June 04, 2020

North Korea’s utopian sea flavor of socialism
Fisheries, ‘big hauls’ emphasis shows Pyongyang hasn’t stopped setting ambitious targets

North Korea’s 2016 50-won commemorative stamp, released on January 15, includes some classic socialist or communist developmental tropes. Ears of wheat and sweetcorn cobs are found on any number of stamps from utopia-minded nations from the last century or so, but they are not commonly joined by goats or sheep, and certainly very rarely by fish. Fish and aquaculture, as the reader may be aware, were mentioned almost in passing in Kim Jong Un’s New Year Address for 2016, demanding that “fishing sectors … should ramp up production as soon as possible and see to it that the fish farms … built across the country pay off …” A far cry from the 2015 address’ call to create “seas of gold,” but nevertheless a reminder of the sector’s place within the wider political ecosystem of North Korea.

In fact, the North’s latest philatelic release on January 15 serves as a determined assertion of Pyongyang’s priorities for 2016. Ostensibly focused on reminding stamp collectors everywhere of North Korea’s latest developmental campaign – the “golden age in building a thriving nation this year when the Seventh Congress of the Workers' Party of Korea is to be held” – images of what is truly important surround the important textual content.