October 23, 2020

Kim Jong-un’s New Year Speech: What It Really Means

North Korea's former poet laureate takes a look at the new leader's shifting tone of voice.

Kim Jong Un's new year speech has broken a silence held for 19 years, for during this time, there was no new year speech in North Korea. Under Kim Il-sung, the new year's speech was that occasion in the year when the leader provided guidance to his people. As all power is concentrated under the leader, the new year speech provided a framework and sets the tone for the coming year. Kim Il-sung made the speeches himself. After his death however, Kim Jong Il did not continue in his father's footsteps. Instead, he chose to convey his message through editorials published by the important state mouthpieces such as Rodong Sinmun, the Korean People’s Army and the Youth Vanguard.

As the new year's speech was by then perceived to be an inseparable limb of the leader, these state editorials assumed absolute legitimacy as if they had been uttered in a speech made by Kim Jong Il himself. From 1995 onwards, Party members had to study Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong Il's teachings together with the state editorials and produce self-criticisms based on these materials.