate source in Ryanggang Province

“I heard that many people ran away from the work teams but ended up wandering around for 5-6 months before reaching home.”