Authorities in North Korea have issued an order requiring the public to treat pictures of the nation’s leader Kim Jong Un with greater respect after printed copies of his image were found to have been submitted for a paper recycling drive, according to a source inside the country.
The issue came to light when some North Korean students participating in a “Kids Plan” recycling campaign submitted a huge volume of copies of a newspaper carrying a photo of Kim and his family, known as the “No. 1 Portrait,” a North Korean citizen told RFA’s Korean Service.
The students, tasked by authorities with turning in unreasonably large amounts of wastepaper, gave copies of the official Rodong Sinmun newspaper to make up for their quota shortfall, causing Kim’s portraits to be pulped, said the man, in his 50s.
The newspaper had recently been ordered by the authorities to print the “No. 1 Portrait” in all its editions as part of a campaign to improve public idolization of the young leader.
“The North Korean government has strictly required the public to keep pictures of Kim Jong Un in good condition, especially after it was found that his images were being submitted as wastepaper,” said the source, who spoke to RFA on condition of anonymity during a recent trip to China.
“The government ordered an investigation of all of the recycling plants in South Hamgyeong province’s Hamhung city [where the images had been discovered sent as wastepaper].”
According to the source, North Korea’s Labor Department subsequently issued a public ban on “submitting newspapers [and other printed materials] containing No. 1 Portrait to the government” for the recycling campaign and ordered local authorities to “investigate all recycling plants nationwide.”
The ban is likely aimed at the children of high-ranking officials who are the only ones that can afford to turn in the Rodong Sinmun to meet their assigned quotas, the source said.
He said that low level officials across the country are also regularly provided with the Rodong Sinmun to inform them of government policies and expected to return it to their supervisors, but copies of the paper often go missing, only to end up submitted as wastepaper by their children or sold to merchants at local markets.
But in areas of the country where paper supplies are scant, the source said, children have no other option than to submit for recycling whatever they can find.
“[In certain areas] we can’t even print schoolbooks [due to lack of paper supplies],” the source said.
“The government can push students to collect wastepaper all it wants, but where will the wastepaper come from?”
He said that the problem was just one of many that have arisen from social assignments recklessly doled out by the regime.
Respecting an image
A North Korean refugee in his 20s, who resettled in the U.S. last year, told RFA that regardless of the recycling campaign, images of Kim are often not properly maintained because the public simply doesn’t respect him.
“Nowadays, people tend to look down on young Kim Jong Un,” he said.
“People living in rural areas cut Kim Jong Un’s picture out of the Rodong Sinmun and use it for cigarette paper.”
He said that the more prolific Kim’s image becomes in North Korea, the less people care about it.
“So many pictures of Kim Jong Un and his family have been printed that it’s no wonder management of his image has become slack.”
Since taking the helm of the regime from his father Kim Jong Il following his death in late 2011, North Korea’s propaganda machine has worked hard to present the younger Kim as an adept leader.
But he has also been depicted as more open and outgoing than his father, in a manner more akin to his grandfather and founder of the nation Kim Il Sung, in what observers say is an attempt to project gravitas.
Reported by Young Jung for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Jina Lee. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.