‘Whatever the party orders, we are screwed!’

Slight alteration in propaganda slogan insults North Korean leadership, sparking big investigation.
By Moon Sung Hui for RFA Korean
2024.01.03
The slogan on the North Korean sign required only a slight tweak to become a major insult to the county’s leadership.
Animated gif by Amanda Weisbrod/RFA

A slogan signboard defaced with graffiti created a stir last month in North Korea, and authorities are on the hunt for the culprit.

The sign on a collective farm originally read, “Whatever the party orders, we will do!” – a widely used slogan on propaganda billboards plastered all over the country to promote patriotism, loyalty and sacrifice for the sake of national prosperity.

Using charcoal, someone added the word “fail” to the slogan, changing the meaning to something more like, “Whatever the party orders, we are screwed!” 

The Dec. 19 incident in Posong-ri village was perceived as a major insult to the country’s leadership and an embarrassment for the farm in the northern province of Ryanggang, residents told Radio Free Asia.

The graffiti was first discovered by a security guard, who alerted the farm management committee, prompting them to scramble to erase the offending word before police and security officials could see it, a provincial resident said on condition of anonymity for personal safety. 

“Several officials, including the management committee chairman, chief engineer, and lower-level party secretary, rushed to the scene,” he said. “Cooperative farm officials immediately erased the charcoal graffiti before anyone else could see it.”

But in the process, they inadvertently hampered the subsequent investigation by leaving so many of their own footprints at the scene and no trace of the culprit’s, he said.

Bold move

After the incident, authorities blocked the major road that connects the area around the farm with the provincial capital Hyesan, and heightened monitoring of people visiting the area from other parts of the country, the resident told RFA Korean.

News of the incident spread throughout the province, and many people were surprised that someone would be so bold as to deface the sign during the 10-day period of national mourning for the late former leader Kim Jong Il, the father of current leader Kim Jong Un, a second resident told RFA on condition of anonymity for personal safety reasons.

Since his death in 2011, the country has observed the mourning period from Dec. 17-27 each year.  

ENG_KOR_SloganGraffiti_01032024.2.jpg
A North Korean woman rides a bicycle at Migok Cooperative Farm in Sariwon, North Hwanghae province, Sept. 23, 2012. The signs read "To fight for harvesting" [left] and "To perform patriotism led by Kim Jong Il." (Vincent Yu/AP)

The slogan on the sign – “Whatever the party orders, we will do!” – first appeared during one of the bleakest times in North Korea’s history, the 1994-1998 famine that killed as many as 2 million people or about 10% of the country by some estimates.

Since then it has become one of the most widely used slogans by the ruling Korean Workers’ Party. 

Major investigation

Authorities have scrutinized people from out of town, the second resident said. 

“The state security department of Ryanggang Province investigated an out-of-town resident who had stayed in Posong-ri without registering his stay on the night of the 19th which was the day of the incident,” she said. 

Authorities also investigated the families of people from Posong-ri who were tried publicly at the Hyesan Airfield that day.

RFA reported that the Hyesan Airfield public trial culminated with a public execution of a man who killed a woman while trying to steal some beans from her. Another 12 people, some of whom were residents of Posong-ri and worked at the farm, were given lengthy prison sentences for less serious crimes.

The culprit could not have committed his treasonous act alone, the second resident said.

“The slogan board is installed at a height much higher than that of an adult, so it is impossible to scribble [graffiti] without someone’s help,” she said. “For this reason, the state security and social security departments of Ryanggang Province are investigating, with the belief that there are at least two culprits.”

Posong-ri experienced a similar incident in 2016, when leaflets and graffiti that insulted Kim Jong Un were found at the Posong train station, the second resident said, adding that authorities never found out who was responsible.

Regarding the incident at the farm, she said that copycats would likely deface similar signs in other parts of the country because news would soon spread.

“Currently, in Posong-ri, the Nampo City Battalion, who were here constructing houses, are rushing to prepare to go home ahead of the Lunar New Year holiday,” she said. 

“When they return home,” she predicted, “we will see more signs that say ‘Whatever the party orders we are screwed!’ will appear all over the place.”

Translated by Claire Shinyoung Oh Lee and Leejin J. Chung. Edited by Eugene Whong.

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