February 21, 2024

Why a traffic warden was given North Korea’s highest accolade

Andrei Lankov looks at the context of traffic warden's "DPRK Hero" award and possible explanations

North Korean media reported on May 5 that the country’s highest honor had been awarded to Ri Kyong Sim, a young policewoman whose normal job involves supervising traffic on the Pyongyang streets. But why did she receive such an award?  Long viewed as one of the main symbols of Pyongyang, North Korea’s traffic girls are not much known for their bravery or sacrificial acts. Selected for youthfulness and beauty, most know them instead for their role directing traffic around the streets of Pyongyang - until traffic lights were introduced several years ago at least. But having been paraded hysterically weeping at a nationally televised award ceremony, numerous theories have begun to circulate about exactly what Ms. Ri did to have been awarded such a prestigious merit.