North Korea has allocated the month of January for its citizens to study a rare New Year's speech by its young leader Kim Jong Un, in which he called for an end to confrontation with South Korea and a "radical turnabout" in the impoverished country's economy, according to sources.
The people have been asked to virtually memorize the speech—the first televised New Year's Day message by a North Korean leader in 19 years, North Koreans living along the border with China told RFA's Korean Service.
"We started the very first day of this New Year memorizing the New Year’s address, and the government designated the whole of January for studying the address," said a resident in northern Yanggang province.
Workers particularly are being bombarded with questions about issues raised in Kim's speech at meetings, the resident said.
"This is an unusual measure compared to past years,” the resident said on Friday, three days after the 29-year-old Kim's speech that offered no details of how life could be improved under his economic-turnaround policy.
Also on Friday, the country's first official working day of 2013, the North Korean government launched a "Loyalty Oath Gathering" for workers and members of the ruling Workers' Party of North Korea and attendees were tested on issues Kim spoke about.
Another resident, also from Yanggang province, said, “In the past, the country's leaders didn’t deliver a New Year’s address directly, so we didn’t need to memorize all the contents but this year, Kim Jong Un did it directly so the mood itself is totally different.”
Kim's father and predecessor Kim Jong Il had never made a major address to his people. He died in December 2011, leaving North Korea in an economic mess with a malnourished population after launching nuclear tests that had led to an array of international sanctions.
According to the Yanggang resident, the government forced workers in factories and companies to jot down their impressions of the speech by Kim Jong Un.
They also had to undergo a test about it to check if they had memorized the speech as required, the resident claimed.
“The government forced people to memorize the full text of the address regardless of their age."
One source in North Hamgyong province said the government had ordered the management of factories and companies on the eve of the new year to instruct workers to watch Kim's address.
“The government suspended electricity supply to factories and companies to make sure that individual homes could get electricity to let them watch Kim Jong Un’s New Year address,” another source in the province said.
Provincial authorities and the military were summoned to deliver state-run newspapers which were plastered with Kim Jong Un’s speech, the source said.
Although Kim Jong Un called for a scaling down of tensions between the two Koreas, which remain technically at war, his message was shrugged off by South Korea, which has just elected its first woman president, the conservative Park Geun-Hye.
The South's Unification Minister Ryu Woo-Ik said Seoul has good historical reasons for treating peace overtures from its northern neighbor warily even though Park, who will take office in February, has signaled a desire for greater engagement with Pyongyang.
Efforts to engage Pyongyang with "good intentions" in the past had made little progress, Rye said, Agence France-Presse reported.
Kim's speech also referred to the success of a long-range rocket launch on Dec. 12 which most saw as a disguised ballistic missile test in defiance of U.N. sanctions.
The U.N. Security Council is under pressure to impose more sanctions on Pyongyang for the missile test.
Reported by Sung Hui Moon for RFA's Korea Service. Translated by Ju Hyeon Park. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.