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Let Us Review North Korea's Glorious New Slogans!

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un claps as he reviews a mass military parade from a balcony in Kim Il Sung Square in Pyongyang, North Korea, in 2012.
Zhang Li
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un claps as he reviews a mass military parade from a balcony in Kim Il Sung Square in Pyongyang, North Korea, in 2012.

The latest crop of North Korean slogans to mark the country's 70th anniversary has just been released. Stand back as they "cascade down and their sweet aroma [fills] the air":

-- Thoroughly get rid of abuse of authority and bureaucratism!

-- Let us raise a strong wind of studying the great Kimilsungism-Kimjongilism!

-- Fire an opening salvo of an ideological campaign and make our fire concentrated, regular and accurate!

You get the idea.

Agence France-Presse describes the "exclamation-mark peppered list" of 310 slogans — published Thursday in translation by the official KCNA news agency — as running the gamut from praise for dutiful wives to an exhortation to "make mushroom cultivation scientific!"

Even allowing that they probably come off more melodious in their original Korean, some of the commandments are so awkward that it's hard to imagine them sounding right in any language.

To wit: "Let us turn the whole country into a socialist fairyland by the joint operation of the army and people!" or "Let this socialist country resound with Song of Big Fish Haul and be permeated with the fragrant smell of fish and other seafoods!" Then there's the simple "Grow vegetables extensively in greenhouses!"

Some of them are entirely lost in translation. Take the edict to "Play sports games in an offensive way!"

Reuters reports: "The slogans, which ran to more than 7,000 words in translation and spanned two pages of the party's broadsheet newspaper, called for a wide range of improvements including 'more stylish school uniforms' and 'organic farming on an extensive scale.' "

The BBC says: "Propaganda in the form of slogans, posters, stamps and books has played an important role in the country since the state was founded in 1948 so the appearance of a new batch of exhortations is not surprising."

James Grayson, an emeritus professor of modern Korean studies at Sheffield University, tells the BBC that the new slogans are "typical of most totalitarian states."

He says they are reminiscent of China's Cultural Revolution and after the establishment of the Communist regime. "[If] you think of the Nazis and Italian fascism it's not an unusual thing. ... It's the strength and the quantity of the North Korean ones that is unusual," he tells the news agency.

Grayson, however, notes a theme that marks most of the slogans: "A lot of this has to do with very practical things to do with the economy, especially food."

The "enemy" United States, was not spared, of course: "Should the enemy dare to invade our country, annihilate them to the last man!"

AFP quotes defector Lee Min-Bok, who fled North Korea 14 years ago and now lives in the South as saying, "We were permanently buried by an avalanche of slogans."

" 'We had to memorize a lot of them to show our loyalty, but they slowly lost any meaning for anyone, especially after the famine in the 90s,' said Lee, 57.

" 'That greenhouse one has been around for decades. The problem is nobody had any plastic sheets of glass to build them, or fuel to heat them,' he added."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Scott Neuman is a reporter and editor, working mainly on breaking news for NPR's digital and radio platforms.